Occupational Speech Still Needs to be Reconciled by the U.S. Supreme Court

Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court declined the cert petition for the Institute for Justice’s Texas Veterinary Speech case. As Institute for Justice Attorney Matt Miller told Reuters, “This case is over, but there will be a next case … There will be future veterinarians, doctors, other professionals who will be facing these types of protectionist restrictions.”

The case centered on Dr. Ron Hines, a retired and disabled veterinarian, licensed in Texas. Hines had been using his online blog to give advice to pet owners across the country and around the world since 2002. But in 2013, the Texas State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners suspended his license, fined him, and made him retake portions of the veterinary licensing exam.

Hines’ advice was pure speech, and the First Amendment does not allow government to censor speech. The board used its power to license veterinarians to censor Hines’ speech. It did so even though only 5 percent of the people Hines consulted with were from Texas and there were no allegations of animals being harmed.

As occupational licensing continues to proliferate—with one recent study estimating that one-quarter of America’s workforce now needs a license to work—it is becoming more and more important for this issue to be resolved. It is especially important that occupational speech be protected as more online services develop. IJ recently won a similar case in Kentucky regarding the speech of licensed psychologist John Rosemond and another case in North Carolina regarding a diabetic blogger’s dietary advice speech.

Unfortunately, despite these victories, there remains a lot of confusion in the courts over how much occupational speech is protected. Slate writer Mark Joseph Stern described the conflicting decisions on occupational speech that exist from one district court to another. Stern also emphasized that Hines’ case “directly [implicated] gun rights, abortion, marijuana, and ex-gay conversion therapy.”

Given these wide-reaching implications, it is necessary that the Supreme Court finally ensure the necessary protections that this speech requires.

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