July 22, 2019

With a new hair braiding lawsuit, IJ takes the fight for economic liberty to Louisiana.

Since our very first case back in 1991, IJ has scored major victories for hair braiders across the country, both in court and in state legislatures. Twelve times we have sued to overturn licensing requirements for braiders, and 12 times those requirements have been struck down or repealed. In nine other states, IJ’s legislative and activism teams have persuaded lawmakers to do away with licensing requirements without the need for litigation.

Having pioneered braiding freedom—and having prevailed so decisively—why would IJ bring another hair braiding case now?

The answer lies in a pathbreaking victory that we secured in 2015. In Patel v. Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, the Texas Supreme Court struck down a 750-hour training requirement for eyebrow threading, a South Asian method of hair removal that uses only a single strand of cotton thread. Adopting IJ’s arguments, the court ruled that the Texas Constitution forbids licensing something as simple and safe as eyebrow threading as though it were conventional cosmetology, and it went on to announce a robust state constitutional test for judging economic liberty challenges like those IJ specializes in bringing.

Because of Patel, economic regulations in Texas must be both rationally related to a real-world danger and not unduly burdensome in light of the government’s objectives. This ruling set the standard for state constitutional protections for the right to earn an honest living.

Now we’re taking the fight for economic liberty across the border to Louisiana. Last month, IJ teamed up with three Louisiana hair braiders—Ashley N’Dakpri, Lynn Schofield, and Michelle Robertson—to challenge that state’s 500-hour specialty license for hair braiding. The case is designed to establish that the robust standard announced in Patel applies under the Louisiana Constitution, potentially freeing not just braiding but a host of other occupations from unnecessary licensing requirements.

This case also marks the first time we have challenged a license designed with hair braiders in mind. In all of our previous challenges, braiders were required to get conventional cosmetology licenses, the training for which included little or no braiding instruction. Our objective now is to establish that requiring any braiding instruction is both unnecessary and burdensome—and therefore unconstitutional.

Although 27 states now require no license for hair braiding, Louisiana has moved in the wrong direction, imposing the most burdensome braiding license in the nation. Making matters worse, just one school offers the required hair braiding curriculum—and it is located in Monroe, Louisiana, more than a four-hour drive from New Orleans. The result? There are only 19 licensed braiders in all of Louisiana.

We aim to change that. By overturning Louisiana’s hair braiding license, we will not only free the state’s braiders but also establish that the Louisiana Constitution, like the Texas Constitution, demands real reasons and reasonable training requirements before a state can require someone to get a license. Meanwhile, we are developing similar cases in other states to export this standard even more broadly and ensure that all individuals are free to pursue their American Dream—no matter where they live.

Wesley Hottot is an IJ senior attorney.

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