Today, the Civitas Institute joins the Cato Institute in asking the United States Supreme Court to clarify its role in protecting Americans from occupational licensure abuse. In a joint amicus brief, attorneys from Civitas and Cato ask the Court to grant certiorari in Vong v. Aune — a case with the potential to put occupational licensure in the national spotlight.
In the brief, we ask the Court to clarify the extent to which lower courts may consider the illegitimate motives of licensing boards when evaluating constitutional claims. Should the Court take up the case, it could have significant ramifications for North Carolinians, who live under one of the most expansive licensing regimes in the nation.
The case centers on Cindy Vong, a Vietnamese immigrant and American citizen who has operated a nail salon in Gilbert, Arizona since 2006. In 2008, she began offering a foot treatment using small Garra Ruffa fish to exfoliate dead skin from the feet. The treatment was very popular with Vong’s clientele, and not a single complaint was ever filed against her. However, the Arizona Board of Cosmetology did not approve, and threatened possible civil and criminal penalties if Ms. Vong did not shut down her spa fish business. This despite the fact that the Board has yet to present any evidence of even a remote risk of harm.
In November of 2009, Goldwater Institute attorneys Clint Bolick and Christina Sandefur filed a lawsuit against the Arizona Board of Cosmetology in state court, alleging multiple violations of Ms. Vong’s constitutional rights. The Arizona state courts sided with the Board, leading Goldwater to petition the United States Supreme Court.
Should the Court take up Ms. Vong’s case, the ramifications could be felt in North Carolina. Too often licensing boards are able to cloak their profit-seeking monopolies in the language of “public safety.” We hope that the Court will take this opportunity to make clear that licensing boards serve the taxpayers — not their own pocketbooks.
North Carolinians are no strangers to occupational licensure abuse. Just last week, the United States Supreme Court reprimanded the North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners for trying to shut down teeth whitening businesses.
While that case turned on federal antitrust law rather than an individual constitutional claim, we hope that it is indicative of a broader skepticism of anticompetitive behavior by state actors.