Florida’s Interior Design Cartel Challenged in Court
Tallahassee, Fla.—With the filing of a federal court challenge on Tuesday, Florida has become ground zero in a national struggle to prevent the monopolization of the interior design industry through anti-competitive occupational licensing laws. The struggle pits an elitist group of industry insiders seeking government protection from fair competition against independent entrepreneurs who simply wish to earn an honest living in the occupation of their choice without first meeting an expensive, time-consuming and utterly arbitrary series of government-mandated licensing requirements.
The Institute for Justice (IJ), the nation’s leading legal advocate for economic liberty, joined with three interior designers—Eva Locke, Pat Levenson and Barbara Gardner—and the National Federation of Independent Business to file the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida in Tallahassee, challenging Florida’s interior design law. IJ has successfully vindicated the rights of interior designers across the country and this case promises to be the biggest fight yet in the battle against the interior design cartel.
“In the midst of a recession and with the economy in shambles, the last thing the government should be doing is putting up barriers to people who simply want to earn a living in the occupation of their choice,” said Clark Neily, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice. “People are free in nearly every other state besides Florida to hire the interior designer who best meets their needs. But the government has taken that decision away from people in Florida, and the result is higher prices for consumers and fewer employment opportunities for designers. The proper role of government is protecting people from genuine harm—not protecting elitist cartels from fair competition.”
Only three states in the entire country regulate the practice of interior design, and Florida’s law is by far the most restrictive and aggressively enforced. The practice of interior design is defined under Florida law as including any consultation, study or drawing that relates to the “nonstructural interior elements” of any commercial building. That includes furniture, fixtures, lighting, carpets, drapes—even the artwork on the walls of an office—and all of it is off limits to anyone who is not a state-licensed interior designer.
“Why does Florida regulate the practice of interior design when virtually no other state does?” continued Neily. “It certainly has nothing to do with protecting public health, safety or welfare. Study after study has shown that the unlicensed practice of interior design presents no genuine safety risks whatsoever. Instead of protecting the public, interior design licensing laws are all about protecting industry members from fair competition.”
The push to license interior designers has not come from the public or from consumer watchdog groups or other concerned citizens, but from an industry organization called the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID). Working with local groups like Florida’s Interior Design Associations Foundation (IDAF), ASID has spent the past three decades and millions of dollars lobbying all over the country for licensing laws limiting the practice of interior design to people who possess the same credentials necessary to become a professional member of ASID itself.
Florida represents the interior design cartel’s greatest achievement so far, with not only the most sweeping interior design law anywhere in the country, but also the resources of a private law firm in Tallahassee that receives over $500,000 annually from the state to investigate and prosecute potential violations of the law. This has led to an enforcement campaign of unprecedented intensity, with hundreds of interior designers—including people legally performing residential interior design services, for which no license is required—being sent cease-and-desist letters every year.
Florida’s interior design law is riddled with constitutional defects, including improperly censoring truthful advertising and other forms of expression, violating people’s right to work in the occupation of their choice free from unreasonable government interference, and discriminating against interstate commerce by discouraging interior designers from other states from working in Florida.
IJ President and General Counsel Chip Mellor said, “This lawsuit is an important part of the Institute for Justice’s nationwide campaign to restore economic liberty to all Americans by defending their constitutional right to earn an honest living.”