Louisiana Florists - Release: 3-4-2010
Institute for Justice Files New Legal Challenge Against Louisiana’s Florist Licensing Scheme
WEB RELEASE: March 4, 2010
Shira Rawlinson, (703) 682-9320
Tim Keller, (480) 250-7149
Arlington, Va.—The Institute for Justice this week filed a civil rights lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana on behalf of four talented floral arrangers against the Commissioners of the Louisiana Horticulture Commission seeking to have Louisiana’s anti-competitive and anti-consumer florist licensing scheme declared unconstitutional.
“I can’t conceive of an occupation less in need of government regulation than floral arranging,” said Tim Keller, an Institute for Justice attorney and lead counsel in this case. “There is no reason to license florists because there is no risk to anyone from buying flower arrangements from unlicensed florists. There is no justification for a licensing regime that excludes anyone—much less significant numbers of people—from pursuing an honest living as a florist. If Louisiana can license a harmless occupation like floristry, there is no limit to what it can license or to the burdens it can impose on honest, productive livelihoods.”
This is the second time the Institute for Justice has sought to strike down this unconstitutional barrier to economic liberty. The first time IJ litigated its case in Louisiana on behalf of would-be florists; its clients passed away or were forced out of the state because of Hurricane Katrina.
Louisiana is the only state that requires florists to obtain a government-issued license before they may create and sell floral arrangements. To obtain a license, aspiring florists must pass a subjective examination that is judged by their future competition—florists who already hold a license. Each year, the state arbitrarily fails numerous test takers.
States That License Florists
The plaintiffs in the case are Monique Chauvin, Leslie Massony, Michelle Domingue and Debra Wood—all talented floral arrangers. They would like to work as retail florists without having to jump through the arbitrary hoops created by Louisiana’s florist licensing law. But because none of them has passed the state-mandated licensing exam, the only way they can arrange flowers for a living is if they work for a business that employs a licensed florist.
Monique, Leslie and Michelle work together at Monique’s store, Mitch’s Flowers, in New Orleans. Even though Monique’s floral arrangements are regularly featured in magazines, she has been unable to pass the florist licensing exam. The florist licensing regime threatens to shut down Monique’s thriving small business and cost Leslie and Michelle their jobs because the licensed florist Monique employed passed away in February. Monique now has until mid-May to hire another licensed florist, which she does not want to do because employing a licensed florist does not improve the quality of floral arrangements. Under the current law, which gives her a 90-day grace period to operate without a licensed florist, her only options are to do that, retake and pass the licensing exam, or close her shop.
Debby Wood started her own floral arranging business after making six arrangements for her mother-in-law’s birthday party. At the urging of her family, Debby started Debra Hirsch Wood Designs. She completed all the necessary paperwork and obtained a tax ID number, but then discovered it was illegal to arrange and sell flowers in Louisiana without a license. Debby spent $2,000 on a two-week, 80-hour course, an additional $150 on a refresher course the Saturday before the exam, and hundreds of hours studying. She was shocked when she found out she had failed the test.
“This case is about more than just me and the other plaintiffs,” Wood said. “This case is about setting free every aspiring florist in Louisiana to pursue their American Dream.”
The licensing law neither protects public health or safety nor improves the quality of floral arrangements in the state. In a social science experiment conducted in January 2010, Louisiana-licensed florists as well as unlicensed florists from across the border in Texas were asked to judge a random line-up of floral arrangements—25 purchased from shops in regulated Louisiana and 25 purchased from unregulated Texas. The results demonstrate that not even the licensed Louisiana florists could find any difference in the quality of the arrangements.
“The study’s findings undermine any claim by backers of Louisiana’s licensing scheme that licensure improves the quality of floral arrangements in the state,” said Dick M. Carpenter II, Ph.D., the Institute for Justice’s director of strategic research and author of Blooming Nonsense: Experiment Reveals Louisiana’s Florist Licensing Scheme as Pointless and Anti-Competitive. “In short, the experiment suggests that Louisiana’s licensing scheme does nothing but protect existing license-holders from fair competition.” The study can be downloaded in PDF here: www.ij.org/BloomingNonsense.
“The U.S. Constitution protects every American’s right to earn an honest living in the occupation of their choice and prohibits the government from erecting barriers to entrepreneurship that do nothing more than keep entrepreneurs from competing with existing businesses,” said Chip Mellor, the Institute’s president and general counsel. “Louisiana’s florist licensing scheme violates their fundamental right to pursue the occupation of their choice without arbitrary government interference. It is time for the courts to declare Louisiana’s protectionist florist licensing law unconstitutional and restore the right to earn an honest living to its proper status as a fundamental right.”