[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 U.S. Constitution and state constitutions guarantee. But those protections are meaningless unless judges are committed to enforcing them.

We need a consistent, principled approach to judging that is capable of keeping government in check. That approach is judicial engagement. The Institute for Justice’s Center for Judicial Engagement (CJE) educates the public about the proper role of the courts in enforcing constitutional limits on the size and scope of government.

What the Constitution Requires

“The Constitution requires judicial engagement, not judicial abdication.” 

Florida ex rel. Attorney General v. US Dept. of Health and Human Services, 648 F. 3d 1235 (2011).

“Judicial engagement”—the refusal for courts to defer to the government simply because it is the government—is as old as the U.S. Constitution itself. As Alexander Hamilton explained in Federalist No. 78, it is the duty of judges to “guard the Constitution and the rights of individuals.” 

Too often, judges have forgotten or rejected their duty to guard our constitutional liberties, and instead have reflexively upheld laws that violate our rights.  In Federalist No. 78, Hamilton warned that although “liberty can have nothing to fear from the judiciary alone,” liberty “would have every thing to fear” if the judiciary were to “unite” with the other branches of government. Reflexive deference to the government irrespective of constitutional limits is judicial abdication of the duty to “guard the Constitution.”

How CJE Fights Back

CJE pursues its mission in a number of different ways. It sponsors events where judges, professors, members of the bar, law students, and the general public come together to discuss the issues of the day in relation to judicial engagement. This includes out state constitutional forums series, where we examine a particular state’s constitution and how judicial engagement should enforce it in the state’s courts. CJE also sponsors and creates scholarship, documentaries, podcasts, videos, op-eds, and other resources discussing our constitutional liberties and the courts’ role in protecting them. This includes the CJE Blog, where our team of legal experts comment on contemporary legal events, our documentary podcast series Bound By Oath, which tells the story of our Constitution through the lives of those who have needed it most, in history and today, our weekly newsletter Short Circuit, which provides an informative, entertaining, and (sometimes) irreverent take on the rulings of the federal circuit courts, and weekly podcast Short Circuit, which goes in-depth on select cases from the newsletter, and ventures into other important and emerging legal issues.

Want a member of CJE to come to your school, chapter, civic group, or other organization to speak or debate? Please feel free to reach out to our team members below!

The CJE Team

Anthony Sanders
Director of the Center for Judicial Engagement
John Ross
Editor & Producer, Short Circuit & Bound By Oath