Texas Government Sued for Over-Regulating Hair Braiding

Monday, October 07, 2013
Isis Brantley (photo NaturallyIsis.com)

Is the “business-friendly” orientation of Texas government for whites only? The state of Texas—whose governor regularly touts the laxity of its regulatory environment—stands accused of over-regulating the trade of African hair-braiding in a lawsuit filed by one of its premier practitioners.


The complaint filed by Dallas “natural hair stylist” Isis Brantley, who has been braiding hair since learning the craft from her mother at age 6, explains that “the practice involves the intricate twisting, braiding, weaving, and locking of hair using a braider’s hand, mostly for African-American clients whose characteristically textured hair is perfect for such styling,” and is a purely physical method of styling, using no chemicals on the hair.


Brantley, who opened her Institute of Ancestral Braiding in 1981, thought this issue was resolved 16 years ago, when she was arrested for braiding hair without a cosmetology license—which required 1,500-hours of coursework, all of it “wholly irrelevant” to braiding. Brantley, whose clients include Grammy-winning singer Erykah Badu, challenged the law and in 2007 persuaded the state to create a separate Hair-braiding License requiring only a 35-hour course with none of the cosmetology instruction.


In June, however, Brantley received a letter from the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR) explaining that her hair-braiding students would not be allowed to take the licensing exam because braiding instruction is still regulated under the state barber statute. Thus, in order to teach braiding, one must obtain a “‘Barber Instructor License’ [that] requires … 2,250 hours of instruction,” all of it irrelevant to hair-braiding, according to the complaint. The only exception would be for Brantley to close her school and become a “guest instructor” at a licensed barber college—where hair-braiding is generally not taught.


Brantley filed her lawsuit against the TDLR in federal district court in Austin, and alleges that Texas is violating her constitutional rights to due process and equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. She argues that because the regulations serve no rational purpose, such as protecting public health or safety, they “unreasonably and arbitrarily interfere with her ability to offer hair braiding instruction.” 


Susan Stanford, a spokeswoman for TDLR, said it is agency policy not to comment on pending litigation, although the manager of the Barber and Cosmetology Program admitted that forcing hair-braiding teachers to first become barbers “could be a hardship for someone that just wants to do the braiding.”


Brantley is represented by attorney Arif Panju of the Institute for Justice, a conservative-libertarian pro bono firm that last year represented a hair-braider from Utah in forcing the state to drop its cosmetology license requirement. In general, conservative libertarians argue that all occupational licensing offends the Constitution, but in practice the IFJ files suit only where the licensing bears little relation to protecting the public.

-Matt Bewig


To Learn More:

Natural Hair Guru Isis Brantley Is Suing Texas for the Right to Teach Hair-Braiding (Amy Silverstein, Dallas Observer)

TX Regulation of African Hair Braiding Fought (by Cameron Langford, Courthouse News Service)

Brantley v. Kuntz (Complaint) (pdf)

Federal Court Rules Utah’s Anti-Hair Braiding Law Unconstitutional (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


Leave a comment