One day in 1997, seven police officers walked into the Institute of Ancestral Braiding in Oak Cliff and arrested Isis Brantley, a local hair guru whose clients include Erykah Badu, for braiding hair without a cosmetology license.
Brantley no longer has the cops to worry about. In 2007, a decade after her arrest, she successfully lobbied the state to create a special hair-braiding certificate requiring just 35 hours of training, compared with 1,500 mandated for barbers. Brantley argued that since stylists who create traditional African hair-braids don't use any harsh chemicals or heat, it's safer than what's traditionally taught in cosmetology schools.
Still, Brantley's certificate didn't allow her to teach her craft, at least not for credit. Under state regulations, anyone wishing to do so needs a barber's license plus either 750 additional hours in cosmetology school or a comparable mix work experience and pedagogical training.
In October, Brantley sued several officials with the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation claiming that they were infringing upon the constitutional rights of African hair braiders.
Sam Sparks, a U.S. district judge in Austin, flatly rejected a major chunk of Brantley's argument in an opinion handed down last week. Sparks pauses briefly to point out that the state's definition of "barbering" is more than broad enough to encompass hair braiding, then quickly moves on to picking Brantley's case apart.
Brantley's first line of argument -- that it's arbitrary for the state to allow unlicensed hair braiders to teach courses for credit as "guest instructors" at accredited barber colleges as they are allowed to do, but not on their own -- falls flat because the same rules apply to all instructors, regardless of specialty. Her second, that Texas is essentially treating hair braiders and barbers too equally, does as well.
Sparks dismisses both, writing that "Brantley's equal protection claims are not equal protection claims at all, but are merely strained attempts to reframe her due process arguments," Sparks writes.
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Those due process arguments, which essentially say that it's absurd to require thousands of hours of training, most of it unrelated to hair-braiding, to teach a 35-hour hair-braiding class, Sparks hasn't yet touched. So, that part of Brantley's lawsuit moves forward.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.