ACA.supremecourt.070419

Lawyers often get a bad wrap as less-than-honest leeches looking to sue deep-pocketed companies in hopes of buying a third vacation home. Some of them do indeed suck the life out of the economy, raising the costs of just about everything for the rest of us. But it’s not true for all lawyers. Many of them are crusaders for freedom.

The attorneys working at the Virginia-based Institute for Justice are a good example. They filed a lawsuit last month in state court in Baton Rouge on behalf of three natural hair braiders.

The institute is suing the Louisiana State Board of Cosmetology for making it close to impossible to make a living braiding hair. The practice is especially popular with African Americans.

The board currently requires hair braiders to have 500 hours of training and obtain an "alternative hair design permit.”

The Institute for Justice argues the Board of Cosmetology infringes on hair braiders' “constitutionally guaranteed right to earn an honest living” by imposing an “arbitrary and capricious” license to work.

If someone in Louisiana would dare to braid hair for a living without an "alternative hair design permit,” they would face a fine of $5,000 per braiding. But even if a hair braider tried to comply with the 500 hours of training costing more than $10,000, there’s currently only one school in the state offering such training, according to the lawsuit. There are more than 50 cosmetology schools in Louisiana.

To give you perspective of how oppressive and stifling Louisiana’s hair braiding requirements are, neighboring Mississippi currently has more than 2,600 hair braiders. Louisiana has 19.

In Mississippi, hair braiders need only pay a $25 registration fee. The Institute for Justice claims between 2006 and 2012, both Louisiana and Mississippi had zero health and safety complaints filed against braiders. Louisiana’s other neighbors, Arkansas, and Texas require no license to braid hair. Nor do 27 others states.

“Braiding does not become dangerous when you cross the border from Texas to Louisiana,” said IJ senior attorney Wesley Hottot.

As is typically the case, government regulation and iron-fisted licensing requirements are designed to box out new entrepreneurs and workers. It’s no different with the Louisiana Board of Cosmetology. Currently, licensed cosmetologists are exempt from obtaining the "alternative hair design permit” to braid hair. It’s hardly a coincidence the very board exempting cosmetologists from the strict and expensive licensing requirements is exclusively made up of cosmetologists.

The Institute for Justice suit claims the board has an “illegitimate interest” in the alternative hair design permit, using it as a way of “protecting existing licensed cosmetologists and cosmetology businesses from competition.”

It gets worse. According to state law, up to half of the eight cosmetology board members are allowed to be “connected directly or indirectly with a school of cosmetology.” That includes owning, contracting with, or being employed by a cosmetology school.

What’s even more tragic is that most cosmetology schools don’t teach African-style natural hair braiding, even though it's a practice ingrained in African American culture for generations. Many hair braiders have been doing it since they were kids. But they’re denied the opportunity to make a living at it as adults. Yet cosmetologists are allowed to do so without training or in some cases the skill to do so.

Fortunately, The Institute for Justice has a strong track record of beating back this type of oppression. The group sued the board last year over the requirement that eyebrow threading practitioners in Louisiana needed an esthetician's license, requiring 750 hours of beauty school courses and three licensing exams. After the suit, the board required only a test and a permit with costs totaling $50.

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"We've had 13 past braiding cases. Twelve of them are wins, a few of which happened when states decided to end their license requirements rather than face us in court,” said Conor Beck, a spokesman for the institute.

Attorneys at the Institute for Justice deserve credit for fighting for the free market and and against crony capitalism. If they’re not careful, they could end up giving lawyers a good name.