Saturday, January 13, 2018
In a very brief opinion in Niang v. Caroll, a unanimous panel of the Eighth Circuit affirmed a district judge's grant of summary judgment to Missouri against a challenge to the state's licensing requirements for "African-style hair braiders." In short, the Missouri statutes require a license for barbers and cosmetologists that is granted only to those who complete a "costly and time-intensive training course - - - 1,000-hours for barbering and 1,500-hours for hairdressing" and passage of exam. Moreover, Missouri conceded that "only about 10 percent of the required training courses is relevant to African-style braiders, and that almost all the exams do not test on braiding."
The Eighth Circuit applied the most deferential of rational basis standards. In rejecting the challengers' argument that the license requirement was not rationally related to any legitimate government interest, the court not only found that the state interests of protecting consumers and ensuring public health and safety were legitimate, but also recognized two other interests supplied by the district judge: stimulating more education on African-style braiding and incentivizing braiders to offer more comprehensive hair care. As to the means chosen, the Eighth Circuit found that it was sufficiently reasonable: "the fit between the licensing requirement and the State’s interest is imperfect, but not unconstitutionally so."
The Eighth Circuit also rejected the Equal Protection argument focused on the classification between braiders and barbers/cosmetologist, finding that the statutory definitions of "hair dressing" included braiding.
Lurking beneath the litigation, of course, is the racial classification, but this remains unaddressed. Indeed, it would be a difficult argument on which to prevail absent other facts.
For Constitutional Law professors looking for a good example of "anything goes" rational basis as exemplified by Railway Express Agency v. New York (1949) (which the Eighth Circuit does not cite), as well as Dandridge v. Williams (1970) and Heller v. Doe (1997), both of which the court does cite, this brief opinion is noteworthy.
For persons who want to practice the profession of braiding without being subject to onerous and irrelevant licensing requirements, the remedy may have to be in the legislature.
[image by Chidi "Lex Ash" Ashimole via]