State cronyism takes a hit in Louisiana
At least temporarily. You may remember when we pointed our the story of the monks in Louisiana who were making coffins and the state was moving to stop them. Under Louisiana law, a place must be a “licensed funeral establishment” in which only “licensed funeral directors” may sell “funeral merchandise”.
Now everyone knows that around here we equate choice with freedom. And, what the state of Louisiana had done, at the behest of the The Louisiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors is place a restriction that set the bar to entry into the “funeral merchandise” business at a place where it essentially barred entry to anyone who wasn’t a licensed member of that guild. And, of course, the The Louisiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors controlled who did or didn’t get licensed.
So when the good brothers at St. Joseph Abbey began making hand crafted wooden coffins and selling them, they were in direct violation of the law the board had helped craft. More importantly, they were in competition with the carefully crafted state granted monopoly these people enjoyed.
They were told that the only choice they had was to do the following if they wanted to sell their caskets:
[They] must either give up the casket-selling business or become a licensed funeral establishment, which would require a layout parlor for 30 people, a display area for the coffins, the employment of a licensed funeral director and an embalming room.
That’s even though they only desired to make coffins.
When they refused, the board threatened.
[T]he Louisiana Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors sent the monks a cease-and-desist letter, threatening thousands of dollars in fines and up to 180 days in prison based on a law prohibiting the sale of coffins without a funeral director’s license.
And then sued.
In July of last year, a Federal judge ruled in the Abbey’s favor, as we reported.
The monks won round one in July, when U.S. District Judge Stanwood R. Duval Jr. ruled Louisiana’s restrictions unconstitutional, saying “the sole reason for these laws is the economic protection of the funeral industry.”
So now the 5th Circuit has ruled and guess what? The monks have won again. And the 5th was not at all kind to the State Board or the state of Louisiana in its ruling:
In a sometimes harshly worded ruling, a panel of federal appellate judges Tuesday evening smacked down the Louisiana funeral board’s continued attempts to prevent the St. Joseph Abbey monks from selling their hand-crafted caskets. “The great deference due state economic regulation (does not require) courts to accept nonsensical explanations for naked transfers of wealth,” wrote Judges Patrick Higginbotham, Catharina Haynes and Stephen A. Higginson of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. “We insist that Louisiana’s rules not be irrational.”
The appellate judges sent the case to the Louisiana Supreme Court, refusing to consider the funeral board’s appeal of a previous court’s ruling that found it unconstitutional for the state to give funeral directors exclusive rights to sell caskets.
“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,” U.S. District Court Judge Stanwood R. Duval Jr. ruled in July 2011. “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 he wrote is not “a valid government interest.”
Of course, there’s no telling what the LA Supreme Court will do. However until then, the monks are free to sell their significantly less costly caskets in Louisiana without having to clear the high bar of entry set by the crony state.
Oh, and here’s the irony and another reason the court found for the monks:
“To be sure, Louisiana does not regulate the use of a casket, container, or other enclosure for the burial remains; has no requirements for the construction or design of caskets; and does not require that caskets be sealed,” according to the court. “Individuals may construct their own caskets for funerals in Louisiana or purchase caskets from out-of-state suppliers via the internet. Indeed, no Louisiana law even requires a person to be buried in a casket.”
As plain and transparent state enforced cronyism as one can find. There are certainly more, as we all know, and they’re practiced by all levels of government. But all of them, each and every one of them, should be identified, challenged and dismantled – root and branch. Government has no business using its force and power to protect businesses from competition because doing so limits choice and thereby limits its citizen’s freedom.
Cronyism has no place in a free society.