Tallahassee, Fla.—On March 1, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Florida law that prohibits people from practicing interior design unless they first get the government’s permission. The law requires that they spend six years and thousands of dollars jumping through the arbitrary hoops of Florida’s interior design licensing law. The ruling comes despite admissions by the state that there is no evidence that the unlicensed practice of interior design poses any threat to the public.
“The facts in this case couldn’t be clearer: There isn’t a shred of evidence that Florida’s interior design law does anything but protect licensed interior designers from honest competition,” said Clark Neily, senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, a national public interest law firm challenging the Florida law in federal court. “This ruling sets a dangerous precedent, not just for interior designers, but for workers in all creative occupations.”
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Only three states in the nation regulate the practice of interior design in any way. The result of a lobbying campaign by industry insiders, Florida’s 1994 interior design law is the broadest and most aggressively enforced in the nation. The law allows anyone to perform residential interior design but requires a government-issued license to work in commercial settings. Tuesday’s court ruling makes it virtually impossible for even world-famous interior designers to offer their services in Florida as they do freely throughout the rest of the country.
“The Constitution was designed to protect free trade and free speech on all subjects, including interior design,” said Neily. “Unless judges enforce these constitutional limits on government power, we are left with the self-restraint of public officials. But experience has shown that is no restraint at all. The result is the inevitable loss of freedom.”
A recent Institute for Justice study, “Designed to Exclude,” documents how interior design regulations drive up prices, limit choices and disproportionately exclude minorities and older mid-career-switchers from working in the field. (The report is available online: www.ij.org/2603.) By contrast, as the state conceded during the lawsuit, there is no evidence that licensing interior designers has benefited the public in any way or that the unlicensed practice of interior design presents any bona fide public welfare concerns.
Institute for Justice President Chip Mellor said, “This ruling shows the critical importance of judicial engagement. Judges must examine the facts of every case, including constitutional cases, and require the government to justify its actions with real reasons backed by real evidence. And when there is no evidence to support a law that limits individual liberty, judges should not hesitate to strike it down.”
In May of 2009, the Institute for Justice joined with three interior designers and the National Federation of Independent Business to challenge Florida’s interior design law in federal court, arguing that the law censors substantial amounts of free speech and unreasonably interferes with people’s ability to earn an honest living.
The Institute for Justice plans to appeal the ruling.
Founded in 1991, the Virginia-based Institute for Justice represents individuals nationwide fighting to defend free speech rights and the right to earn an honest living in the occupations of their choice. The Institute has previously and successfully challenged interior design title restrictions in New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma and Connecticut.