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Three cheers for things that are refreshing: a cool drink on a hot day, a luxurious nap, and a jolt of common sense from the courts.

Until just recently, the state of Utah was like North Carolina in its determination that African hair braiding be a licensed, regulated activity in the state. While it may seem rather silly to many people for it to be official state business to certify African hair braiders, the regulators in Utah (like their peers here) were very serious about it.

In North Carolina, practitioners of the art — which is a traditional skill passed down from one generation to the next that most braiders learned as children, is usually practiced by West African immigrants, many of whom cannot speak English, and doesn’t involve chemicals — now must spend thousands of dollars in cosmetology school and complete 300 hours of classroom credit in order to be certified.

Utah’s requirement was similar. Consider the case of Jestina Clayton, the woman who sued Utah after having to shut down her hair-braiding business:

… one day, she got an email from a stranger. "It is illegal in the state of Utah to do any form of extensions without a valid cosmetology license," the e-mail read. "Please delete your ad, or you will be reported."

It takes nearly two years of school and about $16,000 in tuition to get a cosmetology license in Utah. And schools teach little or nothing about African hair braiding.

Clayton wound up closing her business.

Those are steep prices to pay for someone trying to put food on the table for her young family. But hey, the state has a valid interest in preventing fraudulent hair braiding, doesn’t it? The spectacle of dozens of state residents going about with badly braided hair sticking out all akimbo must give everyone pause, on par with such awful notions as displaying a barber’s pole without a license or being a bad auctioneer. It certainly gives somebody pause. Who?

Here in North Carolina, as Carolina Journal’s Sara Burrows reported, "the primary complaints have not originated from customers but from licensed cosmetologists who see the braiders as unwelcome competition." Clayton’s unknown correspondent seems to fit the profile of the latter.

Last week, Clayton’s case received a favorable ruling from a federal judge with a refreshing bit of perspective. Here is a snippet:

The State does not know which schools, if any, teach African hair braiding; how many hours, if any, of African hair braiding instruction are available at those unknown schools; or whether the unknown number of hours of instruction at those unknown schools are mandatory or elective. …

Utah’s cosmetology/barbering licensing scheme is so disconnected from the practice of African hairbraiding, much less from whatever minimal threats to public health and safety are connected to braiding, that to premise Jestina’s right to earn a living by braiding hair on that scheme is wholly irrational and a violation of her constitutionally protected rights.

Ahh. Now if only North Carolina’s leaders, holding the reins of a state with over 50 licensing boards, would take a swig of that reasoning.

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