Though it is sometimes easy to forget, constitutional cases have real-world consequences for the lives of real people. When judges abdicate their responsibilities, the consequences for individuals are frequently dire—homes and livelihoods are destroyed, voices are censored, and victims are left with no meaningful recourse. But the results of judicial engagement are equally important. When judges properly engage with the facts and the law of each case, there are direct benefits for individual rights—and a striking absence of the sorts of dire consequences often promised by the proponents of judicial abdication.
Craigmiles v. Giles
CONTEXT: The Rev. Nathaniel Craigmiles wanted to help his bereaved petitioners in Chattanooga, Tenn., with their funeral arrangements, and he discovered that one way he could do so was selling them caskets at prices that were steeply discounted from those offered by local funeral directors. The problem? Casket sales in Tennessee were restricted to a small funeral-director cartel by a law nearly identical to the Oklahoma law discussed above. With the help of the Institute for Justice, Rev. Craigmiles filed suit, arguing that there was no legitimate reason to prevent him from selling a casket.
The Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals agreed unanimously, finding that all the evidence showed this law for what it was: a bare attempt to provide special protection to the funeral-director cartel at the expense of consumers and entrepreneurs. Engaging with the clear facts of the case, the court found that the government was doing nothing more than engaging in economic protectionism, a clearly illegitimate interest under the Constitution, and it accordingly struck down Tennessee’s law.
CONSEQUENCE: Under the Sixth Circuit’s ruling, Rev. Craigmiles (and, later, Kim Powers) was free to sell caskets. Grieving consumers have saved thousands of dollars, and, to date, no one has been injured by an unlicensed casket salesman.