Designing Cartels

December 1, 2006

The latest front in the Institute for Justice’s battle for economic liberty is New Mexico, where bureaucrats at the Interior Design Board are enforcing a blatantly anti-competitive advertising ban against hard-working entrepreneurs like IJ clients Sherry Franzoy and Caryn Armijo.  New Mexico law allows anyone to work as an interior designer, but it is a crime to say that is what you do—unless you secure a ridiculous State-imposed license.

How did such a stupid law get on the books in the first place?  Certainly not by accident.

As documented in a study prepared by IJ’s new Director of Strategic Research Dick Carpenter, a small faction within the interior design community has been waging a relentless lobbying campaign to cartelize the industry through government regulation.  Led by the powerful American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), that campaign follows a two-part strategy.

The first step is to persuade credulous legislators to adopt so-called “titling” laws that permit anyone to work as an interior designer, but provide that only those meeting certain credentials (specifically those held by—surprise!—ASID members) may use the terms “interior design” and “interior designer.”  The result is that in New Mexico (as well as Texas, Illinois, Florida and Connecticut) thousands of talented, highly experienced interior designers are suddenly demoted to “decorators” or “consultants” and prevented from advertising themselves—truthfully—as full-fledged interior designers.

From censorship, the cartel then proceeds to full-blown occupational licensing in the guise of “practice acts” that dictate who may actually work as an interior designer.  In Alabama, for example, it is now a crime to consult with people about such weighty matters as what pictures to hang on their walls or what color to paint them.  (IJ filed a friend-of-the-court brief in a state court challenge to Alabama’s interior design regulations.)

The pro-regulation faction has been tireless, lobbying legislatures from coast to coast in its attempt to “professionalize” (read: cartelize) the field of interior design.  Indeed, IJ Arizona Chapter Attorney Jennifer Perkins, who is heading up the litigation in New Mexico, recently addressed a “town hall” meeting of interior designers in Arizona, where she scared off representatives of the pro-regulation faction when they found out that she would be there to challenge their lies and distortions.

IJ’s legal argument in New Mexico is straightforward and compelling:  First Amendment case law makes clear that government may not silence non-misleading commercial speech.  Sherry Franzoy and Caryn Armijo cannot be forbidden from accurately describing who they are and what they do.

We will show New Mexico that freedom of speech is more than mere constitutional window dressing.  And when we’re done there, we will continue taking the fight to ASID and its cartel-cronies and put a stop to their war on free enterprise.

Clark Neily is an IJ senior attorney.

Also in this issue

Ending 2006 Strong

IJ Takes on Another Speech-Squelching Campaign Finance Law

Designing Cartels

Recognizing Excellence

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