The battle for the streets of Atlanta still rages. When we last wrote, the Atlanta city council was considering a modest bill to let vendors return to work until the end of the year, when a permanent bill could be enacted. The bill appeared poised for passage, but then Mayor Kasim Reed strong-armed the full city council into tabling the bill indefinitely. Let down by their elected representatives, Atlanta’s vendors responded by protesting the mayor’s underhanded tactics at a public event.
Undaunted by this setback, we at IJ responded by doing what we do best: challenging imperious and unlawful politicians in the courts. In September, the Institute sued Mayor Reed and Atlanta Police Chief George Turner on behalf of our client Stanley Hambrick. (This is IJ’s second Atlanta vending lawsuit.) Our request? Simply that the court tell the city—for a third time—that it has a street-vending law in place and order Atlanta officials to obey that law by issuing vending permits to qualified applicants. Not surprisingly, the city opposed our efforts.
On October 8, the same judge who presided over our initial lawsuit ruled in our favor, ordering the mayor and police chief to start letting qualified applicants get back to work.
Mayor Reed, however, still illegally defied the court’s orders. One day after our victory, Stanley went to the Atlanta Police Department to renew his vending permit. But city officials refused to accept his application, and city attorneys have made clear that Mayor Reed has no intention of abiding by the court’s order. Therefore, on November 4, IJ argued that Mayor Reed and Police Chief Turner should be held in contempt. The hearing was attended by nearly a dozen reporters.
It is hard to imagine why Mayor Reed is fighting so hard to keep these honest entrepreneurs off the streets. To bring more attention to these illegal actions, the Atlanta Vendors Association and IJ launched a billboard campaign in downtown Atlanta. We dramatized how the vending crackdown hurts real families and demonstrated that the right to earn an honest living is a civil right. Adding support in the court of public opinion, The Wall Street Journal editorialized on behalf of the vendors’ economic liberty.
The fight for economic liberty is never easy, and IJ has experienced few opponents who are so arrogantly defiant of both the law and their own citizens. But the Institute for Justice has stood up to government bullies for more than two decades not because it is easy, but because it is right. Whether it be through the courts, through the media or through our activism, IJ will not rest until the rights of Atlanta’s vendors are secure once and for all.
Robert Frommer is an IJ attorney.