Utah Hairbraiding

Brushing Out Utah’s African Hairbraiding Laws
Clayton v. Steinagel

IJ Client Jestina Clayton.

Utah braiding video
Watch IJ's video, "Untangling African Hairbraiders from Utah's Cosmetology Regime"


Jestina Clayton began braiding hair during her childhood in Sierra Leone, where braiding is a part of the cultural heritage, and has been braiding hair for most of her life. Jestina brought this special skill with her to the United States after fleeing from the Sierra Leone civil war. In 2006, Jestina, then a college student in Utah, started her own African braiding business to help provide for her family while her husband also finished his education. She just braided hair—she never cut hair or used any chemicals. And when she asked the State whether she needed a license to start her business she was told no—not if she was just braiding hair.

After a couple of years in business, however, Jestina received an anonymous threat to report her to the cosmetology board for braiding without a license.  This time when Jestina asked the Sate if she needed a cosmetology license to just braid hair she was told yes, she did need that license.

To get a Utah cosmetology license Jestina would have to spend thousands of dollars on 2,000 hours of government-mandated cosmetology training. In the same number of class hours, a person also could qualify to be an armed security guard, mortgage loan originator, real estate sales agent, EMT and lawyer—combined. Worse yet, as the State admitted, these 2,000 hours had little, if anything, to do with African hairbraiding.

On August 8, 2012, a federal judge struck down Utah’s hairbraiding law as unconstitutional and recognized that Utah had violated Jestina’s right to earn an honest living. The judge ruled that “Utah’s cosmetology/barbering licensing scheme is so disconnected from the practice of African hairbraiding, much less from whatever minimal threats to public health and safety are connected to braiding, that to premise Jestina’s right to earn a living by braiding hair on that scheme is wholly irrational and a violation of her constitutionally protected rights.”

With this ruling, Jestina was free to go back to her business.


Essential Background


Background on the Utah Hairbraiding case

Client Photo

Latest Release: Hairbraider to Utah Legislature: Don’t Put Me Out of Work Again New Licensing Scheme Pushed by Industry Insiders Would Still Put Braiders Out of Business (October 23, 2012)

Client Video

Launch Release: African Hairbraider Files Federal Suit To Untangle Utah’s Cosmetology Regime (April 25, 2011)

Legal Briefs and Decisions

Court Decision (August 8, 2012)

Case Timeline

Filed Lawsuit:


April 26, 2011

Court Filed:

U.S. District Court for the District of Utah



Victory!  On August 8, 2012, a federal judge struck down Utah’s hairbraiding law as unconstitutional and recognized that Utah had violated Jestina’s right to earn an honest living.  Utah did not appeal and the case is completed.

Next Key Date:




Additional Releases

Maps, Charts and Facts

Release: Federal Judge Strikes Down Utah’s Hairbraiding Licensing Scheme (August 9, 2012)

none available



Op-eds, News Articles and Links

Article: So you think you can be a hairbraider?; The New York Times (June 12, 2012)

Article: Returning to Our Roots: IJ Returns to Court to Defend Hairbraiders' Right to Earn an Honest Living; Liberty & Law (June 2011)

Article: Regulation is a cancer John Stossel (June 7, 2011)

Article: Hair braider says Utah cosmetology law is unfair AP (April 30, 2011)

Article: Woman sues over need for license to braid hair Salt Lake Tribune (April 26, 2011)

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