Would-be Florists in Louisiana Get Their Day In Court

John Kramer
John Kramer · May 1, 2006

Arlington, Va.—Louisiana is the only state in the nation that demands that florists secure a government-imposed license to practice their craft. Worse yet, existing florists get to grade the test that their potential competitors must pass to secure that license. The test is so subjective and arbitrary that nearly two-thirds fail, including applicants with decades of experience. Even the State’s own expert witness hired to help defend the law in court described the test as not “fundamentally fair” to applicants. Welcome to the world of floristry licensing in the State of Louisiana.

Today [Monday, May 1, 2006], the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, located in New Orleans, will hear a case to decide whether government can impose any law on its citizens, no matter how burdensome, arbitrary or ridiculous.

Clark Neily, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice, which is representing three women who are challenging the State’s law, said, “Given the facts of this case, no reasonable person could believe that Louisiana’s florist licensing law was designed to help anyone except existing florists. This law hurts consumers by limiting their choices and it hurts would-be entrepreneurs who want nothing more than to practice a harmless occupation.”

The Institute for Justice represents Shamille Peters, Barbara Peacock and Kayode Howell, all of whom are experienced, talented florists and all of whom have been unable to pass the State’s wildly subjective licensing exam.

“It takes a love of flowers, an eye for beauty and some creativity to be a florist,” said Peters. “It shouldn’t take the government’s permission. I’ve got a talent for this line of work. The government shouldn’t be standing in my way.”

The licensing 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 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.”

States That License Florists

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 against the Louisiana Horticulture Commission seeking to have the State’s anti-competitive, anti-consumer florist licensing law declared unconstitutional. The Institute argues there is no legitimate justification for state laws that exclude people from harmless occupations like floristry on the grounds that they supposedly lack the qualifications or are not talented enough to pursue that vocation.

Legal scholars know that Louisiana was the birthplace of many burdensome regulatory laws that have crept into so many occupations nationwide. In the 1870s, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the City of New Orleans’ government-imposed monopoly on slaughterhouses. The Slaughterhouse precedent lives on today in Louisiana’s florist cartel where public officials, entrusted to “secure the blessing of liberty,” instead often use their power to protect established businesses from competition. Such arbitrary “barriers to entry” are the hallmark of protectionist industries all over the nation. But, in this case and many others it is litigating nationwide, the Institute for Justice is working to help entrepreneurs overcome those and other barriers to pursuing their share of the American Dream.

Neily said, “Among our sacred rights as American citizens is the ability to choose our own livelihood without first having to seek the government’s permission. And even then, regulation of our livelihoods should be limited to only those restrictions that genuinely protect public health and welfare, not those that protect some good-old-boy network. By presuming to determine who is good enough to be a florist and who is not, Louisiana’s florist licensing law makes a mockery of that most basic freedom.”

In 2004, the Louisiana House of Representatives voted 92-3 to repeal the laws that maintain this government-imposed cartel, but the effort was defeated in the Senate Agriculture Committee when state-licensed florists lobbied heavily against it.