A press release from the Institute for Justice. The case is brought by funeral directors in Pennsylvania who challenged the state's outdated laws restricting funeral home ownership, barring the serving of food in funeral homes, and other rules that have kept out competition while protecting "legacy" funeral homes.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 16, 2014
CONTACT: Shira Rawlinson, (703) 682-9320 ext. 229
Does the U.S. Constitution Require Courts to Enforce Obsolete Laws that Lack Any Justification Today?
Institute for Justice asks U.S. Supreme Court to hear ‘changed circumstances’ case
Arlington, Va.—Today, the Institute for Justice and a group of Pennsylvania funeral directors asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear Heffner v. Murphy, a case with implications for every American. The question presented to the High Court is simple: When the government takes away your liberty today, does it need reasons that are valid today or is it enough that the law was valid when passed long ago, no matter how much the facts of the world may have changed?
In Heffner, a fed-up coalition of Pennsylvania funeral entrepreneurs sued the state to overturn obsolete laws dating to the early 1950s that prevent them from providing the best service and lowest prices to their customers. The federal trial court ruled that it was no longer constitutional for Pennsylvania to enforce these archaic laws due to indisputable advances in how the funeral industry now works. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the absence of a contemporary justification for a law was not “a constitutional flaw.” Instead, the appellate court ruled that all that matters is whether the law was “rational” when passed in 1952.
Heffner v. Murphy is important to every American because the constitutional rule at issue—called “rational-basis review”—determines the constitutionality of the overwhelming majority of laws, from occupational licensing to criminal statutes to environmental law to zoning and just about everything in between. Rational-basis review requires the government to have, at minimum, a rational reason for depriving someone of liberty.