Texas Interior Designers

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · May 9, 2007

Arlington, Va.—Should Texas interior designers need the government’s permission to truthfully describe what they do? Should they need a government-issued license to use the words “interior design” or call themselves “interior designers” online or in Yellow Pages advertisements?

The Institute for Justice (IJ), a public interest law firm that litigates nationwide on behalf of entrepreneurs harassed by big government, doesn’t think so. That’s why today [WEDNESDAY, MAY 9, 2007], IJ joined with four Texas interior designers to file suit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in Austin challenging the state’s licensing requirement that censors interior designers.

Although anyone in Texas may legally provide interior design services, only those with government-issued licenses may call themselves “interior designers” or use the term “interior design” to describe what they do.

“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 New York and Massachusetts,” said Clark Neily, senior attorney with the Institute for Justice and a University of Texas Law School graduate. “The State of Texas is unconstitutionally imposing unnecessary and anti-competitive licensing requirements on interior designers, censoring them and preventing them from telling the truth about their occupation. Our clients are interior designers, but the state insists that they keep that fact a secret. That is a clear abuse of government power.”

Neily continued, “By imposing speech restrictions on their competitors, an elitist and anti-competitive cadre of designers seeks to use government power to drive thousands of hard-working small businessmen and women out of business. Our lawsuit aims to stop that.”

A case study released last fall by the Institute for Justice documents a long-running campaign by the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) and other industry organizations to expand regulation of interior designers in order to put would-be competitors out of business under the guise of “increasing the stature of the industry.” The nationwide push for more regulation of interior designers has come not from the public or the government, but from industry itself. The study is available at: /index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1395&Itemid=165.

This national effort is evident in Texas where, in addition to restricting use of the terms “interior design” and “interior designer,” industry insiders have been pushing legislation that would transform Texas’ existing “title act” into a full-blown “practice act” that would make it a crime for Texans to provide interior design services without a government-issued license.

“Simply put, we have caught the interior design cartel with its hand in the cookie jar of government protectionism—all the way up to its elbows,” said Neily.

Jennifer Perkins, staff attorney with the Institute for Justice Arizona Chapter added, “Preventing Texans from working as interior designers whose qualifications are based on talent and experience—rather than government-mandated education and testing—has nothing to do with public safety and everything to do with protecting industry insiders from competition.”

Founded in 1991, the Virginia-based Institute for Justice has represented entrepreneurs nationwide who successfully fought discriminatory government regulation, opening up long-closed markets and securing free speech rights. These include:

  • Franzoy v. Templeman, et al.—IJ represented two interior designers in challenging New Mexico’s titling law, which was very similar to Texas’ current law. Rather than attempt to defend its blatantly unconstitutional speech restrictions, the New Mexico Interior Design Board chose to seek an amendment to the law through the legislative process, which the Governor signed in April 2007.
  • Swedenburg v. Kelly—The Institute for Justice successfully waged the nation’s leading legal battle to reestablish the American ideal of economic liberty when, on May 16, 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down discriminatory laws that hampered small businesses as well as their consumers. IJ also persuaded the 2nd U.S. Circuit of Court of Appeals to enforce the First Amendment by striking down an unconstitutional prohibition on advertisements.
  • Craigmiles v. Giles—This IJ suit led a federal court to strike down Tennessee’s casket-sales licensing scheme as unconstitutional, a decision that was upheld unanimously by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and not appealed. This marked the first federal appeals court victory for economic liberty since the New Deal.
  • Taucher v. Born—IJ persuaded the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to enforce the First Amendment by striking down a regulation issued by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission that would have required publishers of financial newsletters and Internet websites to register as commodity trading advisors.
  • Wexler v. City of New Orleans—The Institute for Justice successfully defended Louisiana entrepreneurs who were prohibited from selling books on city sidewalks without a government-issued permit. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana enforced the First Amendment by striking down the unconstitutional ordinance.

Neily concluded, “Protectionist schemes like we see in Texas do nothing to protect consumers and instead limit consumer choices, drive up costs and quash entrepreneurial opportunity.”

NOTE: To arrange interviews on this subject, journalists may call Lisa Knepper at (703) 682-9320. For an online media kit, visit www.ij.org.

Read IJ’s backgrounder on this case: Challenging Texas’ Licensing of Speech For Interior Designers