Arlington, Va.—On Wednesday, the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the Texas Board of Architectural Examiners to stop enforcing a state law that prohibits people who lawfully perform interior design services from referring to themselves as “interior designers.”
Under Texas law anyone may work as an interior designer, but only people who have registered with the state may use the terms “interior design” or “interior designer” to describe what they do. The Institute for Justice (IJ), a national public interest law firm that defends the free speech and the rights of entrepreneurs, filed suit challenging that law in May 2007. IJ represents four Texas entrepreneurs who each have successful interior design businesses but did not believe they should have to obtain government permission in order to advertise themselves, accurately, as interior designers.
“This ruling marks the end of a long and shameful history of censorship by the Texas Board of Architectural Examiners,” said Clark Neily, a University of Texas Law School graduate and senior attorney at the Institute for Justice. “The law has nothing to do with protecting the public and everything to do with protecting an elitist group of interior designers from fair competition.”
The Court declared that “[t]he state has offered no evidence that the public has actually been misled about interior design services” and must stop enforcing the law pending final resolution of the lawsuit. The case will now return to the trial court for a ruling on the merits of the plaintiffs’ free speech claims.
Interior design laws like the one in Texas are part of a long-running effort by a small faction within the interior design community led by the American Society of Interior Design (ASID) to legislate potential competitors out of business by lobbying for burdensome licensing laws that have no connection to any genuine public welfare concerns. IJ documented these efforts in a series of studies including Designing Cartels, Designed to Mislead and Designed to Exclude.
Founded in 1991, the Virginia-based Institute for Justice has represented entrepreneurs nationwide who successfully fought discriminatory government regulation. IJ successfully challenged speech restrictions in New Mexico similar to those currently in place in Texas, and is currently representing interior designers in Oklahoma and Connecticut.