California Hair Braiding

IJ Untangles California’s Law for African Hairstyling
Cornwell v. California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology

JoAnne Cornwell, an African hairbraider in San Diego, won her challenge to California's licensing law.

Teaming with Dr. JoAnne Cornwell, a “locktician” from San Diego who created the “Sisterlocks” technique of natural hairstyling (and who chairs of the Africana Studies Department at San Diego State University), the Institute for Justice in 1999 struck down California’s expansive, expensive and arbitrary cosmetology laws that had prevented hundreds of African-Americans (mostly women) from practicing a cultural art form: African hairbraiding.

California had required that African hairstylists spend nine months (1,600 hours) and at least $5,000 at a government-approved cosmetology school before sitting for the state licensing examination, which allowed braiders to legally practice their craft.  But none of these government-mandated classes actually taught students how to braid hair.  In fact, they taught techniques that were especially damaging to African hair.

Essential Background


Backgrounder: Challenging Barriers to Economic Opportunity

Client Photo

Client Video - none available

Latest Release: VICTORY FOR ECONOMIC LIBERTY, California Decision Untangles Regulatory Nightmare for African Hairstyling (August 19, 1999)

Legal Briefs and Decisions

none available

Launch Release: Legal Challenge to Cosmetology Licensing Opens National Assault on Barriers to Entrepreneurship (January 23, 1997)

Case Timeline

Filed Lawsuit:


January 28, 1997

Court Filed:


U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California



August 19, 1999: U.S. District Judge Rudi Brewster struck down California’s requirement that African hairstylists secure a cosmetology license as unconstitutional

Additional Releases

Maps, Charts and Facts

Release: Hairbraiders Win Opening Round In Challenge to California Cosmetology Rules (May 5, 1997)

Chart: Licensing Facts for California Occupations

Release: Steve Forbes Endorses Lawsuit to Remove Unfair California State Regulations on African-American Entreprenuers (December 21, 1998)

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Institute for Justice
901 N. Glebe Road, Suite 900
Arlington, VA 22203
Tel 703.682.9320, Fax 703.682.9321
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