A five-year battle by Benedictine monks in Louisiana for the right to make and sell caskets is over, and the holy carpenters have won. The Supreme Court declined this week to get involved in the fight between St. Joseph Abbey and the Louisiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors, letting stand a ruling that declared a state-enforced industry monopoly illegal.
The law in question required anybody who wanted to sell caskets to undergo funeral director training and set up embalming equipment, rules that have nothing to do with creating or selling fancy wooden boxes with which to store dead bodies, but everything to do with making sure the funeral industry controlled the marketplace. Reason's Damon Root had been following the case when the U.S. Court of Appeals struck it down in March, ruling "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, leads us to conclude that no rational relationship exists between public health and safety and limiting intrastate sales of caskets to funeral establishments."
The Louisiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors attempted to bring the case to the Supreme Court, but it is not to be. The Institute for Justice represented the monks. Like me, they are unable to avoid puns related to death when responding to the case being put to rest:
"The U.S. Supreme Court's denial of review puts the final nail in the coffin for the state board's protectionist and outrageous campaign against the monks," said Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Scott Bullock. "The Abbey's victory in this case will not only protect their right to sell caskets, but the rights of entrepreneurs throughout the country."
The monks' victory is one of only a handful of cases since the 1930s in which federal courts have enforced the constitutional right to economic liberty.
Abbot Justin Brown, who heads the monastic community said, "Today is a good day for us at the Abbey. Knowing that not only has our economic liberty been protected forever, but that we also helped secure the same rights for others makes this years-long battle worth it."