The very idea of needing a license to speak is shocking to most Americans. After all, most Americans know the First Amendment of the Constitution guarantees us the right to speak our minds. Yet despite this constitutional guarantee, there are state officials around the country claiming that in order to speak in some contexts, you must first have a license from the government.
The latest case of this was in Mississippi, where technology firm Vizaline used satellite photos to draw lines highlighting property lines for customers. The Mississippi Board of Licensure for Professional Engineers and Surveyors sued Vizaline to force them to stop this service, even demanding they turn over every penny they had ever earned!
The board claimed Vizaline was practicing the occupation of surveying land without a license, but should simply drawing lines on a digital map really constitute professional land surveying?
Thankfully, the non-profit law firm the Institute for Justice took up this case and defended Vizaline on free speech grounds. The Institute contended that drawing the lines was protected First Amendment activity. The Pelican Center for Justice also submitted a legal brief in support of the case.
Late last week, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which also covers the state of Louisiana, ruled that the free speech challenge could go forward.
“Unreasonable restrictions on free speech by professionals discourage entrepreneurs from offering workable solutions to common problems,” said Sarah Harbison, general counsel for the Pelican Center for Justice. “The Fifth Circuit’s ruling requires the government to show what interest it has in preventing novel services, such as those offered by Vizaline, from becoming available in the marketplace. This is a victory for American ingenuity. “
This can be a huge potential victory, not only for free speech in Louisiana but also occupational licensing reform in the state. For example, New Orleans is one of the few cities that continues to license tour guides, putting people through an onerous process simply to speak. Additionally, Louisiana has one of the most burdensome occupational licensing regimes in the nation. If the 5th Circuit rules in favor of Vizaline, many of these similar licenses would be on thin legal ice.
The Pelican Center for Justice is pleased to see the 5th Circuit is examining the First Amendment challenge to this case and hopes it will rule in favor of protecting free speech.
You can read more about the case here.