Institute for Justice · June 20, 2019

New Orleans, La.—Why does the Louisiana State Board of Cosmetology require 500 hours of training to do something as safe as hair braiding? That is the question three Louisiana hair braiders raised in a new lawsuit Thursday with the Institute for Justice (IJ), a national public interest law firm that fights for economic liberty.

Lynn Schofield, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, experienced firsthand the harms of Louisiana’s unnecessary red tape. She moved to Louisiana in 2000 and opened Afro Touch, the state’s first salon dedicated solely to hair braiding: Afro Touch. It was so successful, she expanded her business to four locations with more than 20 employees. But that all changed in 2003 when the Board created the braiding license. Braiding without a license is punishable by fines of up to $5,000 per incident. Unable to fully staff her salons, Lynn could no longer expand her business, and instead was forced to shut down salons.

“I want to grow my business, but it’s impossible with Louisiana’s rules,” Lynn said. Today, only one salon remains.

“It is unconstitutional to license something as safe and common as hair braiding,” said IJ Attorney Jaimie Cavanaugh. “Economic liberty—or the right to earn a living in the profession of one’s choosing—is a right protected by the Louisiana Constitution.”

When economic liberty is under attack, would-be entrepreneurs vote with their feet. Take plaintiff Michelle Robertson, a former resident of Shreveport, Louisiana, who dreamed of opening her own braiding salon there before relocating to Texas. She did not have the means to stop working for three months to enroll in the 500-hour braiding course, nor could she find other braiders who could legally braid hair for a living in Louisiana. Decades of braiding experience meant nothing to Louisiana’s Board of Cosmetology, so she moved to Texas, where braiding is legal and she can pursue other opportunities.

“Braiding does not become dangerous when you cross the border from Texas to Louisiana,” said IJ Senior Attorney Wesley Hottot. “Twenty-seven states require no license of any kind for hair braiding.  A majority of states recognize that licensing braiders offers no public benefits, but causes real economic harms.”

Who does benefit from the license requirement are the self-interested members of the Cosmetology Board. Louisiana’s specialty braiding license is the most onerous in the country, but the Board keeps it that way because the license requirement is not meant to benefit the public. Instead, the license benefits cosmetology schools that want to profit from braiders and existing cosmetologists who do not want to compete with braiders. And the Board is composed of both licensed cosmetologists and cosmetology school owners. It is no surprise then that the Board wants to keep the braiding license exactly as it is.

The Louisiana Constitution also prohibits the Cosmetology Board from lawmaking, even laws related to cosmetology. The 500-hour requirement was created by the Board, not the legislature, and is nowhere in the law. The Louisiana State Legislature has the sole authority to make lawsthe Cosmetology Board can only enforce them.

Plaintiff Ashley N’Dakpri, Lynn’s niece and the manager of the sole remaining Afro Touch location, said that she looks forward to the fight to take down Louisiana’s braiding license.

“It would be easier for me just to move to Mississippi or Texas, but this is my home.  And I won’t stop until every Louisianan can go into the hair braiding business without this useless license,” Ashley said.

This case continues IJ’s national Braiding Freedom Initiative, which seeks to protect braiders’ right to pursue their livelihoods free from unnecessary licensing laws, and it is IJ’s first lawsuit challenging a specialty braiding license. Its first lawsuit was filed on behalf of hair braiders in Washington, D.C.  Since D.C. repealed its license, IJ has won a dozen hair braiding lawsuits, either when courts struck down or lawmakers repealed the challenged licenses. This lawsuit is also part of IJ’s continuing efforts to expand economic protections under state constitutions.