Anatomy of a Conspiracy

As far back as 2017, the NSPS Government Affairs Consultant, John Palatiello put together a white paper and presentation on what he saw as a systematic, nationwide campaign against occupational licensing.


Libertarian organizations have been operating a blatant offensive against the whole concept of occupational licensing for years. JMP spotted this early on and so did I. Because of various publications that I have been reading for years, and my previously documented paranoid nature, I’ve been aware of the Libertarian fight against all occupational licensing for at least 10 years. I’ve written about it before, in a couple of different state magazines. So yeah, I’m at it again. Take a deep breath, buckle in and channel the X-Files for a few minutes, I mean, the TRUTH is out there, right?


Milton Friedman the uber-capitalist writer & philosopher wrote, as far back as 1962, that all occupational licensing, including for doctors, should be eliminated. His theory is that any licensing stifles free trade and that a vigorous marketplace will weed out the weak or incompetent practitioners more effectively than any licensing board. Check out, the Brookings Institution and the Hoover Institution – all are opposed to ALL occupational licensing and offer reasoning that aligns well with the ideas put forward by Friedman 60 years ago.


As evidenced by three recent lawsuits, the Institute for Justice (IJ) appears to be on a crusade against licensing and licensing boards. When they aren’t busy suing boards of regulation, the IJ website rails against occupational licensing too. Even the Wall Street Journal has editorialized for elimination of licensing, as has the Economist and the National Review. Everybody hates licenses.

So, let’s take a quick look at the IJ campaign because right now it is one of the two most relevant threats against our licenses. I’ll address the other clear and present threat to us and our licenses after I am done with the IJ.

Just exactly who are the Institute for Justice? Let’s look at their website:

This all sounds great. Judged only from their mission statement, these crusading attorneys are the salt of the earth. At least they are if you are unlicensed but want to start a business doing my job…


Mats Järlström is cited and fined by the Oregon Board of Engineers and Land Surveyors for claiming in public meetings, to be an “engineer.” Järlström had graduated years earlier with a degree in engineering but was not licensed in Oregon as such. The IJ took his case and sued the Oregon Board on the basis that the Board had violated Järlström’s First Amendment right to Free Speech. They won. His right to Free Speech trumped the Board’s right to protect the public.

North Carolina—2021

Michael Jones and his company 360 Virtual Drone Services, LLC are cited and fined by the North Carolina Board of Examiners for of Engineers and Land Surveyors for offering (protected) surveying services without a license. The IJ swooped in and took up his case, filing a lawsuit against the Board for violation of his First Amendment right to Free Speech. Somehow the IJ equated making orthophotos showing boundary line data taken from public sources, as speech. This spring the Board got some good news when the court tossed the case and let the Board’s disciplinary order stand.the I.J. will almost certainly appeal.

California 2022

Ryan Crownholm and his company were cited and fined for the unlicensed practice of Land Surveying but the Board of Engineer, Land Surveyors and Geologists. Crownholm is not licensed. He and his company harvest available data such as topo, zoning, property lines, etc. and put this data together in the form of site plans for various permitting applications, in California and many other states. The Board determined that §8726, the definition of Land Surveying, clearly indicates that making maps and exhibits with lot lines and dimensions therefrom to fixed works requires a license.


The IJ took Crownholm’s case and in the most aggressive lawsuit yet, named the executive director of the Board as well as every individual board member, as defendants. The suite claimed that the defendants deprived Crownholm of his First Amendment right to Free Speech and his Fourteenth Amendment right to Due Process and Equal Protection under the law. They also sued to have §8726 declared on the basis that it was too vague to be understood by a person of ordinary intellect.

The judge in the California case ruled quickly and decisively in favor of the defendants. In extraordinarily clear language the judge refuted each and every claim and dismissed the suit “…in its entirety, without leave to amend…” The Institute for Justice has recently filed an appeal in Federal Court. Let’s see if Appellate Court Justices see the constitution the same way. This is not a slam dunk.


If you are keeping score at home, it’s 2-1 with one case yet undecided after the first three innings. But this is a 50-inning game, and the aforementioned Libertarian slant indicates that the anti-license group is likely to have a homefield advantage as the Campaign Against Occupational Licensing spreads across the country.

What might this homefield advantage look like in a more stable state, like Nevada, for instance? Well, here’s the summary of two proclamations made last month by the new Governor of Nevada. The actual proclamations and this summary are available from the Governor’s official website.

Okay then, the previously mentioned campaign takes a strategic turn. Read the summary carefully, especially the last line. Each agency, department, board, and commission must justify its continued existence by showing cause for all licensing requirements and provide a “…pathway for facilitating licensure reciprocity.” Scrutiny of the aforementioned anti-licensing websites indicates that if elimination of licensing is not possible, then universal reciprocity is the next best thing. So, Governor Joe Lombardo is throwing both options out there. He is saying ‘Justify your board’s continued existence or get rid of it.’ And if you must keep it in place, then provide a pathway to maximize reciprocity.


You say that I am perhaps reading too much into this. Am I? This is a war, and we should wake up to that fact. Didn’t the Nevada Board just go through the sunset process and come out feeling relevant and permanent? And did the new Governor take that into account with his proclamation? What about the other 16 states that are pushing toward universal reciprocity? If the Nevada Board embraces a generous definition of reciprocity, how many new licensees will start practicing in Nevada with limited or no knowledge about the Silver State’s surveying statutes? How long until the IJ lawsuits wear down the Boards of regulation to the point where they are gun shy from citing the unlicensed? When we are relying on the marketplace to weed out the weak, will it be the bottom-feeding fly-by-nights with no skin in the game (warning multiple mixed metaphor alert) that go, or the expensive professionals carrying E&O and general liability insurance that get weeded out?

Before this rant goes on any longer, let me just say that the Nevada Association of Land Surveyors, ACEC and the Nevada board or regulation will have to find sufficient common cause to develop strategies to combat this campaign. It is true that the threats I have identified in this piece are or will be directed at the Board of Engineers and Land Surveyors, rather than to us surveyors directly, but try to imagine what it would be like practicing our profession with an attenuated Board or worse, no board at all. No rules, just chaos.

What to do then, when your state faces a similar challenge to that being faced at the present time by NALS? Draft a letter to the Governor and make it available to all members so that each can download, sign, and send to the Governor’s office, either as a paper letter or through the official website. In my particular case, I have already registered my stern disapproval of the governor’s proclamations in this way, but I don’t think you want to adopt my language which was shorn of diplomacy in the heat of the moment. Discuss this at your chapter meetings, encourage your officers to take a strong message of defiance to your state society’s board meeting, which will hopefully resonate with your Legislative committee. Start contacting state legislators, as well. Remember, it is for challenges like this that your state society was formed!

About the Author

Carl C. de Baca, PS

Carl Baca, PLS, is a Nevada and California licensed land surveyor. He served as President of the Nevada Association of Land Surveyors, and has served on the Board of Governors and Board of Directors of the National Society of Professional Surveyors. He owned a business serving the mining industry for 11 years.