In September of last year, IJ embarked on our second quarter-century defending vital constitutional liberties. And this past year captured perfectly how IJ’s perseverance and innovative strategies open up new avenues for freedom across all areas of our mission.
How does this persistence and innovation pay off? Take for instance the nationwide attention on occupational licensing, civil forfeiture and educational choice, three issues IJ pioneered. Interest has never been higher, and the next few years are going to be critical for maximizing opportunities in all of these arenas.
Occupational licensure and civil forfeiture each generate massive encroachments on individual liberty, depriving hundreds of thousands of Americans of their livelihood and their property. To provide a sense of scope, the percentage of American workers who need a license—that is, those who need the government’s permission to earn a living—far outstrips both union members and minimum-wage earners at roughly 25 percent of the workforce. In the case of forfeiture, last year alone, the U.S. Department of Justice forfeited over $1.8 billion using forfeiture laws—and that does not count the money that other federal agencies or states took in, which is hundreds of millions of dollars more.
IJ stepped up to challenge government abuses in both of these areas. We are pressing forward in our decades-long campaign to curtail arbitrary and unnecessary government licensing regimes, and November’s publication of the second edition of our seminal study License to Work—the go-to guide on this issue—is only going to heighten interest in occupational licensing. That will open up even more litigation and legislative opportunities for IJ. We will continue to focus much of our work on challenging economic protectionism in entry-level occupations like transportation, vending, braiding and many more.
At the same time, we are also building on our successes in these areas by taking on protectionism in more innovative ways, including challenging the rampant protectionism in the health care field. A prime example is our recent cutting-edge case in South Carolina to defend a telemedicine startup from attack by the state and the optometry lobby. Moreover, we are taking on pathbreaking cases at the intersection of economic liberty and the First Amendment, including our challenge to Florida’s attempt to license the speech of a military spouse who is simply talking about how to lead a healthy life (featured on this issue’s cover).
We are also building on our successes in these areas by taking on protectionism in more innovative ways.
Meanwhile, as readers of Liberty & Law know, through our persistence we have made enormous strides in curtailing the pernicious practice of civil forfeiture through litigation, media exposure and legislative change. And we are directly confronting the current attorney general’s call to revitalize civil forfeiture at the federal level. His actions have only increased interest in the issue across the ideological spectrum and emphasized the urgent need to radically reform or abolish these laws.
We plan on bringing even more forfeiture challenges at the federal level and in the states. Our ultimate goal is to get the issue before the U.S. Supreme Court, which has not heard a civil forfeiture case in almost two decades. This past spring, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that civil forfeiture “has led to egregious and well-chronicled abuses.” He went on to say that he was “skeptical that this historical practice is capable of sustaining, as a constitutional matter, the contours of modern practice,” indicating that the Court is likely to reconsider the constitutionality of forfeiture in a future case. IJ will push forward to ensure that, when the time is right, the Justices have the right case before them to greatly curtail, if not end, civil forfeiture once and for all.
Our first-round victory in the Serrano forfeiture case (featured on page 10) demonstrates how IJ can now succeed in difficult battles—like getting Customs and Border Protection to fold in under a month—while also tackling increasingly complex litigation. The Serrano case is the fourth class action we have filed in three years. We are doing this because we are seeing a growing inclination on the part of the government to throw in the towel in an attempt to moot our lawsuits. By filing our cases as class actions, we help ensure that a government agency cannot avoid public and judicial scrutiny by simply dropping its abuse against our individual client, like Gerardo. Developing and deploying innovative strategies like these substantially increases the complexity of our litigation, but it is essential to staying ahead of the government in court.
Governments are always finding new methods to expand power and to limit individual rights.
So IJ must be there.
To turn to another core area of IJ’s long-term litigation, consider our work on educational choice. There has never been a day in IJ’s history when we have not been litigating on behalf of an educational choice program, and to date we have successfully defended 22 programs. In 2017 alone, IJ has secured three crucial victories for choice, including a unanimous ruling from the Georgia Supreme Court allowing that state’s popular tax-credit scholarship program to continue. And in our Colorado case, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an order that breathed new life into our six-year defense of an innovative district-level school choice program. What’s more, the Court’s decision opened up new and exciting paths to expand educational opportunities in states that have previously been hostile to choice. We will leverage these developments aggressively in the months and years ahead to spread educational freedom.
Governments are always finding new methods to expand power and to limit individual rights. So IJ must be there. We will use the wisdom and experience we have gained through more than two and a half decades of litigating for liberty. We will persist in championing our issues while constantly innovating to protect liberty. We can do that because of the support of thousands of people like you. Thanks so much for making our work possible.