IJ Refuses to Back Down in Defense of Atlanta Vendors

August 1, 2013

Atlanta, the crucible of the civil rights movement, calls itself “The City That’s Too Busy To Hate.” Its elected officials, though, are waging a vindictive, scorched earth effort against some of the city’s hardest working entrepreneurs: street vendors. IJ beat these bullies back in court, and we will keep fighting until we vindicate the vendors’ right to economic liberty.

As readers of Liberty & Law will recall, this past December IJ persuaded a court to strike down a city-enacted street vending monopoly that threatened to put dozens of local vendors out of business. That ruling should have cleared the way for Atlanta’s vendors to get back to work.

Or so we thought.

Three months later, the city struck back against the vendors. It began quietly enough. On March 27, we held a training for the Atlanta Vendors Association (AVA), led by our client Larry Miller. The 30 street vendors who attended learned about their rights and how to effectively advocate for their economic liberty.

Little did the vendors know how quickly that training would be put to the test. The very next morning, Mayor Kasim Reed shut down all street vending in Atlanta and falsely claimed he was required to do so by the court’s order. His shameless actions, which occurred right before the Atlanta Braves Opening Day and college basketball’s Final Four, reflected a vindictive spite reminiscent of a spoiled child who tries to take his ball and go home.

We could not let such malevolence go unchecked. Within 72 hours, I flew to Atlanta and escorted a news crew to Larry’s vending location, where police kept Larry from opening as he had for 20 years. IJ Activism and Coalitions Director Christina Walsh simultaneously drafted a flyer asking people to “Help Stop Atlanta’s Assault on Street Vendors” by contacting Atlanta officials. Within hours, we and the vendors handed out thousands of those flyers to fans visiting Opening Day. Later that week, Christina, the vendors and the NAACP protested outside of the Final Four, wearing bright red t-shirts that read “Let Us Vend.”

Mayor Reed continued to deflect blame, repeatedly claiming that our court victory required his shameful and unfounded policy. And he has even said that since the vendors sued to protect their livelihoods, what he was doing to them was their own fault.

Of course, our clients did not ask for their industry to be destroyed and the court did not order such a result. So, on June 27, IJ asked the court to clarify that Atlanta does indeed have a vending law in place under which the vendors can work.

Shortly thereafter, we helped more than 75 vendors and their supporters march on City Hall. Three major civil rights groups joined us, as did most of Atlanta’s major media outlets who covered the protest.

The very next day, the court clarified that the law authorizing the vending monopoly was “wholly void” and should be treated “as if it were never passed.” Because that law repealed an earlier vending ordinance, its invalidation meant that the old ordinance, which allows public property vending, was once again the law of the land.

We continue to spread the news of our victories and dominate the terms of the debate. Meanwhile, the recalcitrant Mayor Reed continues to ignore the public, the media and the courts as well. As this article goes to print, the city council is considering an ordinance that would let most of Atlanta’s street vendors get back to work. Whether it will pass and be signed by Mayor Reed is far from certain. But what is certain is that we will not quit until the businesses of Larry and Atlanta’s other street vendors are secure. Such resilience is nothing less than The IJ Way.

Robert Frommer is an IJ attorney.

Subscribe to get Liberty & Law magazine direct to your mailbox!

Sign up to receive IJ's bimonthly magazine, Liberty & Law, along with breaking news updates about the Institute for Justice's fight to protect the rights of all Americans.