Yesterday, the Civitas Institute filed a joint amicus brief with the Cato Institute at the United States Supreme Court. In the brief, we ask the Court to grant certiorari (take up the case) in Vong v. Aune. Should the Court grant cert, the ramifications could be felt in North Carolina, which has one of the most expansive and complex licensing regimes in the nation. In this post, I'll explain the background of the case, why we filed an amicus brief, and why an Arizona entrepreneur's legal battle is relevant to the lives of North Carolinians.
The Vong v. Aune Saga
The story of this case begins a long time ago in a land far, far away – Arizona. I'll let the Goldwater Institute sum up the background:
Cindy Vong has operated a nail salon in Gilbert, Arizona since 2006. In 2008, she began providing a foot therapy popular in the Middle East and Asia which uses small Garra Rufa fish to exfoliate dead skin from the feet. Ms. Vong remodeled her salon to create a separate area where the foot treatment would be offered. She wrote an extensive policy on customer safety for her staff and legally imported the fish from China to launch the service. A number of Ms. Vong’s customers enjoyed the treatment and none lodged any complaints about it with her business or any state agency.
…In January 2009, Ms. Vong received an undated letter from [Arizona Board of Cosmetology] Executive Director Sue Sansom that accused her of violating the agency’s safety standards and said Ms. Vong could face criminal charges.
…Ms. Vong asked the board to use her spa as a six-month test project so the state agency could write new rules that covered this practice. The board ignored Ms. Vong’s request.
In February 2009, the cosmetology board formally notified Ms. Vong that the state was considering possible civil or criminal penalties for offering the service. Ms. Vong signed an agreement with the cosmetology board in September 2009 and closed the fish spa as the board requested…[S]he was forced to lay off three workers and lost a substantial amount of income.
In November 2009, the Goldwater Institute filed a lawsuit against the Board of Cosmetology on Ms. Vong’s behalf. The board exceeded its statutory authority by unconstitutionally applying regulations to her spa fish business that, in this context, are not rationally related to a legitimate government purpose. The board violated Ms. Vong’s constitutional rights to due process, equal protection and the privileges and immunities afforded to everyone to make a living.
The Arizona courts ultimately sided with the Board of Cosmetology, leading attorneys Clint Bolick and Christina Sandefur to petition the United States Supreme Court.
Why file an amicus brief?
An amicus brief, or "friend of the court" brief, is a brief filed by someone who is not a party to the case. Such a brief presents the court with additional legal or policy reasons to rule a certain way. The goal in our brief was to show the Court that this case is a chance to clarify several unclear points of law surrounding occupational licensing. While we certainly hope Read More