Texas Hair Braiders Win Right to Open Braiding Schools

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · January 7, 2015

Austin, Tx.—In a sweeping decision issued late yesterday, Federal Judge Sam Sparks declared as unconstitutional a set of laws preventing small African hair braiding schools from teaching students to braid hair for a living. Finding no rational basis for the law, which forced hair braiding schools to become full-blown barber colleges before they could issue state-mandated licenses, Judge Sparks reasoned that the state cannot force entrepreneurs to do useless things before they enter the marketplace.

Most importantly, as a result of today’s decision, Isis Brantley, one of the nation’s foremost experts in African-style hair braiding, can now open a hair braiding school to students who want to earn a living braiding hair.

“This ruling is a resounding victory for Isis Brantley and entrepreneurs like her across Texas,” said Arif Panju, an attorney with the Institute for Justice. “It is unconstitutional to require people to do useless things. By doing so, Texas was not only preventing African hair braiding schools from even opening, but it was also violating the Fourteenth Amendment.”

Today’s victory is hopefully the final chapter in Isis’ decade-long fight for her right to make an honest living. In 1997, seven government officials raided her business and hauled her off in handcuffs for braiding hair without a special government license. Isis helped change that law in 2007, but Texas officials simply wedged hair braiding into the state’s barbering statute, allowing her to braid hair but making it nearly impossible for her to teach hair braiding for a living.

“I fought for my economic liberty because I believe there is a lot of hope for young people who seek to earn an honest living,” said Isis Brantley. “This decision means that I will now be able to teach the next generation of African hair braiders at my own school.”

The law in question prohibited Ms. Brantley’s two-decade-old African hair braiding school from teaching students to braid hair for a living unless she first opened a barber college that was at least 2,000 square feet, and packed with at least ten reclining barber chairs that hair braiders are not even required to use, and no fewer than five sinks even though the state makes it illegal for hair braiders to provide services that require a sink. During the hearing, Judge Sparks challenged the state to find a single braiding school that was able to meet the onerous requirements to simply teach the 35-hour braiding curriculum the state requires of all braiders. It could not, and Judge Sparks’ decision makes it clear that irrational laws fail the constitutional burden of the rational basis test.

Today’s decision is the continuation of IJ’s 23 years of work successfully representing hair braiders in their battle for economic liberty. It follows work in nine previous cases, where IJ won two court victories in California and Utah, and six legislative victories in Arizona, Ohio, Minnesota, Mississippi, Washington and Washington, D.C.

Founded in 1991, the Virginia-based Institute for Justice is the national law firm for liberty.

More information on the case is available here: https://ij.org/case/txbraiding/