Hairbraiders Win Opening Round In Challenge to California Cosmetology Rules

John Kramer
John Kramer · May 5, 1997

Washington, D.C. ­Federal district court Judge Rudi M. Brewster last Friday (May 2) denied a motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed in San Diego by African hairbraiders challenging occupational licensing require-ments imposed by the California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology.

“This decision marks an important triumph for the right to earn an honest living,” declared Clint Bolick, litigation direc-tor for the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Justice, which repre-sents the braiders. “The decision opens the way for us to prove that the tangled cosmetology regulations are irrational and unconstitutional.”

The lawsuit was filed in January by Dr. JoAnne Cornwell, a stylist of African-American hair and chair of the Africana Studies Department at San Diego State University, and the Ameri-can Hairbraiders and Natural Haircare Association. They chal-lenge as barriers to economic opportunity the state’s require-ments of 1,600 hours of prescribed training and a licensing examination that deal with such subjects as eyebrow arching, chemicals, and cosmetics—but not at all with the specialized practice of African hairstyling.

Judge Brewster’s 28-page opinion dismissed some of the plaintiffs and defendants from the lawsuit, but ruled that the braiders’ claims have legal merit if they can prove them at trial. Observing that only four percent of the required curricu-lum relates to health and safety, Judge Brewster concluded that the rules place “an almost insurmountable barrier in front of anyone who seeks to practice African hair styling,” the effect of which “is to force African hair stylists out of business in favor of mainstream hair stylists and barbers.”

“In America, people have the right to earn an honest living,” said Donna Matias, an Institute for Justice attorney. “This lawsuit seeks to vindicate that right by removing arbitrary government barriers to enterprise. Such government regulations that exceed legitimate public health and safety objectives cut off the bottom rungs of the economic ladder.”

Through recently published studies of barriers to entrepreneurship, the Institute has docu-mented state and local regulations around the country that needlessly stifle entry into businesses and occupations that require little capital and training. Particularly in light of welfare reform that emphasiz-es transition from dependency to work, the Institute argues that such regulations should be scrutinized to ensure they do not cut off the bottom rungs of the economic ladder.

The Institute expects the case will go to trial later this year. Joining Bolick and Matias as co-counsel are David Kleinfeld and Richard Segal of Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro in San Diego.


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