New Haven, Conn.—A federal judge has ordered Connecticut to stop enforcing its interior design registration law pending a final ruling on the merits of a constitutional challenge by three interior designers who say the law violates the First Amendment right to freedom of speech.
On Friday, June 5, U.S. District Judge Mark Kravitz, heard arguments about whether Connecticut’s interior design law, which dates back to 1983, illegally censors truthful commercial speech. Lawyers for the state attempted to defend the constitutionality of the interior design law in court, while simultaneously asking the judge to delay his ruling so the General Assembly could have yet another chance to change the law in order to avoid having it struck down by the court.
“The state of Connecticut has been violating the free speech rights of interior designers for more than twenty-five years,” said Clark Neily, senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, the Arlington, Virginia-based public interest law firm representing the interior designers in their legal challenge. “Instead of accepting responsibility and moving swiftly to correct that violation, the state has responded with a seemingly endless series of delays, excuses and double-talk. We are gratified that the state has finally been ordered to stop enforcing the law, and we hope the court will take the next logical step and declare the law unconstitutional once and for all.”
Connecticut’s interior design law is 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.” The law was passed in 1983 in response to lobbying efforts by a small group of industry insiders, led by the American Society of Interior Designers, who seek government protection from fair competition through oppressive licensing schemes like the one in Connecticut. As documented in a February 2009, study called “Designed to Exclude,” interior design regulations not only increase costs for consumers but also disproportionately exclude minorities and older career-switchers from the interior design industry. The study is available online at www.ij.org/interiordesign.
“I have been working as an interior designer for years without being able to use that term in my advertising or on my web site,” said Cynthia Hernandez, one of the three plaintiffs challenging Connecticut’s interior design title act. “I’m thrilled that the state has finally been ordered to stop censoring my free speech and allow me to advertise my interior design services the way I see fit, which is all I ever wanted to do.”
Lawyers for the state explained in court that the General Assembly has been trying to amend Connecticut’s law in order to eliminate the constitutional violation and asked Judge Kravitz for more time to make those changes. The plaintiffs strongly opposed that request, noting that the state has done nothing to fix the problem since the lawsuit was filed in September 2008, and arguing that they are entitled to a final ruling from the court declaring Connecticut’s interior design law unconstitutional.