Occupational Licensing

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In 2010, members of the Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists sent the state attorney general after a failed Republican state Senate candidate. As a result, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has now overturned parts of the state's occupational licensing laws.

When Mary Louise Serafine was running for office, her campaign website identified her as a "psychologist." But she is not a licensed psychologist in Texas, nor does she have a degree in psychology. When the attorney general sent her a threatening letter about using that term, Serafine sued, insisting the law she allegedly violated "infringed her political speech, commercial speech, equal protection rights, and right to earn a living."

In the Fifth Circuit's judgment, a state can't enforce laws "limiting the ability of individuals to dispense personal advice about mental or emotional problems based on knowledge gleaned in a graduate class." Since Serafine was communicating not to a client as a psychologist but to voters at large, the court found no supposed "professional speech doctrine" applies, and her statement was entitled to First Amendment protection.

Under the law as written, the court noted, prosecutors could conceivably target "leaders for [Alcoholics Anonymous], Weight-Watchers, or other self-help groups," or "someone who has taken graduate classes in psychology, fitness, or counseling and has written a marriage-advice column or parenting blog." That too, it ruled, violates the First Amendment.

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