Making the right to earn a living a reality


September 21, 2018 9:55AM


Burdensome government licensing laws keep thousands of Tennesseans out of good jobs, and there is very little they can do to challenge whether those laws are even necessary in the first place.

The problem:

State law declares that the right to earn a living free from arbitrary government interference is a fundamental right. Yet thousands of Tennesseans still must beg the government for permission before being allowed to work. The culprit? Unnecessary occupational licensing laws that keep low-income Tennesseans from living the American Dream.

What it means in practice:

Let’s say someone can’t scrape together enough money to pay the $3,000 in tuition costs to get the 300 hours required to obtain a hair braiding license, and they want to challenge whether there is any health or safety rationale for the law to exist. They sue the state, and then they bear the full burden of disproving any legitimate reason the state could ever conceive of to tie 300 hours of hair braiding school to the public’s safety. The government can practically sit back and do nothing to defend its actions. As an organization that has challenged numerous licensing laws on behalf of Tennesseans, we know how insurmountable this burden is. For those who are not fortunate enough to get free legal help from groups like ours, they can’t even get inside the courthouse doors, much less win their case.

But if the government is going to tell someone she can’t work, shouldn’t it bear the burden of explaining why? If someone challenges a licensing law in court, which they already have the right to do, then the burden should immediately shift to the government to prove that the licensing law in question is necessary to protect consumers’ health and safety.

Why we are working on this issue:

There are few checks to prevent government busybodies and politicians from enacting new licensing laws that protect favored interests. And when they do, it is virtually impossible for the harmed person to do anything about it. If we really believe that the right to earn a living is a fundamental civil right, then like other fundamental rights, let’s honor the importance of that right by placing the burden where it belongs: on the government to defend the existence of any law that interferes with that right.