By David Kennedy
What difference has the Institute for Justice made in the fight for freedom over its first 14 years?
IJ set the first federal appeals court precedent striking down economic regulation since the New Deal. Think about that for a moment; for the first time since that second Roosevelt took the oath of office, the Institute for Justice became the first organization to successfully stand up to the federal court system’s presumption in favor of the government in the economic realm and it turned that idea on its head.
New York City Council’s veto of new free market van services designed to protect the public bus monopoly? Gone, thanks to IJ.
Once-closed taxi markets in Denver, Cincinnati and Indianapolis? Open, thanks to IJ.
Hectored hairbraiders in D.C., California, Mississippi, Arizona, Washington State and Minnesota? Now freed from government harassment, thanks to IJ.
Property owners who faced the loss of their homes or small businesses by government force in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Arizona, Mississippi and, of course, Connecticut so someone else could try to make more money off their land? All either spared this tragedy or continuing in Herculean fights to achieve that end, thanks to IJ.
Small businesses that sought to communicate truthful information to their customers about bonds or bagels or bungalows? Their First Amendment freedoms upheld thanks to IJ.
School choice programs in Milwaukee, Arizona, Illinois, Florida and Cleveland that give the “power to vote with their feet” to tens of thousands of previously ignored, low-income parents? All defended to the fullest thanks to the advocates of the Institute for Justice.
Before IJ, none of this was considered possible. One could even say that the Institute for Justice has redefined what the word “possible” means in these contexts. “Possible” now means what you relentlessly pursue with principled advocacy and goodwill. That is “the IJ Way.”
And the man who created and embodies that term—the IJ Way—is the organization’s co-founder and its only president, Chip Mellor. As someone who really appreciates his Western roots, let me tell you, Chip’s vision of and respect for individual liberty was nurtured by the landscape that lies between California and the Great Plains. That is where Chip came into his own and got started on the path to create an organization that helps each man and woman achieve for themselves as much as their individual talents will earn rather than seeking government handouts or permission. He has launched an institute that protects the personal sphere that is defined by private property, economic liberty, free speech and the education of our children—a sphere that can remain healthy only if we keep the government confined by the limits set forth in the Constitution by our Founding Fathers. This is the goal of the Institute for Justice.
The Institute for Justice is so congenial and effective that it could draw in a 50-plus-year-old law student named Bob Levy—a man who had already made it in the business world but who wanted to learn how to fight for liberty in the legal arena—to become a clerk at the Institute for Justice and not only do that, but thereafter to join my colleagues on the Institute for Justice’s Board of Directors. IJ’s board is made up of terrifically committed individuals who combine strategic thinking, purposeful charity and vision to guide this dynamic group. Our board meetings, while occasionally intense, are a “chore” to which each one of us looks forward with eager anticipation.
None of IJ’s work would be possible without its talented assembly of attorneys and staff members who dedicate themselves to working for freedom not as a day-to-day job, but as a vocation. It is that contagious commitment to principle (as well as helping real-world people free themselves from government entanglement) that keeps the turnover rate at the Institute so low and the enjoyment of the work so high.
IJ has grown from a modest organization of six individuals located in one office, to a tightly run organization seven times that size with state chapters in Arizona, Washington and Minnesota, as well as the Institute for Justice Clinic on Entrepreneurship located at the University of Chicago Law School—the nation’s only legal clinic that provides would-be entrepreneurs with free counsel to create exclusively private-sector jobs. Each of these satellite offices shares the mission and spirit of IJ’s headquarters—to vindicate individual liberty and preserve the rights of each of us to be a free and responsible member of civil society.
Thanks to generous and voluntary contributions of individuals and foundations from across the nation (IJ accepts no government funds), IJ has had the resources it needs to take on better-heeled foes including the powerful unions and corporations when they have co-opted government power for their own gain, as well, of course, as the deepest of all deep-pocketed adversaries—governments at the local, state and federal levels. Whereas all these entities work to expand government control over our lives, IJ is the only organization in the nation that works so effectively in court and the court of public opinion to limit that power. And because of the principled philanthropy of IJ’s donors, each of the Institute for Justice’s clients, who could never afford to take on these fights themselves, are represented by the best advocates for freedom in the nation, and are represented free of charge.
Even in the face of inevitable setbacks, IJ has the institutional maturity to take losses in stride, study how it can improve, remain resolute, and never stray from its long-range goals. And after victories, the organization doesn’t waste time patting itself on the back; it has earned its stellar reputation because it knows what it wants to achieve next and it will work to that end with clarity of thinking and forceful expression of its worldview.
I have been fortunate to sit on a number of boards of directors in both the private and the non-profit sector. However, no other organization has left me with such a satisfying feeling that it is actually accomplishing so much of what it had set out to accomplish, while surrounded by such good people doing such good work for such good ends.
The Institute for Justice has a bright history. It has an even brighter future!
David Kennedy is chairman of the board of the Institute for Justice.