IJ Secures Landmark Victory for Economic Liberty in the Georgia Supreme Court
Mary Jackson spent five years fighting for her right to earn a living. In May, her battle ended in a resounding victory. The Supreme Court of Georgia unanimously affirmed Mary’s win in the trial court with a tour-de-force decision. Mary now joins Ash Patel in Texas and Sally Ladd in Pennsylvania as IJ clients who have set groundbreaking economic liberty precedent under state constitutions.
Liberty & Law readers will recall that Mary is an experienced lactation consultant. She helps women breastfeed their babies and co-founded a nonprofit, Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere (ROSE). In 2018, Mary and ROSE teamed up with IJ to challenge Georgia’s first-of-its-kind licensing law for lactation consultants. The law would have required Mary and others like her to take the equivalent of two years of college courses, obtain at least 300 hours of supervised experience, and pass an expensive exam. This would have put hundreds of skilled lactation consultants like Mary out of work. But women have been teaching one another how to breastfeed safely for millennia—and a state review commission even agreed that licensing lactation consultants was a bad idea.
Mary’s case changed Georgia’s legal landscape— not just for lactation consultants, but for all aspiring entrepreneurs—through two important victories. In 2020, the Supreme Court of Georgia reversed the trial court’s initial dismissal of the case and affirmed that Georgia’s high court has “long interpreted the Georgia Constitution as protecting a right to work in one’s chosen profession free from unreasonable government interference.” This year, the Court finished what it started and ruled that if the government is going to interfere with the right to earn a living, it had better have a good reason.
The Court agreed with IJ that there is no good reason to license lactation consultants. Licensing laws like Georgia’s serve only to keep one privileged group from having to compete with others, and the Court emphasized that such protectionism is “decidedly not sufficient to justify a burden on the ability to practice a lawful profession.” If the government wants to license an occupation, it can do so only if licensing is necessary to protect public health and safety.
After the ruling, Georgia’s Secretary of State—the defendant in this lawsuit—issued a press release praising the Court’s decision. Mary’s persistence is the essence of what it means to be an IJ client. She and ROSE CEO Dr. Kimarie Bugg endured a long wait, but it was worth it. Beyond the countless moms and babies they support, everyone in Georgia will benefit from their good work.
The decision will keep government accountable in the Peach State. Other states will look to Georgia when considering whether to license ordinary and safe occupations like lactation consulting. When lawmakers create unconstitutional licenses (or fail to repeal existing ones), IJ will continue to bring cases under state constitutions, now armed with this monumental new precedent. IJ won’t stop until everyone in America enjoys the same freedom to earn a living.
Renée Flaherty is an IJ senior attorney.
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