Monks can sell caskets in Louisiana. “Rational basis” review lives.

In a rare but classical exercise of judicial review of a state law’s “rational basis,” the Fifth Circuit found a Louisiana economic regulation unconstitutional.  The Associated Press and the Times-Picayune provide some initial commentary.  The Louisiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors barred an abbey of Benedictine monks from selling caskets.  In late 2012, the Fifth Circuit certified a question to the Louisiana Supreme Court about the Board’s authority, which that court declined to answer.  The Fifth Circuit then reviewed the Board’s actions and agreed with the district court that the regulation was not rationally related to the state’s claimed interests in consumer protection or public health, affirming an injunction against its enforcement.  St. Joseph Abbey v. Castille, No. 11-30757 (March 20, 2013).  The Court emphasized both the limited role of “rational basis” review and its importance when it does apply: “The deference we owe expresses mighty principles of federalism and judicial roles.  The principle we protect from the hand of the State today protects an equally vital core principle — the taking of wealth and handing it to others . . . as ‘economic’ protection of the rulemakers’ pockets.”

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