Earl v. Smith
Arkansas Hair Braiding
IJ client Nivea Earl.
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.Video: The Fight for Braiding Freedom
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Background on this case: Untangling Entrepreneurs from Arkansas' African Braiding Laws
Since the advent of hair braiding more than 5,000 years ago, it has been a simple and safe practice that government has no business regulating. African-style hair braiding uses no dyes or chemicals, and it is safe for braiders to perform and safe for the people getting their hair braided. But if you want to braid hair for a living in Arkansas, you need to get permission from the government first.
Nivea Earl and Christine McLean have both been braiding hair for most of their lives and each now owns her own hair braiding business. Hair braiding is a time-tested, safe practice that is deeply rooted in African cultural heritage and carries with it significant historical importance. But the government says Nivea and Christine may not sell their services unless they first spend thousands of dollars on 1,500 hours of government-mandated cosmetology training, not one hour of which actually teaches them to braid hair.
The Constitution protects the right to earn an honest living without unreasonable government interference. The government can’t license something as safe and common as braiding hair, especially when cosmetology training does not teach or test braiding, but instead requires hundreds of hours of instruction that is completely unrelated to braiding. That is why on June 17, 2014, the Institute for Justice (IJ) filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas to challenge Arkansas’s hair braiding regulations.
The ramifications of this lawsuit extend far beyond braiding. Occupational licensing laws in all 50 states restrict entry into hundreds of professions. In the 1950s, less than five percent of the workforce was required to obtain a government license to do their job. Today, that number exceeds 30 percent. There are now more than 1,100 different occupations that require a government license in at least one state.
Research demonstrates that occupational licensing laws, such as those governing hair braiding, create artificial and unnecessary barriers to entry for entrepreneurs seeking to take their first step on the economic ladder. That’s especially true for occupations that traditionally cater to individuals just beginning a professional career. The right to earn an honest living is an essential part of our nation’s promise of opportunity.