Casket Case In Federal Appeals Court Could Close Lid on Cartels

John Kramer
John Kramer · April 22, 2002

Washington, D.C. – In a case with nationwide implications for entrepreneurs facing off against big government, the Institute for Justice will urge the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday, April 24, 2002, to uphold a lower court ruling affirming the rights of Tennessee casket retailers to earn an honest living free from excessive state regulations.

In Tennessee as in 10 other states, funeral boards—which are dominated by funeral directors—impose regulations requiring anyone selling a casket to be a licensed funeral director. Licensing requires hundreds of hours of training (including learning how to embalm bodies) and thousands of dollars, but has no relationship to the occupation casket retailers want to pursue. Licensing is imposed despite the fact that casket retailers never handle dead bodies; they merely sell caskets to consumers then deliver them to funeral homes. Because casket sales account for the lion’s share of a funeral home’s profits, funeral directors sought government protection in the form of licensing to keep out casket retailers.

Until an August 2000 decision by Chief Judge R. Allan Edgar of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, Tennessee had made a crime out of selling caskets without a funeral director’s license. Judge Edgar sided with the casket retailers in declaring that without a rational basis for licensing, the Tennessee law violated the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. The State of Tennessee appealed that decision to the Sixth Circuit.

The arguments on behalf of the casket retailers will take place at 9 a.m., Wednesday, April 24, 2002, at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, 100 East Fifth Street, Potter Steward U.S. Courthouse in Cincinnati, Ohio.

In the case, Institute for Justice President Chip Mellor will present the first federal appeals court argument in a century focused on economic liberty in the context of overturning the 1873 U.S. Supreme Court Slaughter-House decision. The unfortunate legacy of Slaughter-House has provided a justification for an ever-increasing number of regulations designed to protect entrenched interests at the expense of startup entrepreneurs and consumers.

“A victory for casket entrepreneurs before the Sixth Circuit will vindicate a core principle of the American Dream—the right to earn an honest living in one’s chosen occupation,” said Mellor. “We look forward to restoring economic liberty for our clients and the millions of others who find that arbitrary laws foreclose opportunity.”

The Institute for Justice is a public interest law firm that represents entrepreneurs nationwide who are fighting for economic liberty. The Institute has launched a similar challenge on behalf of Oklahoma casket entrepreneurs challenging that state’s licensing laws.