National Law Firm & Would-be Florists Challenge Louisiana’s Licensing Scheme

John Kramer
John Kramer · December 18, 2003

Washington, D.C-Why would an agent of the Louisiana Horticulture Commission force a florist to throw away seven perfectly fine floral displays or be fined $250? Because Sandy Meadows, the would-be florist from Baton Rouge, has like so many other women, been unable to pass a highly subjective State-mandated floral exam—an exam graded by existing florists in the state who have a vested interest in keeping her out of work.

The national public interest law firm that opened the streets of New Orleans to book vendors is now taking on another bureaucratic scheme: a Louisiana law that requires florists to pass a State-mandated licensing exam before they are allowed to work. No other state in the nation forces people to pass a test just to sell arranged flowers, and it is easy to understand why. Consumers—not bureaucrats—can best decide which florists are good and which ones are bad.

On December 18, 2003, the Institute for Justice filed a civil rights lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana on behalf of three would-be florists from across the state against the Louisiana Horticulture Commission seeking to have the State’s anti-competitive, anti-consumer florist licensing law declared unconstitutional. The lawsuit seeks to vindicate their right to economic liberty—the right to earn an honest living free from excessive government regulation.

Clark Neily, an Institute for Justice senior attorney, said, “Far from helping consumers, regulations like Louisiana’s stifle growth and innovation, both by limiting the number of people who can be florists and by imposing orthodoxy where there should be freedom.”

To become a licensed florist, applicants must pass a two-part exam: a written test and a hands-on “design phase.” The design phase requires would-be florists to create four different floral arrangements, without prior notice of what they will be and under significant time pressure. Many elements of the design phase are highly subjective, with examinees being graded on such points as whether their design has the “proper” focal point, whether flowers are spaced “effectively,” and whether the arrangement is an “appropriate size.”

And who decides whether those subjective requirements have been met? State-licensed florists—the very same people against whom the test-takers hope to compete. It is no wonder the pass rate for the floral exam has been well below 50 percent the past three years. Indeed, it is quite common for people to fail the exam repeatedly—even highly experienced florists who moved to Louisiana after years in the floral business elsewhere.

To better understand how arbitrary the State’s floristry regulations are, consider the fact that “cut flower dealers,” who sell cut flowers “either singly or in bunches,” are also regulated by the State of Louisiana, but they are not required to pass any sort of exam or meet any other credentialing requirement. Cut flower dealers may not sell two different kinds of flowers together in the same bunch, nor may they place flowers in a vase or other container, because that would constitute flower arranging, which only licensed retail florists may do. People who sell floral designs made from dried plants or artificial materials are not required to have any type of license.
Neily said, “Simply put, licensing florists is absurd. The State has no business dictating who is an who is not qualified to arrange and sell flowers for a living.”

Neily concluded, “Like so many other occupational licensing schemes, Louisiana’s floristry regulations have the look and feel of a racket.” Such arbitrary “barriers to entry” are the hallmark of protectionist industries all over the nation. Legal history buffs know that anti-competitive business regulations found fertile ground in Louisiana in the 1800s when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the City of New Orleans’ government-imposed monopoly on slaughterhouses. The spirit of that decision lives on today in Louisiana’s florist cartel.

The Institute for Justice filed the suit on behalf of Sandy Meadows, from Baton Rouge, Shamille Peters, from New Orleans, and Barbara Peacock, from Shreveport. All have significant experience arranging flowers, and they would all like to work as florists. But because none of them has been able to pass the state-mandated licensing exam, they have had to put their dreams aside and settle for other pursuits.

Founded in 1991, the Institute for Justice has successfully represented entrepreneurs nationwide who fought arbitrary government regulation.

  • Wexler v. City of New Orleans
    In June 2003, IJ won an important First Amendment victory on behalf of book vendors in New Orleans when a federal court struck down as unconstitutional the City of New Orleans’ blanket ban on selling books on the street.
  • Craigmiles v. Giles
    The Institute for Justice suit led a federal court to strike down Tennessee’s casket sales licensing scheme as unconstitutional, a decision that was upheld unanimously by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals and not appealed. This marked the first federal appeals court victory for economic liberty since the New Deal.
  • Swedenburg v. Kelly
    IJ’s suit on behalf of Virginia and California vintners as well as New York wine consumers led a federal judge to declare unconstitutional New York State’s laws that barred the interstate direct shipment of wine to New York consumers.
  • Cornwell v. California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology
    IJ represented African hairbraiders to defeat California’s cosmetology licensing requirements for their craft.
  • Clutter v. Transportation Services Authority
    IJ busted up Las Vegas’ entrenched limousine cartel that had stifled competition by blocking new entrants.
  • Taucher v. Born
    IJ set an early and important precedent extending First Amendment protection to software developers and Internet publishers. The CFTC had sought to license these individuals.
  • Uqdah v. D.C. Board of Cosmetology
    IJ’s work in court and the court of public opinion on behalf of D.C. hairbraiders led the District of Columbia to deregulate the cosmetology industry.
  • Jones v. Temmer
    IJ helped three would-be cab company owners overcome Colorado’s 50-year-old taxicab cartel. (IJ then helped break down government-sanctioned taxi monopolies in Indianapolis and Cincinnati.)
  • Ricketts v. City of New York
    IJ’s advocacy helped strike down the New York City Council’s veto of new van services.