Artist vending restrictions clear judicial hurdle

Artists asked federal court to prevent Parks’ expressive-matter vending rules from taking effect. The Department of Parks and Recreation promulgated rules restricting where art and book vendors could sell their wares, also known as “expressive matter.” Among other things, the rules limited the locations where expressive matter display stands could be placed in Battery Park, Union Square, the High Line, and parts of Central Park. Shortly after the rules were published, two groups of artists filed lawsuits in federal court and requested preliminary injunctions prohibiting the rules from taking effect.

District Judge Richard J. Sullivan denied the requests, ruling that the artists were not likely to succeed in proving that the rules violated their First or Fourteenth Amendment rights. Judge Sullivan explained that the rules appeared to be content-neutral restrictions narrowly tailored to advance a significant government interest. The artists argued that the rules were not content neutral because they treated expressive-matter vendors differently than other vendors, but Judge Sullivan pointed out that the rules did not express an opinion on the content of the items being sold, and that Parks’ regulatory scheme seemed to favor expressive matter vendors over other vendors.

Judge Sullivan also ruled that Parks’ stated purposes for the rules, which included reducing congestion and preserving scenic views, clearly implicated significant government interests. And while the artists claimed the rules amounted to a complete ban on expressive matter vending, Judge Sullivan found that the rules appeared to be narrowly tailored to advance the stated purposes and left open ample alternative channels for vending.

Lederman v. Dep’t of Parks and Recreation, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 71425 (S.D.N.Y. July 16, 2010) (Sullivan, J.).

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