Center for Judicial Engagement

[ju-di-cial en-gage-ment] (noun): The act of properly judging, by focusing on the facts of every case, remaining impartial, and requiring the government to justify its actions with reliable evidence.

The Institute for Justice fights to ensure that Americans enjoy the full measure of freedom that the Constitution guarantees. But the Constitution’s guarantees are meaningless unless judges are committed to enforcing them. Today, federal, state and local officials restrict our peaceful pursuit of happiness in countless unconstitutional ways—and judges do nothing to stop them. Simply put, courts have abdicated their responsibility to act as the “bulwarks of liberty” that the Framers envisioned.

We need a consistent, principled approach to judging that is capable of keeping government in check. That approach is judicial engagement. IJ’s Center for Judicial Engagement was created to educate the public and persuade judges to fully enforce all of the Constitution’s limits on government in every case.

Real Judging for the Real World

Edwards v. District of Columbia: The District of Columbia U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that a tour guide licensing scheme that essentially made it illegal to talk for a living without first paying the government money and passing a history exam violated the First Amendment. Finding the record “wholly devoid of evidence” that this scheme actually prevented harm to consumers—or that such harm even existed—the court concluded that the scheme was unconstitutional.  


St. Joseph Abbey v. CastilleThe 5th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Louisiana’s casket-sales law, explaining that it would not “accept nonsensical explanations for regulation.” The court unanimously held that laws amounting to “naked transfer(s) of wealth” to politically favored insiders are unconstitutional.

The brothers of Saint Joseph Abbey, a century-old Benedictine monastery in Covington, La., began to sell their handmade wooden caskets in late 2007 to support their educational and health care expenses. The state board moved to shut down the monks’ fledgling business before it sold even one casket because it was a crime in Louisiana for anyone but a government-licensed funeral director to sell caskets to the public.

District of Columbia v. HellerThe U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Washington, D.C., law that made it illegal to keep handguns and other functional firearms at home.  Instead of blindly accepting the government’s boilerplate arguments in support of its restriction, as nearly all other federal courts had done in previous gun cases, the Court carefully engaged with the text and history of the Second Amendment. It then correctly found that the Second Amendment protected a basic right to armed self-defense in the home—a right clearly violated by the District’s complete gun ban. 

Most Americans believe that when they seek justice in our courts, they should receive a level playing field. That’s not mere wishful thinking—that’s our birthright as citizens of a free republic. And CJE is working to ensure that the Constitution’s promise of liberty is honored. Read on and learn about:

IJ has the facts and evidence on our side. Check out our empirical studies and legal scholarship.

Read the book that started it all: Terms of Engagement: How Our Courts Should Enforce the Constitution’s Promise of Limited Government by Clark Neily. This pathbreaking book has earned rave reviews and changed the conversation about the role of the courts in protecting our liberty.

JOIN THE FIGHT!   Sign up for newsletters: