First Amendment Challenge to D.C. Licensing Requirement for Professional Counselors May Go Forward

Plaintiff, a professional counselor in Virginia who seeks to counsel clients in the District of Columbia over internet video, challenges the District of Columbia’s licensing requirement for professional counselors, claiming that the requirement (1) violates the First Amendment, (2) is unconstitutionally overbroad, and (3) is unconstitutionally vague….

[Plaintiff]A valid claim under the First Amendment has been asserted. Counselling, as speech and not conduct, is the subject of licensing. And the defendant’s “characterization [the licensing requirement]As [a]Professional regulation[]It is impossible to lower this bar. “The Supreme Court consistently rejects attempts to put aside the risks of content-based speech regulation within professional settings.” Otto v. Boca Raton, 981 F.3d 854, 861 (11th Cir. 2020) (citing Nat’l Inst. Fam. & Life Advocs. (NIFLA) v. Becerra, 138 S. Ct. 2361, 2374 (2018)).

Circuit’s decision in Howell v. National Association for Advancement of Multijurisdiction PracticeDoes not advise differently 851 F.3d 12, 19, (D.C. Cir. 2017) (“[g]Enerally the government could ‘license, regulate, or otherwise control those who offer services to clients for compensation, without violating the First Amendment.” NIFLA. Because the licensing requirements are content-based and only apply to Plaintiff’s speech, it is not applicable to other topics such as clients’ mental, emotions, or behavioral problems. Until then, Plaintiff is free to talk about any topic with her clients without license.