NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Criminal Acts Of Hair-Braiding

September 1, 1999

Some time ago, a sting operation in California uncovered an African-American woman engaged in the professional practice of hair-braiding without a cosmetology license. But a U.S. District Court has just declared the reasoning used to justify such enforcement actions unconstitutional.

  • Last year, the state cosmetology board sent two people to SaBrina Reese's shop to entrap her for practicing cosmetology without undergoing the 1,600 hours of schooling needed to get a license.
  • But there is no cosmetology school offering instructions in the non-chemical hair-braiding technique, nor is that technique included in the licensing exam.
  • Nevertheless, this smallest of entrepreneurs faced a one-year jail sentence after being arrested.

Prosecutors held off a court date pending the outcome of a similar case involving JoAnne Cornwell, a professor at San Diego State University who practiced a related technique called hair locking.

In that case, U.S. District Judge Rudi Brewster agreed with Cornwell's Institute for Justice attorneys: applying the cosmetology law to her practices was wholly irrational and limited her civil right to earn an honest living. The judge ruled that "there are limits to what the State may require before its dictates are deemed arbitrary and irrational."

Institute for Justice attorney Clint Bolick says that in citing the 14th Amendment's due process and equal protection clauses, the judge delivered "a blow to protectionist government regulations across the country."

Today, nearly 500 occupational licensing laws limit who can apply to nearly 10 percent of all U.S. jobs, experts report.

Source: Editorial, "Hair Raising," Wall Street Journal, September 1, 1999.


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