A Man Who Changed the World
A Man Who Changed the World
By Chip Mellor,
President & General Counsel
Some of you may have shared a special experience with me in meeting a man who, more than anyone, is responsible for the proliferation of free-market policy organizations around the world -- and who in an unexpected way played a key role in the Institute for Justice's training programs.
Nine years ago I first had the pleasure of speaking with him for the first time.
My secretary's voice crackled out of the antiquated Department of Energy intercom, "There's an Antony Fisher on the line for you. He says he's from San Francisco, but he sounds English."
Wondering, "Antony who?" I was about to say take a message, but that day, the call offered a welcome diversion from a particularly soul-numbing exercise in fighting the bureaucracy. So I took the call, and heard a warm British-accented voice on the other end say, "I do ever so hate to bother you, but I was hoping to take a moment of your time to explore an opportunity."
And with that telephone call, my life changed.
Antony Fisher, it turned out, served on the board of Pacific Research Institute which he founded in the late 1970s. It was one of several public policy research institutes Antony had created around the world. The most famous one of these at the time was the Institute for Economic Affairs in London, which played a central role in laying the intellectual foundation for Margaret Thatcher's revolution.
Though geographically dispersed, all of these institutes (including the Atlas Foundation, Fraser Institute, Manhattan Institute, National Center for Policy Analysis, Pacific Research Institute as well as the Institute for Economic Affairs) share a common approach based on the teachings of Nobel laureate Friedrich Hayek. Hayek urged Fisher to avoid political expediency and remember that well-researched, nonpartisan policy analysis based on sound economic principles, could have tremendous influence in the political world. With that profound insight, institutes founded by Fisher continue to this day and have an impact far disproportionate to their relatively modest size.
After discussions with Pacific's Board, I enthusiastically agreed to become the new president of Pacific Research Institute with the goal of developing a long-term philosophically and tactically consistent litigation blueprint for establishing a rule of law conducive to liberty.
The timing was remarkable. Just days before Antony called, Clint Bolick and I had shared with IJ's future chairman, David Kennedy, a draft proposal setting forth our plans to establish what five years later became the Institute for Justice. Dave, in his wisdom, quite gently but honestly, pointed out that we just didn't have the critical mass of experience or a game plan that would make the proposal as appealing as he believed it ultimately could be. Thus the opportunity to go to Pacific Research Institute and begin this work was just what we needed.
An unexpected and very important development also occurred during this time that had a major impact on the Institute for Justice's program. It turned out that Pacific Research Institute was part of a large network of policy institutes, not only those that Antony Fisher had created, but state think tanks and research organizations across the country all dedicated to furthering in their own way the principles of a free society.
These organizations varied in size and areas of expertise; yet their energy, creativity, and research was clearly a very powerful force for freedom. One thing stood out however: none of these organizations had as an ongoing component of their programs anything related to public interest law or litigation. And although public interest law certainly is not for everyone, if an organization succeeded in having its policy recommendations enacted into law, it would miss a crucial opportunity to protect its accomplishments once the inevitable lawsuit was filed to challenge its success.
Policy research and grassroots organizing efforts could also enhance actual public interest litigation. With this in mind, Clint and I recognized how highly leveraged it would be to provide grassroots activists and policy think tanks with the tools to enable them to recognize opportunities where public interest law and tactics could enhance their respective missions.
As a result we founded the Institute not only to litigate, but to host annual training seminars for policy activists, lawyers and law students to advance our mutually held core beliefs in individual rights and limited government. Alumni of our training programs become part of our Human Action Network (HAN) which seeks to connect talent with opportunities whenever the need arises. Today, HAN members are working actively in public interest litigation producing policy reports, serving as local counsel in lawsuits or providing much-needed research assistance.
Sadly, Antony Fisher passed away in 1988. Yet his legacy lives on -- not only in the important institutes he established worldwide, but also in the Institute for Justice's training programs.