By Tim Keller
On a cool, crisp March morning in New Orleans, three unlicensed florists committed a crime on the steps of the federal courthouse. In an act of civil disobedience, these unlicensed florists did the unthinkable—they made and sold floral arrangements without government approval. By arranging and selling flowers without a government-issued license, these florists broke the law. But the real crime is that Louisiana requires aspiring florists to obtain a government-issued license at all, which is why IJ filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Louisiana’s florist licensing scheme on behalf of these unlicensed florists-turned-civil-rights-activists.
In 2003, IJ filed a similar case challenging this same law. Unfortunately, one of our clients passed away and Hurricane Katrina scattered our other clients, leaving the case unresolved. In this new case, IJ demonstrates its determination to do away with what may well be America’s most outrageous occupational licensing law. If Louisiana can license florists, there is no limit to what it can license or to the burdens it can impose on honest, productive livelihoods.
Monique and Leslie join IJ client Debby Wood, (left) and IJ’s Tim Keller at the press conference launching the case.
Louisiana is the only state in the nation that requires individuals to pass a licensing exam before they can arrange and sell flowers. To obtain a license, individuals must pass both a written examination and a practical test requiring them to create four themed floral arrangements that are judged by their future competition—florists who already passed the licensing exam. By giving licensed florists the power to decide who is and who is not qualified to arrange flowers, Louisiana gives existing businesses the power to restrict competition.
It is difficult to conceive of an occupation less in need of government regulation than arranging flowers. There is no reason to require florists to obtain a license because there is no risk to anyone from purchasing floral arrangements from unlicensed florists. There is no justification for a licensing scheme that excludes even a single person—much less significant numbers of people—from pursing an honest living as a florist.
Among the plaintiffs in the case are Monique Chauvin, Leslie Massony and Debra Wood. They would like to work as retail florists without having to jump through the arbitrary hoops created by Louisiana’s florist-licensing law. But because none of them has passed the state-mandated licensing exam, the only way they can arrange flowers for a living is if they work for a business that employs a licensed florist.
Monique and Leslie work together at Monique’s store, Mitch’s Flowers, in New Orleans. Magazines regularly feature Monique’s floral arrangements, but she has been unable to pass the licensing exam. The licensing regime threatens to shut down her floral shop because the licensed florist she employed passed away in February. Monique now has 90 days to hire another licensed florist—something she does not want to do because licensed florists are no more adept than unlicensed florists. But Monique’s only options are to hire a licensed florist, try to take the exam again herself or close her shop.
Debby Wood started her own floral arranging business after making six floral arrangements for her mother-in-law’s birthday party. At the urging of her family, Debby started Debra Hirsch Wood Designs. She completed all the necessary paperwork and obtained a tax ID number, but then discovered it was illegal to arrange and sell flowers in Louisiana without a license. Debby spent $2,000 on a two-week, 80-hour course that taught people the outdated skills tested on the licensing exam, and an additional $150 on a refresher course before the exam. She was shocked when she found out she had failed the test.
There is no legitimate reason for the government to dictate who can and who cannot arrange flowers. In challenging Louisiana’s floral cartel, IJ seeks to strike down a blatantly anti-competitive occupational licensing scheme and set a precedent to restore economic liberty—the right to earn an honest living free from arbitrary government regulation—to its rightful place as a constitutionally protected American right.
Tim Keller is the IJ Arizona Chapter executive director.