The Way We Die

03.21.13

A Victory Against Big Funeral in Louisiana

You have the right to buy a casket from anyone you please.

Since the 1960s, the State of Louisiana has threatened illegal casket vendors with thousands of dollars in fines and up to 180 days in jail.  The only way to be a legal casket salesman is to become a licensed funeral director, a process that is expensive and time consuming.  As you can imagine, this is a situation that licensed funeral directors like just fine.  But it's hard on families who can only get a pricey casket through the funeral home cartel.  Worse, it's ridiculous.  It's hard to imagine any reason that the state needs to get into regulating the procurement and sale of . . . wooden boxes.  What's the worst thing that can happen if someone gets a subpar casket?  

Last August, a Louisiana monastary sued.  St. Joseph's Abbey opened a casket business in 2007, selling high-end handcrafted cypress caskets to help finance its operations.  The state of Louisiana threatened to shut them down and jail the deacon who was running the casket-shop; the cease and desist letter was mailed even before they'd made a single casket.  So the Institute for Justice took their case, and today, they won a major victory.  

A federal judge in New Orleans has ruled that the state cannot hurt consumers simply in order to protect the lucrative monopoly of the funeral directors.  This should not be surprising--the testimony for the defense included such gems as suggesting that legally forbidding consumers from doing business with anyone except a funeral director was really helping them, by guaranteeing that they would be buying their wooden box from a trained expert. After all, if they didn't get their box from a trained expert . . . well, the box might be too small, because how would you know how tall Dad was without the help of a specially trained expert with a funeral director's license?

The judge wasn't having any of it, and while this shouldn't be surprising, it still is.  These cartels are hard to fight, and judges tend to err on the side of letting the government enforce monopolies, because if we limit the government's power, well, it's all downhill from there.  So it's good to see a judge sticking up for the right to do something that's not harming anyone--except the funeral directors who no longer get to take a cut off every sale.