African Hairbraiders Seek To Untangle Regulations

John Kramer
John Kramer · November 16, 1998

Washington, D.C.-In Ohio, you can learn to fight fires in 40 hours, but it takes 1,500 hours of class before the state will let you braid someone else’s hair.

Under Ohio law, it is illegal to braid hair without a cosmetology license. Obtaining the license requires 1,500 hours of cosmetology school. Braiding is a skill usually passed down from generation to generation of African-American women. It is neither taught nor tested in state-approved cosmetology school. For hairbraiders and their advocates, requiring braiders to spend nine months in school and thousands of dollars to acquire a license to do what they already know how to do makes no sense.

“The supposed justification for requiring braiders to go to cosmetology school is to protect public health and safety,” explained Dana Berliner, staff attorney at the Institute for Justice, a national public interest law firm that represents entrepreneurs in their battles against excessive government regulations. “In Ohio, I could become qualified to run a restaurant, carry a gun, be a volunteer fire fighter, care for children, protect the public as a police officer, and respond to emergencies as a paramedic all in less time than it would take to get a license to braid hair.”

Berliner said, “Ohio has made earning an honest living a criminal offense.”

“I have been braiding for 14 years, and the Board of Cosmetology actually tried to prosecute me as a criminal for braiding hair without a license,” said Faith Carey-Proctor, owner of Faithfully Yours in Canton, Ohio. Practicing cosmetology (including braiding) without a license is a misdemeanor.

Thanks to a bill being proposed by Ohio State Representative Vermel M. Whalen, Ohio finally may be changing this bizarre system. On Tuesday, November 17, 1998, the Commerce and Labor Committee of the Ohio General Assembly will hear testimony on a bill to deregulate African-style hairbraiding. The hearing will take place in Room 121 of the Ohio State House at 7 p.m.

On October 1, 1997, Ohio braiders, represented by the Institute for Justice, filed a federal lawsuit challenging the irrational requirement that braiders obtain cosmetology licenses. Two months ago, the court rejected an attempt by the Cosmetology Board to dismiss the case. Unless the law changes, the case will go forward.

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 to earn an honest living free from excessive government regulation. Through similar lawsuits and public interest work, the Institute has deregulated the cosmetology industry in Washington, D.C., opened up monopolistic taxicab markets in Denver, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati, and paved the way for jitney vans to compete on the streets of Houston.

The Institute for Justice is a libertarian public interest law firm. Through strategic litigation, training, communications, and outreach, the Institute for Justice advances a rule of law under which individuals can control their own destinies as free and responsible members of society. It litigates to secure economic liberty, school choice, private property rights, freedom of speech, and other vital individual liberties, and to restore constitutional limits on the power of government. Through these activities the Institute challenges the ideology of the welfare state and illustrates and extends the benefits of freedom to those whose full enjoyment of liberty is denied by government. The Institute was founded in September 1991 by William Mellor and Clint Bolick.