Readers of Liberty & Law are treated to regular updates on IJ’s newly filed cases and our precedent-setting victories. But IJ’s legal advocacy is not limited to cases in which we represent the litigants. Frequently, we weigh in on cases being litigated by other nonprofits or by private attorneys by filing amicus curiae briefs. These briefs—whose name comes from the Latin for “friend of the court”—give us an opportunity to present courts with the best pro-liberty arguments, honed through IJ’s 28 years of experience.
As a result of our top-flight advocacy, IJ has established itself as a trusted source of information for courts—so much so that we are frequently granted the unusual privilege of appearing at oral argument as amicus curiae. In fact, within just the last few months, IJ has appeared as an amicus in property rights cases in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Colorado.
Last December, IJ Senior Attorney Bob McNamara showed how IJ’s amicus efforts can strengthen our own litigation. In Borough of Glassboro v. Grossman, the issue was whether a condemnor had to actually have a use in mind for the property they were condemning or whether they could just take it because it was “blighted” and figure out what to do with it later. Bob argued that they could not, and the court agreed, favorably citing cases that IJ alone relied on. Besides being a victory for property owners, that opinion proved very useful in winning our Atlantic City eminent domain case, which came down just two months later.
IJ Attorney Josh Windham’s recent appearance before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court shows that IJ not only provides the best pro-liberty arguments—sometimes we provide the only pro-liberty arguments. In Hamilton Township v. Slice of Life, Inc., the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was considering whether a municipal zoning code should be interpreted to outlaw short-term rentals, such as AirBnB. The case arose when a property owner challenged a citation for violating the zoning code by renting out his property for short periods. Although he initially won, while the government was appealing the ruling, he sold his property and stopped defending his case.
That’s when IJ stepped in. In December, Josh appeared before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to defend the well-established principle that restrictions in zoning codes must be strictly construed to give property owners maximum freedom over the use of their property. Without IJ, nobody would have offered that perspective to the court.
Finally and most recently, IJ Attorney Jeff Redfern showed how IJ leverages its one-of-a-kind expertise in property rights to combat eminent domain abuse. In Carousel Farms Metropolitan District v. Woodcrest Homes, Inc., Jeff defended the vital principle that property may not be taken through eminent domain when the supposed “public use” the property is needed for is a mere pretext for conferring a private benefit on a private party. Drawing on IJ’s deep knowledge of these issues, and our experience advancing “pretext” arguments in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Kelo ruling, Jeff was able to assure the court that a ruling for the property owners wasn’t just good policy, it was consistent with precedent from across the country.
These and other amicus appearances by IJ attorneys just go to show: When it comes to defending the Constitution, courts have no better friend than IJ.
Paul Sherman is an IJ senior attorney.