Ohio Lawsuit Challenges Harebrained Hairbraiding Regulations

John Kramer
John Kramer · October 1, 1997

Washington, D.C. ­ Across Ohio, hundreds of African Americans may soon be required to license and register their hands with the state or go to jail. No, they’re not martial arts experts. They are African hairbraiders.

The Ohio State Board of Cosmetology claims that African-style hairbraiders are “cosmetologists” and as cosmetologists, they must spend 1,500 hours (approximately nine months) and several thousand dollars to go to an approved cosmetology school and then pass a Board examination. Schools, instructors, and salons also must obtain licenses.

“The irony here is that cosmetology schools do not teach African-style hairbraiding and the licensing examination does not test it,” said Dana Berliner, a staff attorney with the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Justice, which today filed suit on behalf of hairbraiders seeking to challenge the regulations. The lawsuit was filed in Columbus in the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. “In the name of protecting public health and safety, the Board of Cosmetology licenses people to braid hair who have no experience in braiding, yet it forbids others who are proficient from plying that trade.”

Recently, Board of Cosmetology inspectors asked the Canton City Prosecutor’s Office to press criminal charges against a hairbraider for operating a salon without a license. In addition, with Ohio’s latest welfare reform program emphasizing transition from dependency to work, it is essential to curb regulatory barriers that impede creation of jobs and enterprises. Yet although county agencies dealing with welfare recipients have approved braiding as a useful job skill for welfare recipients, the Board of Cosmetology refuses to let them use the skill once they acquire it.

The Ohio lawsuit is part of a nationwide campaign by the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm, to protect the forgotten civil right of economic liberty-the right of to earn an honest living free from excessive government regulation. Through similar lawsuits and public interest work, the Institute has opened up monopolistic taxicab markets in Denver, Indianapolis and Cincinnati, deregulated the cosmetology industry in Washington, D.C., and paved the way for jitney vans to compete on the streets of Houston.