Crowning Victory: IJ Secures Extension of Braiding Freedom in Idaho
As Liberty & Law readers know, IJ has led the charge to disentangle African-style hair braiders from unnecessary and burdensome licensing requirements for the past three decades. When IJ was founded, no state permitted hair braiders to operate lawfully without a license. And when IJ established its National Braiding Initiative in 2014, only 11 states allowed braiders to work without needless licenses. But in March of this year, on the heels of an IJ lawsuit, Idaho became the 32nd state to eliminate licensing requirements of any kind for African-style braiders.
Before the lawsuit, Idaho braiders were required to obtain a cosmetology license before they could legally braid hair for a living. But African-style hair braiding—a method of natural hair care that does not involve cutting, perming, or dyeing hair—is distinct from the practice of cosmetology. Though Idaho does not even require cosmetology schools to teach students African-style braiding techniques, braiders had to complete 1,600 hours of training in cosmetology school—which can cost more than $20,000—to qualify for a license. To top it off, braiding hair without a cosmetology license was a crime, punishable by a misdemeanor charge and a fine of up to $1,000 per violation.
In short, even though IJ clients Tedy Okech, Charlotte Amoussou, and Sonia Ekemon have over 60 years of experience practicing African-style braiding between the three of them, the state required them to spend thousands of dollars and at least a year of their lives learning irrelevant skills before they could use their braiding expertise to support their families.
But the government has no business licensing something as safe and as common as hair braiding. Idaho’s arbitrary and irrational licensing requirements for braiders ran afoul of the right to earn an honest living protected by the U.S. Constitution, which is why Tedy, Charlotte, and Sonia teamed up with IJ to file a lawsuit challenging the state’s cosmetology licensing regime in federal court.
In response to the public outcry, and just two days after IJ filed suit, the Idaho House of Representatives introduced a bill—based on IJ’s model Braider Opportunity and Freedom Act—to completely exempt braiders from the requirement to obtain a cosmetology license. Two weeks later, the governor signed the bill into law after it sailed through the Legislature unanimously. The law took effect immediately, so Idaho entrepreneurs like Tedy, Charlotte, and Sonia are now free to earn an honest living by growing their braiding businesses.
This legislative victory only happened because of our litigation, and it represents the latest step in IJ’s commitment to ensure the economic liberty of all Americans. Since 1991, IJ has represented braiders to defeat licensing requirements across the country. With the passage of its new law, Idaho has joined 31 other states in eradicating barriers to braiding.
Thanks to IJ’s tireless efforts, only four states still require braiders to obtain a cosmetology license, while another 14 states and Washington, D.C., have a specialty license for braiders that does not require a full cosmetology education. And if our nearly overnight success in Idaho is any indication, even those few barriers won’t hold braiders back much longer.
Caroline Grace Brothers is an IJ attorney.
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