Unlocking Economic Liberty in Texas

December 1, 2013

Texas laws that apply to African hairbraiding instructors have a cruel twist. IJ client Isis Brantley is one of the country’s leading African hairbraiders, working with everyone from Grammy-award-winning artist Erykah Badu to the homeless. She wants to teach people to braid hair for a living. But even with her three decades of experience, Texas is telling Isis she must now convert her modest hairbraiding business into a large barber college, and become a state-licensed barber instructor before she can teach the next generation of hairbraiders.

When Texas began regulating hairbraiders in 2007, it wedged a hairbraiding license into the state’s barbering statute. This means that Isis must spend 1,500 hours in barber school becoming a class-A barber, another 750 hours learning to be a barber instructor and pass four exams that do not test braiding, all to teach the state’s 35-hour hairbraiding curriculum that is impossible to fail because no exam is required for Texas’ braiding license. Tellingly, the state will waive all these regulations if Isis goes to work for an existing licensed barber school and teaches hairbraiding for them.

Isis is no stranger to fighting for economic liberty. In 1997, seven government officials raided her business and hauled her off in handcuffs for braiding hair without holding the state’s 1,500-hour cosmetology license. Isis fought against the licensing of braiders for the next decade and, in 2007, the Texas legislature created the 35-hour hairbraiding license, and simply placed it inside the existing barbering statute. This has allowed Isis to braid hair while making it nearly impossible for her to teach hairbraiding for a living.

Braiders aren’t barbers, and braiding instructors should not be forced to build barber schools or take classes from barbers. Requiring an African hairbraider to spend thousands of dollars on tuition becoming a barber instructor and thousands more for a fully equipped barber college bears no rational relationship to any legitimate government interest.

That is why in October, Isis teamed up with IJ to fight for economic liberty once again. As she says, “Economic liberty is our new civil rights movement.” Our federal lawsuit against Texas will defend the right to earn an honest living free from unreasonable government interference. A victory could have national implications for entrepreneurs across Texas and beyond.

Arif Panju is an IJ attorney.

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