July 21, 2020

Pop quiz: Is vocational training speech that is protected by the First Amendment? According to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in yet another IJ victory this summer, it is. As a result, trade schools all over the West Coast now enjoy clear First Amendment protection as they simply try to teach students how to earn an honest living.

Three years ago, IJ teamed up with Pacific Coast Horseshoeing School. PCHS owner Bob Smith spent decades teaching aspiring farriers how to shoe horses. Then a state inspector told Bob that the California Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education would shut down his award-winning vocational school unless he immediately stopped teaching students without a high school diploma or GED.

Concerned about his school, Bob started rejecting applications from would-be students, including Esteban Narez. Esteban, an equine ranch hand from California’s Central Coast, had experience with horses, but he didn’t have a high school diploma. He knew that he could make more money as a farrier than as a ranch hand and that a GED course wouldn’t teach him anything about horseshoes.

Esteban applied to PCHS, but Bob had no choice but to turn him away. That’s when IJ stepped in to help would-be student and teacher gallop into federal court, advocating for the First Amendment right to learn and teach.

High school concepts like algebra have nothing to do with shoeing horses. Horseshoeing is an ancient, hands-on skill that was taught centuries before the printing press was invented. No state regulates horseshoeing as a trade, which makes it especially attractive for people who don’t have degrees or diplomas. So while it was legal for Esteban—or any of the one in 10 American adults without a high school diploma—to shoe a horse, nobody could legally teach him how to do it.

IJ worked with Bob, Esteban, and PCHS to bring a cutting-edge First Amendment lawsuit. The case encountered its first significant hurdle when the district court dismissed our lawsuit without a hearing in April 2018. Unfazed by this unexpected setback, the team got back in the saddle and took the case up on appeal.

In June, a 9th Circuit panel voted unanimously to reverse the district court and let IJ’s case against the Bureau go forward. The court held that “vocational training is speech protected by the First Amendment.” Like IJ’s 4th Circuit victory on behalf of Charleston tour guides, the 9th Circuit decision vindicates IJ’s long-running campaign to protect occupational speech—and puts paternalistic regulators on notice that teaching is speech and restrictions on it must pass First Amendment scrutiny.

To learn more about the case click here to watch the video.

Horseshoes are a symbol of luck, but—just like setting legal precedent— making horseshoes requires skill and determination. Fortunately, IJ and our clients have the tools to succeed.

Keith Diggs is an IJ attorney.

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