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ACRE Director Assists St. Louis Hair Braiders In Licensing Lawsuit

By Caleb Taylor

Should you need a license to braid hair?

That’s the question two St. Louis businesswomen are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to consider.

UCA Associate Professor of Economics and ACRE Director Mitch Mitchell is a contributor, along with five other public choice scholars, on an amicus brief in the case of Ndioba Niang v. Carroll, No. 16-3968.

About the Case

Missouri businesswomen Ndioba Niang and Tameka Stigers filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a Missouri state licensing requirement in 2014, which forbade them to do African-style hair braiding for customers without getting hundreds of hours of training. That training did not include any lessons about African-style hair braiding.

Niang and Stigers argued that state requirements for hair braiders don’t protect public safety. But the trial judge, district court, and circuit court have all upheld the law as constitutional.

The women’s lawyers are now asking the US Supreme Court to take up the case. In the amicus brief in support of the case, Mitchell and the other scholars argue that economic theory predicts—and evidence confirms—that requiring a license to practice African-style hair braiding confers no benefits to consumers or workers and imposes high costs on low-income individuals.

An amicus (plural “amici”) curiae brief is written to a judge or court by a person or group who is not a part of the lawsuit but has an interest in the matter in the hope of influencing the court’s decision.

This brief cites the ACRE policy review “Unnatural Rights in the Natural State: Occupational Licensing in Arkansas.” The review is coauthored by Mitchell, UCA Associate Professor of Economics and ACRE Scholar Thomas Snyder, and Amy Fontinelle, an editor and author of several economics and policy related works.

Past Reform In Arkansas

“Unnatural Rights” provides a case study of a recent reform of an Arkansas state licensing requirement for hair braiders. Arkansas businesswomen, Nivea Earl and Christine McLean, sued the state over its licensing requirements in 2014 on the basis that hair braiding doesn’t influence health and public safety. They were represented by Institute for Justice attorneys. Their suit became unnecessary after the Legislature passed the Natural Hair Braiding Protection Act into law in 2015. The act exempted hair braiders from licensing requirements in Arkansas.

Red Tape Reduction Working Group

Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the formation of the Red Tape Reduction Working Group in February to study state occupational requirements.

The working group will present its recommendations to the governor in the fall. The members of the working group are state senators John Cooper (co-chair), Missy Irvin, Jane English, Trent Garner, and Bart Hester; state representatives LeAnne Burch, Bruce Cozart (co-chair), Milton Nicks, Jeff Williams, and Richard Womack; governor’s appointees Bill Gossage, the governor’s deputy chief of staff for external affairs; Dr. Charisse Childers, director of Arkansas Career Education; Leon Jones Jr., director of Arkansas Department of Labor; and consumer representatives Lula Dixon and Bob Kucheravy.   

For more on occupational licensing, check out our Labor Market Regulation page.