At the Institute for Justice, we change the law, but we also do something more subtle and yet profound: We change lives.
Throughout the past 20 years, IJ has won a series of victories extending the boundaries of individual liberty by rolling back the power of government. In so doing, we helped clients recognize they aren’t alone; we helped other clients save their lifelong dreams; and we not only transformed our clients’ lives, but we also created opportunities through freedom that will play out for years to come.
“IJ gave definition to our struggle.”
The Institute for Justice’s very first client, Taalib-Din Uqdah, wasn’t seeking a new life’s mission when he first approached IJ for legal help. He merely wanted to braid hair in the District of Columbia, but was blocked from doing so under a local law that required him to become a government-licensed cosmetologist. To get the license, he would have had to spend thousands of dollars and months of his life studying how to do everything except braid hair because D.C.’s cosmetology curriculum did not teach hairbraiding.
As Uqdah and his wife Pamela worked with the Institute for Justice, they realized how important the principles they were fighting for were, not just for themselves, but for others, too.
“IJ gave definition to our struggle,” he said. “Prior to coming into contact with IJ, we knew that we were right and the city was wrong, but we were never able to define that until we heard two words: economic liberty. And then it all started to make sense. The most interesting part of this was from those two little words, a whole new world opened up for us. Once we were taught, we went out as teachers and became little IJs in empowering people to stand up for what it is that they believe in.”
Through IJ’s legal advocacy and strategic media relations, including a landmark television feature by John Stossel on ABC’s 20/20 called, “Rules, Rules, Stupid Rules,” the D.C. City Council capitulated and allowed Uqdah and Pamela to get back in business without a government-issued license. The couple went on to build one of the nation’s most successful hairbraiding businesses, employing hundreds of braiders over the years, dozens of whom have gone on to grow the economic pie by starting their own hairbraiding businesses. Uqdah and Pamela went on to become national advocates for economic liberty, founding the American Hairbraiders & Natural Haircare Association, which has effectively advocated for the deregulation of hairbraiding in many states.
“There is no going back,” Uqdah said. “And besides, what would I be going back to? Who would prefer to be ignorant? The beauty of that growth and development is that it continues. We don’t rest on our laurels. That moves the human race forward. I am a contributing factor in the growth of human development.”
“IJ showed us how to fight.”
Jim and JoAnn Saleet had a simple dream: They merely wanted to enjoy the home they worked so hard to own, to stay there for the rest of their days and maybe someday pass that home on to one of their children. The mayor and city council members in their little town of Lakewood, Ohio, however, had other plans. City officials wanted to take the Saleets’ home, and the homes of their neighbors, and give that land to a politically powerful developer for an upscale mall and high-end condos whose inhabitants would enjoy the spectacular views across the Rocky River Gorge that first attracted Jim and JoAnn decades earlier to their dream home.
Jim and JoAnn were determined to fight, but they didn’t know how they could win.
“There was no way that we could have afforded to fight the development plan, and the folks trying to put us out of our home knew that,” JoAnn said. “Then IJ sought us out and helped us in every which way. IJ showed us how to fight.”
Jim and JoAnn were reluctant leaders in the successful effort to save their neighborhood from eminent domain abuse. Their granddaughter, a toddler, was battling cancer and they didn’t want to do anything to take their focus off of her needs. But neighbor after neighbor showed up on the Saleets’ porch worried about the city’s latest threat to kick them out and leave them with nothing if they dared to fight. Finally, Jim and JoAnn had seen enough of the city’s bullying and they divided their time between their family’s needs and this epic battle. They would fight the city’s abuse of eminent domain with everything they had.
Jim and JoAnn fought and won. After a bout with cancer, Jim got his wish of spending his last days in the home he loved so much—a home that his sons renovated to suit their father’s needs in his last days . . . a home Jim and JoAnn’s daughter, Judy, and her family of seven kids now share with JoAnn, who has set up her own upholstery studio in the basement.
Jim and JoAnn had a simple dream. And as JoAnn recently told us, “None of this would exist—our home wouldn’t exist—without IJ. Thanks to IJ, we’ve lived the life we hoped to live.”
“IJ’s work ensured that the Constitution will be respected.”
How many people can say that their work led to a wholesale change in the law, a change that left their fellow countrymen more free to speak and participate in the American political process? IJ client David Keating can say that.
David joined with a handful of others who sought to defend the First Amendment through an organization they launched called SpeechNow.org, which would allow them to pool their money and pay for political ads supporting political candidates who defended free speech and seeking to defeat those candidates whose votes harmed the First Amendment. There was one problem: When two or more people pooled their money in this way, they had to register with the government, which imposed restrictions that seriously limited the efficacy of their advocacy.
So David and the others joined with IJ to fight for their First Amendment rights. As a result of SpeechNow.org’s legal victory striking down most government-imposed restrictions on “independent expenditure groups” like SpeechNow.org, 26 new “Super PACs” were launched in the 2010 election cycle and tremendously influenced the outcome of the races in which they were involved. And even more are now in place gearing up for the 2012 election cycle, all thanks to David’s (and SpeechNow.org’s) victory. The Federal Election Commission lists 102 active independent expenditure committees on its website—a testimony to the impact of David’s victory over the government Goliath.
David said, “What we were able to do with SpeechNow.org finally liberated speech for all citizens. What surprised me most is how quickly the SpeechNow.org decision has had such a broad impact across the nation. IJ’s work ensured that the Constitution will be respected.” And that impact will be felt across the political spectrum for decades to come.
Our clients inspire us and through their courage affect the lives of so many others. Growing together during our litigation and even after it is complete is one of the most gratifying experiences we all have at the Institute for Justice.
John E. Kramer is IJ’s vice president for communications.