Major Economic Liberty Case Lands at Supreme Court

A major case testing the reach of state regulatory power has just moved one step closer to review by the U.S. Supreme Court. On Wednesday, the Louisiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors asked the Supreme Court to reinstate its requirement that only licensed funeral directors be permitted to sell coffins within the state, thereby preventing the monks of St. Joseph Abbey from engaging in the unlicensed sale of hand-made wooden caskets.

In March, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit invalidated that licensing requirement, holding that the state lacked any rational basis for its law and had offered only “nonsensical explanations” in the law’s defense. “That Louisiana does not even require a casket for burial, does not impose requirements for their construction or design, does not require a casket to be sealed before burial, and does not require funeral directors to have any special expertise in caskets,” the 5th Circuit declared, “leads us to conclude that no rational relationship exists between public health and safety and limiting intrastate sales of caskets to funeral establishments.” Indeed, the state has admitted that the licensing requirement served as a form of economic protectionism for its funeral industry.

In its appeal to the Supreme Court this week, the State Board basically argues that none of these facts matter, because the federal judiciary has no choice but to defer to state officials and uphold the contested regulation. “The purpose of rational-basis review is to insulate State legislation on economic and social issues from judicial review,” the State Board declares.

The Institute for Justice, the public interest law firm representing the monks of St. Joseph Abbey in their challenge to the licensing requirement, is due to file a response to the Louisiana State Board next month. In a statement issued this week, the firm left little doubt that both the monks and their lawyers are ready to continue the fight. “Americans didn’t create a nation of free people so that state governments can use their power to make private financial interests rich at the expense of liberty and the public,” declared Institute for Justice attorney Jeff Rowes. “If the Supreme Court takes this case, we will win.”

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  • Sevo||

    Man, rent-seeking must be addictive!

  • Dr. Frankenstein||

    rent-seeking is a hellava drug.

  • Doctor Whom||

    If someone offers you rent-seeking, just say no.

  • Doctor Whom||

    “The purpose of rational-basis review is to insulate State legislation on economic and social issues from judicial review,” the State Board declares.

    The insulation isn't impermeable. The SCOTUS has been known to review state laws for rational basis and still hold them unconstitutional.

  • Aresen||

    the 5th Circuit declared, “leads us to conclude that no rational relationship exists between public health and safety and limiting intrastate sales of caskets to funeral establishments"

    and

    “The purpose of rational-basis review is to insulate State legislation on economic and social issues from judicial review,” the State Board declares.

    Am I reading that correctly? Did the State Board spokesman just say flat out that there is no need for regulations to be rational?

  • ||

    Not really, he's just admitting that "rational basis" normally means "fuck you, that's why," so it's unfair that someone actually even took the time to say they were super-duper-irrational in this case.

  • ||

    “The purpose of rational-basis review is to insulate State legislation on economic and social issues from judicial review,” the State Board declares.

    Hahaha, well at least they are honest! That is exactly what rational-basis review does, but no one says it's actually the goal!

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    How is this any of the federal government's business, again? Commerce clause?

  • Aresen||

    Not sure of your point. It is a State Regulatory Agency that is being challenged.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    My point is that I don't see how this is the business of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit or the federal courts in general.

  • UnCivilServant||

    Suits against the states to prevetn the enforcement and rule unconstitutional laws and regulations are tried in federal court if the basis used is the national constitution instead of the state constitution.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    There's some question begging there. Why would a LA law about LA coffins be a subject covered by the federal constitution?

  • Doctor Whom||

    The 14th Amendment, in both intent and crystal-clear wording, limits the power of states. That's why.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    Show me the crystal clear wording in the 14th that supports such a claim.

  • Doctor Whom||

    "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

    That sure looks like a limitation on state power to me.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    That sure doesn't look like the elimination of state power to me.

    Show me the crystal clear part where how LA manages coffin sales is a federal issue. I'm not seeing that part.

  • Jonas||

    The thing is, you and Dr. Whom are going back to the age-old dilemma of the Slaughter-House Cases, a decision which Alan Gura argued should be overturned in McDonald vs. Chicago, for which Clarence Thomas issued a partial concurrence.

    Does the 14th Amendment give the federal government the authority to protect privileges and immunities even if there's no compelling federal interest in the outcome? Slaughter-House decided "no", but there are many who would say the intention of the amendment was "yes".

    I'm hoping this 14th Amendment issue is how the case is argued... it could be one of the most significant court cases in recent memory. I'd love nothing more than to see the Slaughter-House Cases overturned, personally.

  • James Ard||

    I didn't know you didn't have to be buried in a casket down here. Do they have to put the body in a grave or can my children just float me down the Mississippi without paying for a cremation first? The catfish would love it. I'd get the St. Joseph casket for sure if I wasn't trying to make it easy on family by donating my body to science.

  • Robert||

    “Americans didn’t create a nation of free people so that state governments can use their power to make private financial interests rich at the expense of liberty and the public,”


    Looks like that's the question that will be litigated, and it could come out either way. Why couldn't judges look at the US Constitution and decide that it's all about letting interest groups organize politically to take advantage of each other, and that as long as the groups didn't look like they were permanently marked by some characteristic like race, they all had an equal chance to gain the upper hand, so that between funeral directors and the rest of the public, anything goes? And that the only basis for striking this down would be if it didn't advantage even funeral directors, hence that it was irrational since nobody would be helped by it even at someone else's expense? That'd be my understanding of "rational basis": that as long as it was designed to help somebody and looked like it had a chance to help them, it was rational.

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