By Tim Keller
Just months after four Louisiana florists teamed up with the Institute for Justice to file a constitutional challenge to the state’s arbitrary florist licensing scheme, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal signed a bill uprooting the law’s subjective “demonstration exam,” thereby removing the largest obstacle to would-be florists trying to earn an honest living in the state.
Before the new law passed, Louisiana was the only state in the nation to require aspiring florists to pass both a written test and a highly subjective demonstration exam, in which budding florists were given four hours to create four floral arrangements that were then judged by a panel of state-licensed florists—i.e., their future competitors. The written test remains on the books (for now), but it presents a relatively minor government hoop.
Arranging and selling flowers is a perfectly harmless occupation that presents no risk to public health or safety. The demonstration exam did nothing but enable industry insiders to exclude their future competition. Erecting these types of protectionist barriers on behalf of special interests is not a legitimate public purpose—it is an abuse of government power.
IJ highlighted the subjective and anti-competitive nature of the exam time and time again during our highly successful media campaign—a campaign spearheaded by IJ’s Blooming Nonsense report, authored by IJ’s Director of Strategic Research Dr. Dick Carpenter. The report detailed a social science experiment Dick conducted involving floral arrangements designed by both licensed Louisiana florists and unlicensed Texas florists and judged by florists in both states. The experiment demonstrated that Louisiana’s licensing scheme failed to promote quality for consumers and instead merely kept entrepreneurs out of business and limited consumer choice.
The study was an instant success, and Dick, IJ President Chip Mellor and two of IJ’s clients appeared on John Stossel’s Fox Business Network program on the eve of our case launch. The program translated into further media success. From the pages of USA Today to CBS Evening News to editorial pages throughout Louisiana, IJ and our clients hammered home the fact that there is no justification for a licensing scheme that prevents even a single person—much less significant numbers of people—from working as a florist. IJ’s dominating media campaign and grassroots organizing set the stage for the Louisiana legislature to repeal the demonstration exam by nearly unanimous votes in both legislative houses.
Aspiring florists now have more freedom to pursue their chosen occupation free from blatantly anti-competitive government interference. This, plus the fact that three of IJ’s clients have taken and passed the written examination, led us to dismiss the remaining aspects of our legal challenge. As you can read on page one of this issue of Liberty & Law, however, IJ continues to challenge government officials in Louisiana—this time on behalf of the monks of Saint Joseph Abbey, who simply want to sell hand-crafted caskets—because the bureaucrats in Louisiana must learn there are constitutional limits to the burdens government may impose on honest, productive livelihoods.
The Louisiana legislature should now take the final step and eliminate the written examination for florists. Until it does, IJ will continue to monitor the written exam to ensure that it remains an insubstantial barrier for florists. There is no need for the government to test or license would-be florists. The only purpose served by the written exam is to raise funds for the state through licensing fees while setting up an unnecessary—but in this case trivial—barrier to entrepreneurship. If necessary, we are prepared to file a new lawsuit. For now, however, IJ has eliminated the real root of the problem. This means our lead client Monique Chauvin can concentrate on growing her small business, Mitch’s Flowers, in an environment now more free of needless regulation.
Tim Keller is executive director of the IJ Arizona Chapter.