The U.S. Supreme Court considers weighty issues such as the 2000 presidential election fight over “hanging chads,” abortion and same-sex marriage.
And now hair braiding?
Specifically, the court must decide whether states can require someone who wants to braid hair professionally to undergo 1,500 hours of training at a cost of $12,000 and then pass a test.
The Rutherford Institute is defending two Missouri residents who argue the state’s licensing requirement impairs their right to make a living.
The case is Ndioba Niang and Tameka Stigers vs. Brittany Tomblinson, who is executive director of the Missouri Board of Cosmetology and Barber Examiners.
It asks the high court to overturn the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that the state can require the training.
Rutherford Institute attorneys argue “licensing restrictions that require a government license in order to perform work-related tasks that pose no health or safety risks such as braiding hair deprive citizens of their constitutional right to earn a living at their chosen vocation.”
“For instance, although African-style hair braiding poses no health or safety risks, the state of Missouri requires stylists to expend thousands of dollars for training that has nothing to do with hair braiding in order to be eligible for a license to offer African-style hair braiding services to the public.”
However, Rutherford argues, an essential liberty protected by the Constitution is the right to freely choose and pursue an occupation.
So “pointless occupational licensing laws that disproportionately harm the poor and minorities have made it impossible for many to exercise that right.”
“This case, which challenges whether one needs a government license in order to braid hair, strikes at the heart of the bureaucratic exercise in absurdity that has pushed overregulation and overcriminalization to outrageous limits,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, Rutherford’s president.
“Unfortunately, it’s not just hair braiding that has become grist for the overregulation mill. Almost every aspect of American life today – especially if it is work-related – is subject to this kind of heightened scrutiny and ham-fisted control, whether you’re talking about aspiring bakers, florists, tour guides, taxi drivers, eyebrow threaders, teeth whiteners, and more.”
Niang and Stigers had developed some expertise in African-style hair braiding, an intricate technique to create culturally distinctive designs, Rutherford explained. They use no chemicals or heat.
But they are unable to comply with the state requirement that everyone in cosmetology acquire a license costing 1,500 hours and $12,000.
“Additionally, virtually none of the classwork or the questions on the examination pertain to African-style hair braiding,” Rutherford explained.
Rutherford’s friend-of-the-court brief asks the high court to take the case to give the plaintiffs “the right to earn a living free from arbitrary government interference.”
“Irrational occupational licensing regimes are a growing threat,” the brief argues. “The right to earn a living and to pursue one’s occupation of choice is an essential liberty interest protected by the 14th Amendment.”
The bottom line?
“The risk of underqualified hair braiding is minimal to nonexistent, as customers have ready-access to information sufficient to choose a braider based on personal quality and price preferences, and the most likely outcome from hiring an underqualified braider is merely a bad hair day.”