All Melony Armstrong wanted was to become a hair braider in Mississippi. Yet, she soon found herself in the middle of a battle against her state’s government. More than a decade after reforms were successfully passed, Melony’s business and the hair braiding industry in Mississippi are flourishing. Full Measure with Sharyl Atkinson recently interviewed Melony Armstrong, a former Institute for Justice client, about her struggle to become a hair braider in Mississippi.
As Melony told Full Measure:
I was going to have to go to cosmetology school and get a 1,500-hour cosmetology license…I was going to have to quit my full-time job, because I was an assistant director at a boys’ home. I also would have had to pay about $10,000, because that’s what the curriculum cost at the time. A person can go and become certified as an ambulance driver in that short amount of time, and here in the state at the time was requiring someone like myself, who just wanted to hair braid, to have to go to school for a year and a half.
To vindicate her right to economic liberty, Melony partnered with the IJ to challenge Mississippi’s hair braiding laws in federal court. The lawsuit prompted state legislators to exempt braiding from the state’s cosmetology laws. Instead, hair braiders need only pay a $25 registration fee and complete a self-test on basic health and sanitation guidelines. As state Rep. Steve Holland, who championed the reform, put it, “I don’t think you’ll find one death certificate at the Mississippi State Department of Health Vital Statistics Division that said, ‘Cause of death: hair braiding.’”
Since the reforms were implemented, Melony’s business has flourished. She employs 25 people and has trained at least 125 people how to braid hair. Melony also testified before the House Subcomittee on Contracting and Workforce about her fight to reform licensing for hair braiders. There are around 1,000 registered braiders in Mississippi. Mississippi is one of 18 states that do not license hair braiders.
Since its founding, IJ has gone to court to protect the rights of braiders in Washington, D.C., California, Ohio, Arizona, Mississippi, Minnesota, Utah, Texas, Washington, and Arkansas. IJ is currently challenging the licensing of hair braiders in Missouri. IJ is also challenging the licensing of hair braiders in Iowa but plans to voluntarily dismiss its lawsuit after a new law exempting hair braiders from needing a cosmetology license goes into effect later this week.