Designing Women

Decorative cartel


What happens when interior designers battle other interior designers? In the 1980s sitcom Designing Women, catfights inevitably ensue, the occasional pantsuit with enormous shoulder pads gets torn asunder, and everyone has to reapply lipstick. In a more contemporary case, up-and-coming nonfictional interior designers are taking on an entrenched design cartel with the help of the libertarian litigators at the Institute for Justice.

In September the institute filed a lawsuit on behalf of three Connecticut women who would like to advertise their services as interior designers but fear the $500 fine or one year in jail they might face for doing so. To be qualified in the eyes of the state, the women would have to pass the exam of the National Council for Interior Design Qualification. To be eligible to sit for the exam, an applicant must have six years of higher education and "interior design experience."

Under Connecticut law, women (and men) banned from using the words interior designer can still perform all the same functions as certified designers. Which means the licensing gambit isn't about safety. It's pure protectionism.

The lobbying wing of the interior design cartel has pushed 70 bills in 20 states during the last few years, spending a total of about $6 million. It has had only limited success, mostly because of the Institute for Justice's efforts to oppose them.