New Orleans Book Ban

Challenging Barriers To Free Speech & Free Enterprise In New Orleans: City of Literary Lore Bans Book Vending

Josh Wexler and Anne Jordan Blanton had a dream: to open a bookselling business. As a means to that end, Josh and Jordan wanted to sell books on the streets of New Orleans. But, in a bureaucratic Catch-22, the City of New Orleans repeatedly informed them that selling books on the street required a license, and that they did not issue such licenses.

Josh and Jordan could sell food, flowers or razor blades or distribute advertising brochures, but could not sell books or blank journals. They could have sold pencils, but not journals in which to write with those pencils. Josh and Jordan just wanted to earn an honest living doing what they love. The City offered no explanation after showing indifference and hostility toward them, eventually telling them to get a lawyer if they wanted any more information.

So they did.

On April 8, 2003, Josh and Jordan, with the aid of the Institute for Justice, filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, seeking to have New Orleans’ blatantly unconstitutional practice struck down. The Institute for Justice argued that two fundamental rights were at stake in this case: selling books as a classic exercise of free speech and earning an honest living as an exercise of economic liberty. New Orleans arbitrary regulation did not serve a public interest and therefore lacked the “rational basis” to restrict a person’s right to pursue a chosen livelihood.

The Institute for Justice argued that people do not need to be protected from books, and on June 17, 2003, the court agreed. The Honorable Stanwood R. Duval, Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana ruled that the City’s ordinance “operates as an overriding ban on book-selling” and “[a]s a consequence of this finding, the First Amendment applies in this case because book selling is a form of expression . . . . [Wexler and Blanton] will be denied First Amendment freedoms if the ordinance is enforced whereas [the City of New Orleans] does not appear to be at risk of suffering any harm.” Shortly thereafter, the City agreed to let Josh and Jordan also sell journals.

The Institute for Justice helped vindicate Josh and Jordan’s right to free speech and economic liberty free from arbitrary government regulation.

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