Wall Street Journal Editorial Board Blasts Atlanta Mayor For Disregarding Court Orders, Hostility to Small Business

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · November 4, 2013

Arlington, Va.
—Today Judge Shawn Ellen LaGrua of the Fulton County Superior Court will decide whether to hold Mayor Kasim Reed in contempt for his unlawful refusal to obey her order and issue vending permits to qualified Atlanta vendors. The hearing begins at 3:30 p.m. in Courtroom 8D of the Justice Center Tower. If found guilty, Mayor Reed could face fines and even jail.

The Wall Street Journal published an editorial this morning blasting Mayor Reed for his illegal scorched-earth policy against the city’s vendors. The full text is available below.

“Mayor Reed’s lawlessness is unprecedented nationwide,” said Attorney Rob Frommer of the Institute for Justice, which represents the vendors. “The courts have firmly rebuked his decision to willfully disregard court orders and deny Atlanta vendors their right to earn a living. As The Wall Street Journal’s editorial makes clear, Mayor Reed’s illegal actions must stop.”

Wall Street Journal editorial for November 4, 2013:

Atlanta Hawkers

The mayor defies court orders letting street vendors earn a living.

For overbearing city government, Northeasterners claim a special expertise. But for sheer hostility to small business, it’s hard to compete with Kasim Reed.

The Atlanta mayor won’t even permit commerce that’s entirely legal. Even after a judge ordered him to allow vendors to return to city streets—and then clarified her order in response to his defiance—Mr. Reed still won’t allow these sellers to seek willing buyers. On Monday he faces a contempt hearing in Georgia’s Fulton County Superior Court.

The problem began in 2008 when the city passed an ordinance to allow a single contract for sales in all public areas. In 2009 the contract was awarded to Chicago-basedGeneral Growth Properties,GGP+1.55%which could then force vendors to pay up to $20,000 a year to rent one of the company’s new kiosks—or else be barred from selling in public spaces.

Since we’re talking about public property, some might wonder why a city doesn’t have the authority to set the terms for commercial use. The answer is that Georgia’s state constitution bars a city government from creating this type of monopoly, unless it is specifically authorized in the city’s charter. In Atlanta it is not. So in 2012 Fulton County Superior Court Judge Shawn LaGrua voided the ordinance and the contract, restoring the previous law that allowed Atlantans to hawk.

General Growth accepted the court’s decision, but Mayor Reed still insists on preventing longtime street vendors from making a living. Earlier this year, the city gave new meaning to the term “March Madness” when it launched a crackdown—complete with threats of fines and arrests—before Atlanta hosted the NCAA men’s basketball championship. Preventing small vendors from doing business outside the Final Four was like telling mall owners that Christmas has been cancelled.

Last summer Judge LaGrua clarified her ruling and emphasized that the vendors should be allowed back to work. The mayor chose not to follow that ruling either. Vendors have now missed an entire Braves baseball season in the public areas outside Turner Field. Many vendors have struggled to pick up odd jobs to feed their families, but they haven’t accepted the mayor’s denial of their rights.

Aided by attorneys from the Institute for Justice, vendors Stanley Hambrick and Larry Miller have continued to challenge the mayor in court. Earlier this month the judge issued a writ of mandamus ordering the mayor to obey the law. Since he hasn’t followed that judgment either, the mayor’s lawyers will have to appear in court to explain why he should not be held in contempt.

Mayor Reed has also taken to denouncing our former colleague Kyle Wingfield, now a columnist at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, for daring to report on this bizarre campaign to keep vendors out of work. Way to go, Kyle. Politicians aren’t above the law, at least not yet, and Mr. Reed’s persistent disregard for court orders suggests that sanctions are overdue.