St. Joseph Abbey wins in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals

The monks of Saint Joseph Abbey have won again. On October 23, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued a decision stating that restricting the monks’ right to sell their handmade caskets was either unconstitutional or an abuse of power unauthorized by Louisiana law. The federal court asked the Louisiana Supreme Court to answer the question of whether the State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors actually has the power to stop retail casket sales. If the Louisiana Supreme Court says yes, then the law is unconstitutional. If the Louisiana Supreme Court says no, then the State Board has illegally spent the past five years wasting taxpayer dollars trying to stop the monks and other entrepreneurs from selling caskets. Either way, it’s win-win for the Abbey and lose-lose for the State Board.

Score one for the good guys.

Quoting from the second Institute of Justice (the legal organization representing the monks) link:

The federal appellate court took the unusual step of asking the Louisiana Supreme Court to weigh in on whether Louisiana’s funeral law actually grants the state board the power to stop casket retailing. If the answer is yes, then the law is unconstitutional. If the answer is no, then the state board has been acting lawlessly against the monks and other entrepreneurs for years.

The federal case will now be stayed pending an answer from the Louisiana Supreme Court on the question that the 5th Circuit posed. The 5th Circuit has set January 22, 2013, as a follow-up deadline.

As I recall, in two similar cases two different US Appeals courts gave conflicting opinions. So this third opinion makes it 2:1 against government created monopolies on casket sales But the three separate rulings are each binding only in the areas covered by their respective court of appeals.

So the funeral directors might consider an appeal to the US Supreme Court. Whether they will, and whether the USSC would accept the case, is not clear.

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