Three Oklahoma Entrepreneurs File Federal First Amendment Lawsuit Challenging Censorship

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · September 30, 2008


Hartford, Conn.—Should Oklahomans be forbidden from speaking without first getting permission from the government?

Not according to the Institute for Justice (IJ), a national public interest law firm that defends entrepreneurs and free speech. That is why today IJ joined with three Oklahoma interior designers to file suit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, challenging the state’s licensing law that censors interior designers.

“The government has no business preventing interior designers from providing truthful information about their services to clients and potential customers,” said Institute for Justice Staff Attorney Jennifer Perkins.

The unconstitutional law is part of a nationwide campaign—exposed in Newsweek, Forbes and other national publications—to put thousands of designers out of work and silence countless others. A small, pro-cartelization faction of the industry, led by the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), has successfully lobbied Oklahoma and other states to censor interior designers unconstitutionally through so-called “titling laws.” These laws permit anyone to practice design, but allow only a select few state license holders to call themselves “interior designers” or use the words “interior design” to describe what they do.

The advantages of such a speech monopoly are obvious: anyone who goes looking for an “interior designer” on the Internet or in the Yellow Pages will find only government-licensed cartel members, while overlooking all of the highly capable designers who do not first pass an expensive exam, meet arbitrary standards and pay the state for a license.

“In all my years of work not one client has ever asked me whether I’ve taken a special government-licensing exam,” said Kelly Rinehart, a lifelong Oklahoman and successful interior design entrepreneur with 13 years experience in the industry. Rinehart, who filed suit today with IJ and Oklahoma designers Maria Gore and Jeffrey Evans, continued, “I’m offended that the state thinks I’m unfit to speak without first gaining its permission.”

“ASID has spent nearly $6 million lobbying for regulations to create a monopoly that would exclude countless honest, hard-working interior designers,” said Patti Morrow, executive director of the Interior Design Protection Council, a nationwide grassroots network of interior designers who oppose cartelization of their industry.

IJ Senior Attorney Clark Neily added, “Protectionist schemes like we see in Oklahoma do nothing to protect consumers and instead limit consumer choices, drive up costs and quash entrepreneurial opportunity.”

Founded in 1991, the Virginia-based Institute for Justice has represented entrepreneurs nationwide who successfully fought discriminatory government regulations, opening up long-closed markets and securing free speech rights. IJ successfully challenged a similar titling law in New Mexico and has filed suit on behalf of interior designers in Texas and Connecticut.