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A Hair Braider, Eyebrow Threader And Food-Cart Owner Walk Into IJ…

The hallmark of IJ’s economic liberty litigation has always been our strategic vision. We win victories for our clients, yes, but we are always after bigger game: We are trying to build a rule of law that protects the right of everyone to earn an honest living free from unnecessary government interference. We fight for hair braiders and florists and taxi drivers not just because we care about those occupations, but also because their rights are all directly connected—to each other’s rights, to your rights and to mine. By protecting one occupation, IJ hopes to protect them all.

That is why there is nothing more gratifying than seeing our strategic plan play out in real time. The most recent example of this comes from our challenge to San Antonio’s food-truck regulations, which made it illegal for food trucks to operate within 300 feet of any business that sold food without written permission from that business, even if the truck’s owner operated on his own private property. This past October, a group of local entrepreneurs, led by IJ Attorney Arif Panju, filed a lawsuit claiming that this law violated their right to earn an honest living under the Texas Constitution. And they won. In fact, they won almost instantly: San Antonio repealed the law just over a month later.

Ash Patel shouldn't need to close his business to take 1,500 hours of beauty school classes that don't even teach threading.

IJ client Ash Patel‘s case helped protect the right of all entrepreneurs to earn a living.

Why did the city crumble so quickly? Its attorneys took a look at a recent case in which the Texas Supreme Court had struck down the state’s licensing requirements for eyebrow threaders, and they decided the city had no chance of winning in court. That case, as loyal readers of Liberty & Law may have already guessed, was Patel v. Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, a lawsuit designed and ultimately won by IJ’s own Wesley Hottot in June 2015. 

To be sure, the two cases are about very different occupations (eyebrow threading versus food trucks) and very different regulations (an occupational license versus an anticompetitive limitation on where trucks could operate). But as San Antonio’s lawyers correctly recognized, both cases boiled down to the same question: How seriously should courts take the idea of economic liberty? In IJ’s eyebrow-threading case, the Texas Supreme Court announced that it took that idea very seriously indeed. And that legal rule made all the difference in IJ’s food-truck case, as it will make all the difference in countless other situations, whether IJ is directly involved or not. 

This, ultimately, is the goal of IJ’s litigation work. Not just to have a series of victories in high-level appellate courts—though we will have those, too—but to make government officials realize on their own that these laws are unconstitutional. Of course, government officials can be slow to learn their lesson, which is why IJ’s litigators are always filing new cases to hold the government to account. But as we win more and more of those cases, it becomes more and more common for anticompetitive regulations like this to be repealed without our ever setting foot in a courtroom. Every time that happens, every one of us, no matter what our occupation, becomes a little more free.

Robert McNamara is an IJ senior attorney.

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