Of Butchers, Bakers, and Casket Makers: St. Joseph
Abbey v. Castille and the Fifth Circuit’s Rejection of
Pure Economic Protectionism as a Legitimate State
Cutting timber, brewing beer, and making wine—the Benedictine
monks strive to maintain a life of simplicity by engaging in various
common trades to financially support their monastic communities.1
Hurricane Katrina forced the monks of St. Joseph Abbey (Abbe y) to
find a new trade; the monks could no longer cut and sell timber
since their supply was washed away by the storm.2 As a result,
turning to their century-old tradition of casket making, the Abbey’s
monks began selling their handmade wooden caskets customarily
used to bury their brethren.3 For the monks, the art of casket
making was the clear solution, allowing them to maintain a quiet
lifestyle in furtherance of the order’s motto ora et labora—“prayer
and work”;4 however, in their quest to become more Christ-like,
the monks became monastic-clad criminals. Unbeknownst to the
Abbey, the monks were operating in contravention of Louisiana
law, which requires that all intrastate casket sales to the public be
Copyright 2015, by ALLISON B. KINGSMILL.
1. See Free the Monks and Free Enterprise: Challenging Louisiana’s Casket
Cartel, INST. FOR JUSTICE, ht tp://www.ij.org/louisian a-caskets-background-2 ,
archived at http://perma.cc/NLP9-Z6PY (last visited Oct. 5, 2014) (“Selling
caskets helps the monks pay for food and healthcare, and helps them share their
belief in the noble simplicity of life and death.”).
2. St. Joseph Abbey v. Castille, 712 F.3d 215, 217 (5th Cir. 2013), cert.
denied, 134 S. Ct. 423 (2013).
3. Id. (“In years past, the Abbey’s timberland provided a source of income.
After Hurricane Katrina destroyed its timber, the Abbey began looking for other
revenue sources. For generations the Abbey has made simple wooden caskets to
bury its monks. Public inte rest in the Abbe y’s caskets increased after two
bishops were buried in Abbey caskets in the 1990s. Seeing potential in this
demand, the Abbey invested $200,000 in ‘St. Joseph Woodworks,’ ma naged by
Mark Coudrain, a deacon of the Church and an employee of the Abbey. The
business plan was simple. St. Joseph Woodworks offered one product—caskets
in two models, ‘monastic’ and ‘traditional,’ priced at $1,500 and $2,000
respectively, signi ficantly lower than those offer ed by funeral homes.”).
4. Free the Monks and Free Enterprise: Challenging Louisiana’s Casket
Cartel, supra note 1. As a Benedictine Monastery, the monks of St. Joseph
Abbey follow the teachings of Saint Benedict of Nursia, a sixth-century
Christian monk. Id. “This ancient tradition is encapsulated in the Benedictine
motto ‘ora et labora’ (prayer and work). The monastic life at Saint Joseph
Abbey is one of liturgical prayer, the singing of psalms, simple labor, education,
and hospitality to ward those seeking a contemplative respite from the world.”
934 LOUISIANA LAW REVIEW [Vol. 75
made by a state-licensed funeral director at a state-licensed funeral
home.5 The Louisiana Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors
(State Board), the entity responsible for enforcing the relevant
statutes and regulations, caught wind of the rising enterprise and
ordered the monks to shut down their casket-making business or
face heavy fines, jail time, and an injunctive lawsuit.6
In St. Joseph Abbey v. Castille, the Abbey sought to enjoin the
State Board from enforcing the casket regulations, contending that
the Louisiana laws violated the Due Process and Equal Protection
Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States
Constitution.7 The United States District Court for the Eastern
District of Louisiana found the casket regulations unconstitutional
on equal protection and due process grounds.8 On appeal, the Fifth
Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision.9 The Fifth Circuit held
that mere economic protection of the funeral industry, absent a
connection to the advancement of the public good or general
welfare, is not a legitimate state interest.10 Although the monks
rejoiced in their Fifth Circuit victory, the State Board swiftly
petitioned the United States Supreme Court to overturn the Fifth
5. See LA REV. STAT. ANN. §§ 37:831(33), (39), § 848 (2011).
6. See id. § 37:848; Castille, 712 F.3d at 217–19.
7. St. Joseph Abbey v. Castille, 835 F. Supp. 2d 149 (E.D. La. 2011), aff’d,
712 F.3d 215 (5th Cir. 2013). The Fourteenth Amendment provides:
No state shall make or enforce any law which sha ll abridge the
privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any
state deprive any person o f life, liberty, or property, without due
process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal
protection of the laws.
