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Constitutional Law

5th Circuit Appears to Favor Monks Challenging Casket Restrictions, But Punts Issue to La. Supremes

Posted Oct 25, 2012 5:30 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A federal appeals court has decided not to be too hasty in a suit challenging Louisiana regulations granting funeral homes in the state the exclusive right to sell caskets.

The constitutional issues could be avoided, according to the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, if the State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors had no authority under state law to issue its restrictive regulations. As a result, the federal appeals court certified on its own motion this question to the Louisiana Supreme Court: Does Louisiana law give the state board the authority to regulate casket sales by retailers who do not provide other funeral services?

The restriction was challenged by monks from Saint Joseph Abbey of St. Benedict, La., who want to sell caskets in two models—“monastic” and “traditional:—for $1,500 and $2,000 respectively. The Institute for Justice represented the monks, who had an initial victory when a federal judge ruled the casket-sales restriction violated their rights to equal protection and due process.

The federal appeals court appeared to agree, though it didn’t rule on the issue. “We find it doubtful that the challenged law is rationally related to policing deceptive sales tactics,” the panel majority wrote. “Relatedly, we doubt that a rational relationship exists between public health and safety and restricting intrastate casket sales to funeral directors. …

"The great deference due state economic regulation does not demand judicial blindness to the history of a challenged rule or the context of its adoption nor does it require courts to accept nonsensical explanations for naked transfers of wealth.”

The New Orleans Times-Picayune and How Appealing noted the ruling (PDF).

The Institute for Justice applauded the decision in a press release. "The 5th Circuit left no doubt about the invalidity of the state board’s primary constitutional argument that industry insiders and government may team up to pass laws that suppress competition and clobber consumers," the press release said.

Prior coverage:

Legal Rebels: “Chip Mellor: Libertarian Law”

ABAJournal.com: “ ‘Casket Cartel’ Asks 5th Circuit to OK Statute Barring Benedictine Monks’ Cottage Coffin Industry”

ABAJournal.com: “Benedictine Monks Win ‘Casket Cartel’ Case, Have Constitutional Right to Sell Coffins”

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