Don’t Tangle with Braiders

June 1, 2005

June 2005

Don’t Tangle with Braiders: New Case Marks Launch of IJ’s Minnesota Chapter

By Lee McGrath

IJ clients, top, from left, Saleemah Salahud-Din Shabazz, Lillian Awah Anderson and Ejgayehu Beyene Asres stand with IJ Minnesota Chapter Executive Director Lee McGrath at the launch of the case and state chapter. While the television crews set up, IJ-MN attorneys Nick Dranias and Lee McGrath talk with our clients (middle). Bottom, Lee McGrath addresses the media during the launch press conference.

On April 20, the Institute for Justice Minnesota Chapter (IJ-MN) swung open its doors and put on notice bureaucrats from St. Paul to International Falls that the days of planning-as-usual are over.

Happy warriors for liberty have set up shop in the land of Hubert Humphrey and will litigate across the state on behalf of the politically and economically disenfranchised whose rights are being violated by the government.

The welcome from our fellow freedom-loving locals could not have been warmer. At IJ-MN’s first press conference, all five local TV stations and both major newspapers in the Twin Cities reported on the new State Chapter and our clients—three African hairbraiders who are challenging Minnesota’s cosmetology cartel.

Less than a week later, more than 120 supporters heard Chip Mellor, IJ’s president and co-founder, explain that Minnesota was ripe for a state chapter because of its strong state constitution, clean judiciary, like-minded civic organizations and newly formed team of litigators well-trained in the IJ way.

Why Minnesota?

The opening of the Institute for Justice Minnesota Chapter did not happen overnight. Chip and I started discussing a state chapter in Minnesota in 2001. Chip had a vision of what the state chapters could do to complement the work of the attorneys in D.C. And he knew that to have a successful state chapter, Minnesota had to offer an environment where IJ’s strategies could work both in court and in the court of public opinion.

IJ researched Minnesota’s Constitution and judiciary. It found that the state’s courts had demonstrated a willingness to find greater protection for individual liberties in the state constitution than the federal Constitution. The presence of greater protection in the state constitution in the areas of religious freedom and police searches bodes well for IJ’s legal strategy of strengthening economic liberty, property rights and free speech above protection found in the U.S. Constitution.

Moreover, I prepared an in-depth analysis that showed, among other factors, that Minnesota’s current political climate was being transformed by pressures to compete in world markets, the failings of public education, and the popular fatigue with state government not engaged in the productivity revolution seen in the private sector. This suggested that IJ’s media strategies would be well received.

First Case

Having done our homework, IJ-MN opened its doors and announced its first case, Anderson v. Minnesota Board of Barbers and Cosmetology Examiners. The case challenges the constitutionality of State regulations that require an African hairbraider to obtain a cosmetology license even though government-mandated classes and tests are unrelated to braiding.

In this case, IJ-Minnesota has terrific clients who represent the best of the entrepreneurial spirit and are determined to have Minnesota’s irrational regulations overturned.

Five years after immigrating to the United States from Cameroon, our lead plaintiff, Lillian Awah Anderson, opened “Extensions Plus” in South Minneapolis. Extensions Plus is a clean, professional salon that specializes strictly in braiding, weaving and natural hairstyles—skills Lillian learned 20 years ago from a local school in Buea, Cameroon. Since opening her salon, Lillian has built a successful business the old-fashioned way—by working hard to establish a loyal clientele.

Joining Lillian in the lawsuit are Ejgayehu “Gigi” Asres and Saleemah Shabazz. Gigi was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and came to the United States in 1999 as a political refugee fleeing the horrors of civil war. Born in America, Saleemah’s knowledge of hairbraiding was passed to her from relatives who learned it from earlier generations. A student and teacher of African culture, Saleemah believes that this case is just as much about cultural expression as it is about economics.

Under Minnesota’s cosmetology regulations, Lillian, Gigi and Saleemah must spend 1,550 hours in training that has nothing to do with hairbraiding, while licensed cosmetologists are permitted to braid hair without ever taking a single hour of training in the methods of locking, twisting or weaving hair. Wielding the threat of incarceration, the cosmetology cartel creates barriers that block the efforts of these three courageous women to realize their professional aspirations.

Their fight is the perfect case to introduce the Institute for Justice to Minnesotans and to send a clear message to thousands of bureaucrats who never dreamed that IJ’s merry band of litigators would fight against the welfare state in the land of Fritz Mondale, Gene McCarthy and Garrison Keillor.

The positive popular reaction to our initial case confirms Chip’s vision for state chapters and the organizational quest to move from a national law firm to a nationwide law firm—one with litigators located in many states.

Lee McGrath is executive director of the Institute for Justice Minnesota Chapter.

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