Blooming Nonsense This Mother’s Day;Rooting Out Big Government In Louisiana’s Floral Industry

John Kramer
John Kramer · April 28, 2004

Washington, D.C—This Mother’s Day—the most popular holiday of the year for flower sales—Shamille Peters and dozens of other individuals like her from across Louisiana will be buying flowers when they would much rather be selling them.

Louisiana (alone among the 50 states) has barred Peters and others from pursuing a career as a florist unless they can pass a highly subjective government-mandated exam that is graded by existing florists—their future competition. Not surprisingly, more than half of the individuals who take the exam fail. So rather than creating beautiful floral displays this Mother’s Day, Shamille finds herself blocked from pursuing an honest living in a field in which she could blossom.

In December 2003, the Institute for Justice filed a federal lawsuit in Louisiana on behalf of three would-be florists, including Peters, challenging the State’s anti-competitive, anti-consumer florist licensing law. The lawsuit seeks to vindicate their right to economic liberty—the right to earn an honest living free from excessive government regulation.

To become a licensed florist in Louisiana, applicants must pass a two-part exam that is graded by State-licensed florists—the very same people against whom the test-takers hope to compete. The exam begins with a one-hour written test followed by 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 points such as whether their design has the “proper” focal point, whether flowers are spaced “effectively,” and whether the arrangement is an “appropriate size.”

Clark Neily, who is lead attorney for the Institute for Justice on the florist case, said, “The whole concept of licensing florists is absurd. It’s insulting to suggest that people from Louisiana—alone among all Americans—need the government’s help just to buy a bouquet of flowers. Of course, the reality is that Louisiana’s florist licensing law has nothing to do with protecting consumers and everything to do with stifling competition. It also shows a remarkable lack of respect for people’s basic right to earn an honest living in their chosen profession.”

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 where public officials, entrusted to protect individual liberty, instead often use their power to protect established businesses from competition. But many cases being litigated by the Institute for Justice, including the Louisiana florist case, are working to help entrepreneurs overcome those and other barriers to pursuing their share of the American Dream.