Texas Interior Designers Have Their Day in Court

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · January 14, 2008

Arlington, Va.—At a 9:30am hearing tomorrow, the Institute for Justice (IJ) will argue in federal court in Austin that a Texas speech-licensing law arbitrarily restricts Texans from truthfully describing what they do for a living.

The Institute for Justice, a national public interest law firm with a history of defending the right to earn an honest living, filed suit in May on behalf of four Texas interior design entrepreneurs challenging the law as a violation of the First Amendment right to free expression protected by the U.S. Constitution.

“Our clients are interior designers, but the state insists that they keep that fact a secret,” said Clark Neily, a University of Texas Law School graduate and senior attorney with IJ. “It is disappointing that Texas, with its rich history of respect for individual liberty, is actually more hostile to the rights of interior design entrepreneurs than states like California and Massachusetts, which impose no such restrictions on the free speech of interior designers.”

Texas currently forbids individuals who practice interior design from calling themselves “interior designers” or from using the term “interior design” to describe what they do unless they first obtain what amounts to a government-issued free-speech license. Such “titling laws” are part of a larger effort by an elitist clique within the interior design community to suppress competition by smothering would-be competitors with arbitrary and irrational government regulations.

“It has terribly hurt my business,” said IJ client Nancy Pell, the owner of Beautiful Things, a design center outside Houston. Pell, whose services are demanded in some of the Houston area’s premier homes, has an Associate’s degree in interior design and more than three decades of experience in the field, but she is not eligible for licensure in Texas.She continued, “When people come into our office and ask if we’re interior designers, it’s not fair for the state to keep me from honestly telling them what I am. I am an interior designer, but the state won’t allow me to say so. That’s censorship.”

Designing Cartels, a report released last fall by the Institute for Justice, documents a long-running campaign by the American Society of Interior Design (ASID) and other industry organizations to expand regulations on interior designers in order to stifle competition both in Texas and across the nation. The nationwide regulatory push has come not from the public or the government, but from the industry itself. Designing Cartels is available here.

Founded in 1991, the Virginia-based Institute for Justice has represented entrepreneurs nationwide who successfully fought discriminatory government regulation. These cases include a victory before the U.S. Supreme Court as well as the first victory before a federal appeals court for the right to earn an honest living since the 1930s. Last year, IJ successfully challenged speech restrictions in New Mexico similar to those currently in place in Texas.