NEW YORK (AP) — New rules limiting the number of art vendors allowed in Manhattan's busiest parks can remain in place, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday, saying the vendors' First Amendment rights were not violated because the restrictions apply equally to everyone regardless of content.
Street artists had made First Amendment claims seeking to stop the New York City Parks Department from enforcing the rules. But the three-judge panel from the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan denied the claims, saying the new rules allocate spot designations in the parks on a first-come, first-served basis regardless of users' ideas or views.
"They were passed not in an attempt to suppress vendors' ability to market their wares, but to fill a gap in the larger regulatory scheme governing vending on Parks Department property," wrote Circuit Judge Denny Chin. "The city's interests here — alleviating congestion and improving circulation, promoting the aesthetics of the parks, and ensuring that the parks are available to the public for a wide range of activities — are indisputably significant."
The rules arose from the city's conclusion that the parks had become too crowded. The plaintiffs argued that greenmarket and holiday commercial vendors create more congestion in the parks than the artists.
Julie Milner, a lawyer for the artists, said the plaintiffs are stunned that the court didn't agree with their argument that the city's real intent was to exclude artists from the parks. She said the plaintiffs were considering appealing to the Supreme Court and that it was likely that performers would sue the city as well.
Julie Steiner, an attorney for the city, said her office was "very pleased."
In ruling, the appeals court also rejected claims by the plaintiffs that they were entitled to depose Mayor Michael Bloomberg and a former deputy mayor.
The court said it wanted to create a legal precedent by saying a party must demonstrate exceptional circumstances to justify such a deposition of a high-ranking government official.