BREAKING: The Monks Win It

Remember that court case involving the monks at St. Joseph Abbey in St. Tammany Parish who ran up against state regulators for trying to sell wooden caskets?

Well, the monks had their day in court – and today there’s a verdict.

Monktastic.

A federal judge has ruled that an order of monks can sell caskets without having a Louisiana funeral home license.

The monks of St. Joseph Abbey in St. Tammany Parish sued in August, saying the Louisiana Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors maintains a “casket cartel” through regulation dominated by the funeral business. The board had blocked the monks from selling caskets with simple white cloth interiors for $1,500 to $2,000.

The board contended that the abbey must meet state funeral licensing requirements to sell caskets.

U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval ruled Thursday that the requirements violate the monks’ constitutional rights. The judge said “there is no rational basis” for the standards to be applied to those only wanting to sell caskets.

For background on this, see here and here.

Duval has it exactly right. A casket is basically a wooden box. That’s all it is. The idea that you need a license to sell wooden boxes is preposterous, but we’ve allowed folks who’ve cornered a large share of the market to engage in restraining trade in said boxes to essentially protect them from competition. Nobody but the embalmers and funeral directors benefits from their having a board with the power to regulate that industry.

Now at least there’s a chink in the armor. The faster these crony-capitalist regulatory boards which bar market entry for everything from florists and hairdressers to interior designers and plumbers can be dismantled, the faster our economy will grow.

UPDATE: The Institute For Justice, who handled the case for the monks, has some further material

The Honorable Stanwood Duval of U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana ruled, “Simply put, there is nothing in the licensing procedures that bestows any benefit to the public in the context of the retail sale of caskets.  The license has no bearing on the manufacturing and sale of coffins.  It appears that the sole reason for these laws is the economic protection of the funeral industry which reason the Court has previously found not to be a valid government interest standing alone to provide a constitutionally valid reason for these provisions.”

The ruling continued, “With the advent of the internet, consumers can now buy caskets from retailers across the country including Wal-Mart and online retailers such as Amazon.com.  This fact is salient in that Louisianians can indeed purchase from these out of state retailers who are not subject to the Act.  Indeed, with the exception of an April 13, 2009 Cease and Desist Order issued to National Memorial Planning, the [Embalmers and Funeral Directors] Board has not issued any other Cease and Desist orders to out-of state casket retailers in the last ten years.”

And a little more…

In its ruling, the court wrote, “The Court finds no rational relationship between the Act and ‘public health and safety.’  No evidence was presented to demonstrate that requiring the purchase of caskets from licensed funeral directors aids the public welfare.”

The decision continued, “The provisions of the Act as they relate to the retail sale of caskets by persons other than funeral directors do not protect consumers; the prohibition against Plaintiffs’ selling caskets does not protect the public health and welfare.  The provisions simply protect a well-organized industry that seeks to maintain a strict hold on this business. . . .   Likewise these laws violate the Equal Protection Clause, since the Act in essence treats two distinct and different occupations as the same.”

Finally, the ruling stated, “In sum, the arguments made by defendants [those defending the casket cartel] are hollow . . . .  There is no relation between the obtaining of a funeral license and the ability to manufacture and sell a casket.  The only protection afforded by the Act is the economic protection of the funeral directors which this Court has held not to be in and of itself a rational basis for the Act under the Constitution of the United States for the reasons stated in its previous order.”

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