Victory Is Now Final For Louisiana Monks; U.S. Supreme Court Rejects State’s Petition Seeking To Overturn Landmark Constitutional Victory

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · October 15, 2013

Arlington, Va.—Today, the Benedictine monks of Saint Joseph Abbey won the final battle of their five-year confrontation with the State of Louisiana when the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the petition of the Louisiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors seeking to overturn the brothers’ landmark constitutional victory. In March, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Louisiana’s law requiring a funeral director’s license to sell a casket, affirming the constitutional right to earn an honest living without unreasonable government interference.

This case arose when the brothers of Saint Joseph Abbey, a century-old Benedictine monastery in Covington, La., began to sell their handmade caskets in late 2007 to support the monks’ educational and healthcare expenses. The Louisiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors moved to shut down the fledgling business before it sold even one casket because it was a crime in Louisiana for anyone but a government-licensed funeral director to sell caskets to the public. The monks brought suit in federal court on the ground that this arbitrary restriction served no legitimate public purpose and existed only to funnel money to the funeral-director cartel.

“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.”

“Back in March, the 5th Circuit rejected economic protectionism as a legitimate state interest,” explained Jeff Rowes, an IJ senior attorney. “With the Supreme Court’s denial of the funeral board’s appeal, the 5th Circuit’s ruling becomes final.”

“The government cannot require individuals to go through onerous licensing requirements just to sell a box,” said IJ Attorney Darpana Sheth. “This victory opens the door to strike down other irrational licensing restrictions that really serve to protect industry insiders.”

“Arbitrary licensing laws crush the dreams of countless aspiring entrepreneurs across the nation,” said Institute President and General Counsel William Mellor. “This precedent gives them hope that the day will soon come when government no longer stands in the way of honest enterprise.”

Read the Fifth Circuit Decision: