Lawsuit Seeks to Untangle African Hairbraiders From Minnesota’s Cosmetology Regime

John Kramer
John Kramer · April 20, 2005

Washington, D.C.—The State of Minnesota wants Lillian Anderson to license her hands with the government.

No, Lillian is not a special agent; she is an African hairbraider who merely wants to braid, twist and lock hair to earn an honest living. But in order to do so, the Board of Barber and Cosmetologist Examiners demands that she and other braiders enroll in 1,550 hours of government-mandated “training” that does not include even one hour of instruction in braiding. They must also take State-mandated examinations that do not test for braiding skills. Any braider who refuses to secure a government license can face up to $1,000 in fines and up to 90 days in jail.

The State’s training requirement for hairbraiders is especially arbitrary when compared to training requirements for other, far more dangerous jobs and activities in Minnesota. Becoming a certified emergency medical technician in Hennepin County, for example, requires only 142 hours of skills and clinical training. Similarly, after a six-hour class, one can apply for a license to carry a concealed weapon.

“Minnesota’s Board of Barber and Cosmetologist Examiners grants licenses to braid to those without braiding skills and places huge obstacles in the way of those with braiding skills,” said Lee McGrath, executive director of the Institute for Justice Minnesota Chapter (IJ-MN), which was launched this month. “The regulations have turned African hairbraiding into a tangled mess.”

McGrath said, “Minnesota’s bureaucrats leave African hairbraiders like Lillian Anderson from Minneapolis with three choices: get licensed at a cost of nearly $15,000 in tuition and at least 10 months of schooling and forgone earnings; quit braiding hair altogether; or operate illegally. Lillian, however, has chosen to create for herself a fourth option—she’s joined with the Institute for Justice Minnesota Chapter to fight these arbitrary and irrational laws in court.”

On April 20, 2005, the Institute for Justice Minnesota Chapter (IJ-MN) filed suit in Hennepin County District Court on behalf of Lillian and two other Minnesota braiders challenging the State’s hairbraiding licensing scheme. The case challenges violations of the braiders’ due process, privileges or immunities, and equal protection guarantees provided by the Minnesota State Constitution and the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The Institute for Justice, which is representing the Minnesota entrepreneurs for free, has already litigated cases involving African hairbraiding (in Arizona, California, Mississippi, Washington, D.C., and Washington State) and has won them all either in the courts of law or in the court of public opinion after city councils or state legislatures removed the offending regulatory requirements on braiders. Just yesterday [NOTE TO EDITOR: April 19, 2005], the governor of Mississippi signed legislation championed by the Institute for Justice to removed oppressive regulations on braiders in that state.

“Minnesota’s occupational regulation has nothing to do with health and safety and everything to do with reducing competition and bolstering attendance in cosmetology schools,” said Nick Dranias, a staff attorney with the IJ-MN. “Occupational regulations that do nothing more than protect established industries from competition needlessly cut off the bottom rungs of the economic ladder to those who need the opportunity the most—those with little financial capital and little education. With this lawsuit, African hairbraiders like Lillian Anderson are asking Minnesota to restore those rungs that the cosmetology establishment has wrongly taken away.”

The Institute for Justice Minnesota Chapter is a nonpartisan, nonprofit public interest law firm that litigates under the Minnesota and U.S. constitutions to protect individuals whose rights are being violated by the government. Through strategic litigation, training, communication and outreach, IJ-MN secures greater protection for individual liberty and extends the benefits of freedom to those who have been deprived of it by the government. In its lawsuit on behalf of African hairbraiders, the IJ-MN is defending the economic liberty of entrepreneurs who wish to earn an honest living in their chosen profession free from arbitrary and irrational occupational regulations.

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