A Legislative Voice for Freedom

June 7, 2010

By Chip Mellor

A key to IJ’s success has been building off our institutional strengths while keeping a laser-like focus on our mission. That is what IJ did as we expanded our grassroots activism efforts—applying the lessons we learned from our own grassroots battles to train homeowners, entrepreneurs, parents and activists nationwide to better fight for their rights. That is what we did when we added strategic research to our litigation efforts—enhancing our work in the court of law by providing first-rate social science research to support our constitutional claims. And that is what we are doing yet again—learning from our history and the insights we gained while creating yet another dynamic means to achieve results—this time in the legislative arena.

From time to time since our founding in 1991, the Institute for Justice has pursued legislative reforms for our clients: clearing the way, for instance, for Freedom Cabs to take to the streets of Denver, and doing away with regulatory roadblocks that kept African hairbraiders in Mississippi from pursuing a productive livelihood. Our institutional reputation for honesty and principled advocacy opened these legislative doors.

In IJ’s early years, these instances were few and far between. But as our reputation has grown, we increasingly see our cases and the constitutional issues they seek to address being taken up by policymakers at the federal, state and local levels. This has resulted not only in IJ needing to become expert in the ways legislation gets enacted (so we can best represent the interests of our clients), but also in the actual development of a very talented in-house counsel on legislative matters—our very own Lee McGrath.

Lee started at IJ in 2005, earning his spurs first as Minnesota Chapter executive director and now as IJ’s first legislative counsel. Most recently, Lee led the Oklahoma reform effort that greatly expanded the rights of animal husbandry workers who were nearly put out of business because of protectionism in the state’s veterinary licensing law. Lee also overcame significant odds to open Minneapolis’ taxi market to competition and led the effort to successfully reform Minnesota’s eminent domain laws in the wake of IJ’s Kelo case.

So, while IJ remains first and foremost a public interest law firm that fights in courts of law, when there is an opportunity to advance legislatively one of our four pillars of litigation, we will be in a position to capitalize on the opportunity. And rest assured: Your financial support to the Institute for Justice will remain tax deductible, even as we strategically and selectively pursue legislative goals (IJ’s designation under section 501(h) of the IRS Code provides specific guidance on the use of our resources to pursue these kinds of legislative initiatives and we will ensure that we comply with these rules).

IJ’s new legislative counsel expands our ability to advance liberty on behalf of our clients and countless others like them nationwide who simply want the opportunity to pursue their share of the American Dream. It is made possible by the generosity of Robert W. Wilson’s challenge grant and the IJ donors who have supported it. Many thanks for making this work possible.

Chip Mellor is the Institute’s president and general counsel.

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