Connecticut Interior Design Law on Trial
New Haven, Conn.—Should an elitist faction within the interior design industry be able to use government power to force its competitors out of work?
That is the question before U.S. District Judge Mark Kravitz, who will hear arguments tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. in a federal lawsuit brought by three Connecticut entrepreneurs and the Institute for Justice, the nation’s leading legal advocate for economic liberty. The plaintiffs will ask Judge Kravitz to declare Connecticut’s interior design law unconstitutional and issue an injunction forbidding the state from enforcing the law.
For decades a small group of industry insiders has been working to limit competition in the interior design industry through restrictive occupational licensing regulations. They scored one of their earliest successes in Connecticut, which in 1983 enacted a so-called “title act” that allows anyone to perform interior design work in Connecticut, but requires special government permission to use the term “interior designer.” However, prohibiting people from using words that most accurately describe what they do is censorship, and it is unconstitutional.
“Connecticut has been censoring the speech of interior designers for more than twenty-five years, and tomorrow we intend to put a stop to it,” said Clark Neily, senior attorney with the Institute for Justice. “The First Amendment protects people’s ability to speak truthfully about the work they do, and Connecticut’s interior design law is a blatant violation of that right.”
As documented in an Institute for Justice study entitled “Designing Cartels,” Connecticut’s interior design law is part of a long-running campaign led by the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) to cartelize the industry by enacting ASID’s own membership credentials into law and preventing anyone who does not hold those credentials—which include six years of education and experience and passing a national licensing exam—from working as an interior designer. Another study called “Designed to Exclude,” released in February 2009, shows that interior design regulations not only increase costs for consumers but also disproportionately exclude minorities and older career-switchers from the interior design industry. Both studies are available online: www.ij.org/interiordesign .
There is not a shred of evidence that unlicensed interior design presents any genuine public welfare concerns, and only three state in the entire country—Florida, Louisiana and Nevada—restrict the actual practice of interior design. But that has not stopped ASID and its allies from trying to impose a single-entry system on an occupation notable for the variety, creativity and diversity of its practitioners.
“I have been practicing interior design for more than twenty years, and I think it’s outrageous that Connecticut makes it a crime for me to call myself an interior designer,” said Susan Roberts, one of the three plaintiffs challenging Connecticut’s interior design title act. “Whether someone is an interior designer is determined by the work they do, not the credentials they happen to hold. I look forward to vindicating the right of all interior designers to speak freely in Connecticut without being silenced by the government the way I have been.”
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[Friday’s hearing is at 1:00 p.m. in Courtroom 4 of the Richard C. Lee United States Courthouse, 141 Church St., New Haven, Conn.]