Communal monks may have revived individual liberty

Or so described George Will last November:

If courts once again become properly impatient with nonsensical explanations, much of what government does will become untenable. It is lovely that revitalized protection of the individual rights of property and striving may owe much to an abbey where all property is communal.

It turns out he was right. From Ilya Shapiro at the Cato Institute’s blog comes the welcome news that regulations designed solely to protect the interests of entrenched businesses and the like are unconstitutional:

Last week, the Institute for Justice scored a resounding victory for the right to earn an honest living in an unlikely case that pitted woodworking monks against the Louisiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors.  The New Orleans-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit – where I clerked – ruled in a final, unanimous decision (including one Obama-appointed judge) that Louisiana violated the St. Joseph Abbey monks’ economic liberty when it forbade them from selling the caskets they make to support their religious order.

Significantly, the court ruled that the Constitution doesn’t allow the government to enact laws simply to shield industry cartels from honest competition.  Although IJ was already assured of victory, given that Fifth Circuit had issued a divided preliminary opinion in October, that ruling left open some tricky questions that this latest decision definitively settled.

Last Wednesday’s ruling makes clear that laws having no purpose but to enrich certain protected interests are unconstitutional, using reasoning that should be a model for courts across the country.

Check out Will’s column for the full details on the case, but the short version is this: Saint Joseph Abbey’s monks make and sell caskets in Louisiana. The state’s Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors went after them, since they were not following a series of regulations Will notes would force the monks “to stop being monks”:

They would have to earn 30 hours of college credit and apprentice for a year at a licensed funeral home to acquire skills they have no intention of using. And their abbey would have to become a “funeral establishment” with a parlor, able to accommodate 30 people, and an embalming facility, even though they just want to make rectangular boxes, not handle cadavers.

It’s a very good thing the Court found in favor of free markets and individual liberty. For too long, governments at all levels have found it too easy to benefit entrenched interests at the expense of freedom, competition, and the American people. (In Arlington, VA, where I live, the county regulations on taxi cabs are so restrictive so as to all but prevent competition from arising.) Let’s make sure this case is heard ‘round the country, as we fight to take our country back from an ever-expansive government and its special interest allies.