Niang v. Carroll

Cosmetology cartel seeks to squash competition by African-style hair braiders

Cases > Economic Liberty > Niang v. Carroll
Petition dismissed because of positive legislative action.  
Case Court: Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals

Missouri law requires African-style hair braiders to be licensed as a cosmetologist or barber. To obtain such a license, an applicant must pass a background check, undergo thousands of hours of training (costing thousands of dollars to attend special schools), and pass an exam. Neither the cosmetology nor barbering curricula teach African-style hair braiding. Ndioba Niang and Tameka Stigers are unlicensed professional hair braiders who sued the state Board of Cosmetology and Barber Examiners for violating their right to earn a living. The district court upheld the law after finding there might conceivably be legitimate purposes minimally advanced by the law. The braiders appealed and PLF filed an amicus brief supporting their claims.

Ndioba Niang and Tameka Stigers are professional African-style hair braiders in Missouri. The Missouri Board of Cosmetology and Barber Examiners ordered them  to stop practicing their trade until they obtained cosmetology licenses. These licenses require thousands of hours of irrelevant training (and cost thousands of dollars). When Niang and Stigers sued on the grounds that these irrelevant training and certification requirements unconstitutionally infringed their right to earn a living, the federal district court essentially rubber-stamped the law after applying an overly deferential version of rational basis review. Niang and Stigers appealed.

PLF filed an amicus brief in the Eighth Circuit in support of the hair braiders, arguing that the lower court’s version of the rational basis test was wrong and tantamount to no review at all. The mandated cosmetology training does not teach African-style hair braiding, and the required exam hardly touches on braiding. But the court found that the license protects the public because there is some minimal overlap in basic tasks performed by cosmetologists/barbers and hair braiders (e.g. general sanitation and business practices). The U.S. Supreme Court and multiple Courts of Appeals have struck down laws in cases with an insufficient connection between the government’s stated goals and the means used to achieve those goals. Courts in California and Utah considering challenges to similar licensing requirements for hair braiders held that it was irrational–and unconstitutional–to require braiders to obtain irrelevant training under the guise of protecting the public. The same is true in this case.

Unfortunately, the 8th Circuit disagreed. However, after the hairbraiders successfully lobbied for legislative reform, the Supreme Court recently vacated the 8th Circuit opinion. This is good news because the 8th Circuit’s endorsement of highly deferential rational basis review is no longer on the books.

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What’s at stake?

  • Plaintiffs challenging economic regulations bear the burden of showing the law’s irrationality, but rational basis review should not act as a rubber stamp of government decision-making.
  • Excessive deference to legislatures allows the government to protect politically powerful cartels at the expense of entrepreneurs who just want to earn an honest living.

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