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IJ Scores a Major Victory for Economic Liberty at the Pennsylvania Supreme Court

Less than 24 hours after IJ’s economic liberty victory at the Georgia Supreme Court, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued its own decision vindicating an IJ client’s right to earn a living. The court held—for the first time—that occupational licensing requirements must satisfy a more rigorous test under the Pennsylvania Constitution than under the U.S. Constitution.

In a 5–2 decision, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that economic regulations—including the real estate licensing laws at issue in our case—must bear a “real and substantial relation to the public interest they seek to advance” and cannot be “unduly oppressive or patently beyond the necessities of the case.”

This victory allows IJ to continue defending entrepreneur Sally Ladd in her challenge to an occupational licensing scheme that is burdensome, outdated, and unconstitutional. It also opens the door for countless other entrepreneurs to leverage Pennsylvania’s heightened protections for the “undeniably important” right to earn a living in years to come.

IJ and Sally teamed up back in 2017, when Pennsylvania regulators forced her to shut down her short-term rental management business because she wasn’t a licensed real estate broker. To become licensed, Sally would need to spend three years working for a real estate broker, take hundreds of hours of courses on buying and selling property, and open up a brick-and-mortar office. But Sally had no interest in buying or selling property. All she wanted to do was help people book short-term rentals of their vacation properties through sites like Airbnb.

Watch the case video here.

With IJ’s help, Sally sued, arguing that forcing her to spend years learning about work she would never perform—and thousands of dollars opening an office she would never need—imposed excessive burdens on her right to earn a living under the Pennsylvania Constitution. When the trial court upheld the real estate licensing scheme and dismissed Sally’s case, we took our arguments up to the Commonwealth Supreme Court.

This decision is not just a triumph for economic liberty in Pennsylvania. It is also a testament to IJ’s long-term approach to vindicating economic liberty in court. In ruling for Sally, the court relied heavily on two prior IJ cases: the Texas Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Patel, and the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California’s 1999 decision in Cornwell, both of which struck down burdensome applications of cosmetology licenses. The strength of these prior decisions gave the court the legal foundation it needed to clarify its own heightened test to defend the economic liberty rights of its citizens.

This incremental strategy—and IJ’s commitment to seeing it through over decades—is what makes us so effective in pursuing our mission. We will keep fighting to secure ultimate victory for Sally and for the right of all Pennsylvanians like her to earn an honest living.

Joshua Windham is an IJ attorney.

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