Wayne Nutt is an engineer. For four decades, he practiced engineering, mostly in North Carolina. Like many engineers, he designed and built all manner of useful things in his career, and, like many engineers, he did so without needing a government license. Because Wayne worked for big manufacturers instead of building public works, he was exempt from North Carolina’s licensing requirements for engineers.
But now that Wayne is retired, he no longer wants to practice engineering. He just wants to talk about it. Wayne, like many engineers, has trouble keeping quiet when he sees something wrong or notices a mistake. He wants to help get it right. So in retirement, he has found himself deploying his hard-won expertise to testify at town council meetings and write letters to government officials. Most recently, Wayne served as a volunteer expert witness on behalf of a group of homeowners whose property was flooded in a storm, providing the kind of testimony that, as described on page 11, IJ itself often relies on to explain or clarify issues for a court.
The trouble is that all of this is a crime according to the North Carolina Board of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors. Not the part where Wayne designed and built things like hydraulic pipes—that was all fine. It’s just talking about it, the Board says, that breaks the law.
In the government’s view, only licensed engineers can talk about engineering—even if unlicensed engineers can do an awful lot of actual engineering. In the government’s opinion, Wayne can either get a license or shut up. Wayne does not want to be a licensed engineer because, at 77, he’s not looking to start a brand-new career. And he does not want to shut up because, well, he’s Wayne Nutt.
That is why Wayne has teamed up with IJ to file a major federal lawsuit as part of the next frontier in our long-running battle to protect the basic right to speak without first obtaining a special license from the government. North Carolina seems to think that it has a monopoly on who can talk about engineering and that Wayne can be thrown in jail for doing math without permission. With IJ’s help, Wayne will do the same thing that got him in trouble in the first place: politely but firmly prove it wrong.
Robert McNamara is an IJ senior attorney.