PLAINTIFFS: Christine McLean (left) demonstrates with co-plaintiff Nivea Earl their work, subject of a new civil rights suit over Arkansas licensing standards. Brian Chilson

The Insitute for Justice, an Arlington, Va.-based libertarian legal organization, has filed a lawsuit in Arkansas challenging the requirement that people who work as hair braiders must first be licensed by the state Cosmetology Board.

The suit was filed in federal court on behalf of Christine McLean of Little Rock and Nivea Earl of Jacksonville. McLean has already been fined for braiding without government permission.


A news release from the group said:

“Natural” or African-style hair braiding has been practiced for over 5,000 years. It is time tested and completely safe. But Arkansas considers braiders to be cosmetologists, so it requires that braiders attend cosmetology school for 1,500 hours and take two exams before they can ask for money for their services. Yet braiding is completely different from cosmetology. Unlike licensed cosmetologists—who cut hair, use caustic chemicals, dyes, and other artificial hair styling techniques—braiders just rely on their fingers and combs to create their styles. What’s more is that cosmetology school does not even teach braiding, and the two exams don’t test it.

Similar lawsuits have been filed by the group in other states.


The Institute makes a larger point that we’ve long made — many Arkansas regulatory boards exist to control competition more than protect consumers.

The same legal group sued recently over a state Board of Dental Examiners rule that prohibits orthodontists from providing routine teeth cleaning.