Occupational Speech

Does the Government Have the Power to License Speech?

Countless Americans—from tour guides to lawyers—earn their living in occupations that consist primarily of speech.  But government officials are increasingly relying on occupational licensing laws to stifle this speech and infringe on the right to earn an honest living.

  • As of January 2015, IJ has six active occupational speech cases that are defending the First Amendment rights of a wide array of clients, including an advice columnist, a licensed veterinarian and makeup artists.
  • In 2016, we launched a new lawsuit challenging tour guide licensing in Charleston, S.C. We also released a new report that found Washington, D.C.’s tour guide license did not improve tour quality.
  • IJ’s lawsuits and amicus briefs have been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Associated Press and USA Today.

The very idea that Americans would have to register with the government before providing information or communicating a message is antithetical to this country’s tradition of free speech and open inquiry. Yet the U.S. Supreme Court has said little on this topic, which has led some lower courts to treat occupational speech as unworthy of full constitutional protection.  The Institute for Justice has set out to change that trend, and we remain the only organization that consistently litigates cases in the cutting-edge world of occupational speech in a principled and strategic way.

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