In June, IJ President and General Counsel Chip Mellor received one of the four 2012 Bradley Prizes, awarded by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. This prestigious award is a tremendous and much-deserved honor for our co-founder.
Michael W. Grebe, President and CEO of the Bradley Foundation, nicely summarized why Chip was selected: “Chip Mellor has led the fight for freedom in America’s courts by challenging laws that stifle constitutional rights. Thanks to Chip, the Institute for Justice has become an influential public interest law firm securing major victories for economic liberty, property rights, school choice and the First Amendment.”
The selection was based on nominations solicited from more than 200 prominent individuals across the nation.
The Bradley Prize was presented to Chip and three other recipients during a ceremony held at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., a gala event that attracted more than 500 people from across the nation. A huge contingent of IJ staffers, along with Chip’s family and IJ client Hector Ricketts were able to attend this event and join in his celebration. During his acceptance speech, with his usual grace and humility, Chip gave special recognition to his family and IJ colleagues who work alongside him in the fight for freedom.
In his remarks, Chip also challenged conservatives in the audience to abandon the false choice between judicial restraint and judicial activism when examining the proper role for courts in a free society. Instead, Chip gave a powerful encapsulation of the principles of judicial engagement, arguing that such engagement plays a critical role in our system of checks and balances and in the prevention of unconstitutional usurpations of power by the legislature and executive officials.
Chip said, “The Framers were deeply concerned about the dangers of interest group politics and overreaching government. The structure of the Constitution rejects blind deference to the other branches. The courts’ job is to check forbidden political impulses, not to ratify them under the banner of majoritarian democracy. . . . People like IJ clients Hector Ricketts, Susette Kelo, Doreen Flynn and so many others seek the chance to live as free and responsible members of civil society. Theirs are the aspirations that can and should define our nation’s future. But until the judiciary engages, those aspirations will remain at the mercy of increasingly unaccountable government.”
It was a rousing speech, and it was a thrill for all of us to see Chip on that stage to receive this award. But I have to confess that I witnessed another special event that involved Chip on a stage. This event occurred a few years ago when Chip, one of IJ’s great paralegals (Kyndra Griffin) and I attended a show by soul legend Solomon Burke. During his electrifying rendition of “Proud Mary” toward the end of the concert, Solomon started beckoning to particularly enthusiastic, hand-clapping members of the audience to join him on stage. Not surprisingly, most of the chosen few were ladies who happened to catch Solomon’s eye, but he also picked Chip out of the crowd. Chip immediately bounded on to the stage and joined Solomon and his band as part of the spontaneous, hand-clapping chorus surrounding them. (Trust me: Chip’s got rhythm!)
I have worked alongside Chip now for over 20 years in the fight for individual liberty. And the Bradley Prize was a wonderful testament to his dedication and all that he and the Institute have been able to accomplish. But joining Solomon Burke on stage also perfectly captured how I have always seen Chip: joyously keeping the beat in his own life while making sure it stays strong and true here at IJ.
Scott Bullock is an IJ senior attorney.