U.S. Supreme Court Declines to Review Important Free Speech Case

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · January 9, 2012

Arlington, Va.In a decision that could have consequences for entrepreneurs who speak for a living, the U.S. Supreme Court today denied review of a First Amendment challenge to a Florida law that requires interior designers to acquire a time-consuming and expensive license before they may engage in speech that the state has broadly defined as the “practice of interior design.” The case,Locke v. Shore, was filed by the Institute for Justice (IJ) on behalf of three unlicensed interior designers and the National Federation of Independent Business.

Virtually everything an interior design does—from consulting with clients to drawing up space plans—is speech. The central issue in this case was whether the First Amendment protects this sort of “occupational speech.” Lower courts have been divided on that question and the Supreme Court has not weighed in on it for more than 25 years.

IJ Senior Attorney Clark Neily said, “More and more Americans earn their living in occupations that consist primarily of speech. We are disappointed with today’s decision because it presented an opportunity for the Courtto make clear the First Amendment will remain relevant in the information economy.”

Although Florida’s interior design law remains in place, its scope was limited by lawyers for the Board of Architecture and Interior Design, who largely disclaimed the agency’s past interpretations and enforcement policies in an attempt to defend the law against IJ’s constitutional challenge. How much of the law even remains enforceable in light of those disclaimers is an issue that Neily says will be explored in future administrative and court challenges.

Lead plaintiff Eva Locke said, “Even though this means Florida’s ridiculous interior design law remains on the books, I know this isn’t the end of the battle. I look forward to continuing to work with the Institute for Justice until the job of dismantling this law is completed.

IJ Attorney Paul Sherman said, “Florida’s interior design law regulates speech, pure and simple. Even though the Supreme Court declined to review the law, it doesn’t mean we will stop fighting until the courts agree the First Amendment protects the right to speak for a living.”

Institute for Justice President and General Counsel Chip Mellor said, “The outcome in this case is part of a wider pattern in which courts ignore facts and abdicate their proper judicial role by reflexively deferring to legislatures. As it has done since its inception, the Institute for Justice will continue its campaign of promoting judicial engagement to vindicate the right to speak freely and the right to earn an honest living free from unreasonable government interference.”