U.S. CONST. amend. XIV, § 1.
8. See Castille, 835 F. Supp. 2d at 151 (holding it “unconstitutional to
require those persons who intend solely to manufacture and sell caskets be subject
to the licensing requirements for funeral directors and funeral establishments”).
The district court found that this requirement was in contravention of the Due
Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause, because there was no rational
basis for the state to “require persons who seek to enter into the retailing of caskets
to unde rgo the training and expense nece ssary to c omply with these rules.” Id. at
151. In addition, the court found t hat “there [was] nothing in the licensing
procedures t hat bestows any be nefit to the public in the context of the retail sale of
caskets,” and “[t]he license [had] no bearing on the manufacturing and sale of
caskets.” Id. at 151. The court believed the “sole reason for these laws [was] the
economic protection of the funeral industry which rea son the Court has previously
found not to be a valid government interest sta nding alone to provide a
constitutionally valid reason for these provisions.” Id.
9. Castille, 712 F.3d at 217.
10. Id. at 226–27.
2015] NOTE 935
Circuit’s ruling.11 However, the Supreme Court rejected the State
By denying the State Board’s writ of certiorari, the Supreme
Court remained silent regarding the constitutionality of Louisiana’s
casket laws, and thus the decision holding the law unconstitutional
became final. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court has a colorful history
of reviewing economic legislation very similar to Louisiana’s casket
regulations.13 Supreme Court jurisprudence has touched on the
various mechanisms used to protect individuals’ economic liberties,
such as the freedom to pursue a livelihood.14 In the nineteenth
century, many Supreme Court justices considered such economic
liberties to be natural rights.15 Throughout the nineteenth century
until the 1930s, also known as the “Lochner Era,”
16 the Court
closely scrutinized economic laws and interpreted the Due Process
Clause as protecting the freedom of contract.17 Consequently,
during that time the Supreme Court invalidated most economic
11. Petition for Writ of Certiorari, Castille v. St. Joseph Abbey, 134 S. Ct.
423 (2013) (No. 13-91). Members of the State Board filed a petition for
certiorari on July 17, 2013, requesting review of the Fifth Circuit’s opinion. Id.
The Board urged the Court to allow the writ, because there is a circuit split
regarding whether pure economic protectionism is a legitimate governmental
interest under the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses. Id. at 35.
12. Castille v. St. Joseph Abbey, 134 S. Ct. 423 (2013).
13. See infra Part I.
14. See ERWIN CHEMER INSKY, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW: PRINCIPLES AND
POLICES 622 (Vicki Been et al. eds., 4th ed. 2011) (“The Supreme Court’s
protection of economic liberties has varied enormously over time.”).
15. Id. (“In the early nineteenth centur y, the Court invoked natural law
principles to protect property rights.”). Justice Chase “expressed the view that
the government coul d neither violate the provisions of the Constitution nor
infringe rights that are part of the natural law.” Id. at 624. He stated, “there are
certain vital principles in our free Republic governments, which will determine
and overrule an apparent and flagrant ab use of legislative power . . . An ACT of
the le gislature . . . contrary to the great first principles of the social compact,
cannot be consider ed a rightful exercise of legisla tive authority.” Id. at 625.
16. The era was named after the famous case of Lochner v. New York, 198
U.S. 45 (1905) (finding that a law restricting the number of hours bakers could
work was unconstitutional).
17. CHEMERINSKY, supra note 14, at 630. Throughout the “Lochner Era,”
the Supreme Court stated that:
[F]reedom of contract is a basic right protected as liberty and property
rights under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment . . .
the Court [has] said that liberty includes the right ‘to enter into all
contracts which may be proper, necessary, and essential’ to carrying
out a trade or profession.
Id. The Court said that the state could limit the freedom of contract only to serve
a valid police purpose, and it was the judiciary’s responsibility to closely
scrutinize such legislation to make sure it served a valid police purpose. Id. at