VICTORY FOR ECONOMIC LIBERTYCalifornia Decision Untangles Regulatory Nightmare for African Hairstyling

John Kramer
John Kramer · August 19, 1999

Washington, D.C. – A San Diego federal judge yesterday vindicated the rights of a leading practitioner of African hairstyling. The decision, from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, allows Dr. JoAnne Cornwell to continue to practice her art with the state out of her hair.

“This is a decisive victory for entrepreneurs everywhere,” declared Clint Bolick, litigation director for the Institute for Justice, the Washington, D.C.-based public-interest law firm representing Cornwell and others in the suit. “Not only is this victory a blow to protectionist government regulations across the country, more importantly it is a boost to the hopes and dreams of anyone who is trying to earn an honest living.”

In his ruling, federal Judge Rudi Brewster concluded that requiring Dr. Cornwell to comply with the state’s cosmetology regulations “failed to pass constitutional muster” under the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment. Dr. Cornwell practices a unique form of African hairstyling she has trademarked as “Sisterlocks.” The regulations require 1600 hours of prescribed schooling and passage of a licensing exam that neither teach nor test African hairstyling. Similar laws are on the books in more than 40 other states.

The judge’s 26-page opinion set a complete record establishing that the state’s requirement that African hairstylists such as Dr. Cornwell obtain such training at an average cost of $7,000 was “wholly irrelevant to the achievement of the state’s objectives.”

The opinion took note of the “mismatch” between the mandated cosmetology curriculum and the specialized skills African hairstylists need by citing fellow plaintiff Taalib-Din Uqdah. “How do you license what you do not teach? How do you teach what you do not know?” The judge added, “The court agrees.”

“While the broader impact of this decision remains unsettled, it is clear that the state’s ability to impose arbitrary regulations is no longer boundless,” said Miranda Perry, an attorney with the Institute for Justice. “These regulations cut the bottom rungs off the economic ladder for many women trying to escape welfare. This decision allows them to begin climbing that ladder.”

In its detailed opinion, the court rejected the State’s argument that anyone involved in the limited hairstyling activities of Dr. Cornwell should be required to undergo the 1600 hours of training to be a cosmetologist.

“The state has already wasted hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars defending this absurd law,” Bolick added. “I hope the State will have the wisdom not to appeal and finally let these entrepreneurs earn an honest living.”

The Institute for Justice is a libertarian public interest law firm. Through strategic litigation, training, communications, and outreach, the Institute for Justice advances a rule of law under which individuals can control their own destinies as free and responsible members of society. It litigates to secure economic liberty, school choice, private property rights, freedom of speech, and other vital individual liberties, and to restore constitutional limits on the power of government. In addition, it trains law students, lawyers, and policy activists in the tactics of public interest litigation to advance individual rights. Through these activities the Institute challenges the ideology of the welfare state and illustrates and extends the benefits of freedom to those whose full enjoyment of liberty is denied by government. The Institute was founded in September 1991 by William Mellor and Clint Bolick.



Related Content