May 20, 2019

By Chip Mellor

Today, the Institute for Justice is a nationwide force for liberty. But it wasn’t always so. When we started IJ in 1991, we had five employees and an unprecedented vision of a new approach to public interest law. And we had Dave Kennedy as chairman of our board of directors.

Dave brought a unique blend of integrity, strength, and humility that proved indispensable to helping us meet the challenges and opportunities of those early years. Dave went on to serve as IJ’s chairman for 25 years. And as we built IJ, we built our board of directors as well. With Dave’s leadership, the board became the foundation for IJ’s success.

In addition to our devotion to liberty, Dave and I shared a love for the West. The wide open spaces and rugged individualism of the West resonated deeply with Dave. He served as Wyoming attorney general and practiced law in Sheridan, Wyoming, for many years. He then moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to assume the presidency of the Earhart Foundation. While there, he supported the work of conservative and libertarian scholars and students. Throughout his life, Dave’s abiding commitment to America’s founding principles never wavered.

To honor his legacy, IJ has endowed our highly selective summer clerkship program and established Dave Kennedy Fellowships to train dozens of students every summer.

Dave Kennedy Fellows at IJ will make real and important contributions to our strategic litigation. They will also personally benefit from rigorous legal and media training, inspirational mentorship opportunities, and a liberty-oriented speaker series. In short, they will learn how to apply their idealism and philosophy to change the world.

Dave Kennedy Fellowships will provide a foundation for long-term relationships with IJ. For example, half of our current attorneys were clerks at IJ during their law school tenure. Other clerks have gone on to help advance IJ’s mission in other ways. They have filed amicus briefs, litigated Freedom of Information Act cases to help IJ pry important information from recalcitrant government entities, litigated their own pro bono cases, and served as local counsel in IJ cases.

This summer, 20 Dave Kennedy Fellows will receive $7,000 stipends for their work. This new financial commitment highlights the importance IJ places on recruiting and training the next generation of litigators for liberty.

Dave always understood the importance of the long-term approach at the heart of IJ’s strategy, and he always appreciated the need to develop the next generation of leaders to carry the torch of liberty. There is no better namesake for this vital component of IJ’s mission. While Dave served as IJ’s chairman, his courage and kindness provided a model for all of us. Dave Kennedy Fellows will proudly carry forth our mission and learn the importance of bringing those same traits to their work every day.

For over 25 years, Dave Kennedy was devoted to IJ’s mission. Dave passed away in March, and while I have lost a dear friend and mentor, I take comfort in the fact that nothing would have made him happier than for IJ to continue to pursue that mission tirelessly. That’s just what we will do. Dave would have expected nothing less.

Chip Mellor is IJ’s founding president and general counsel and chairman of IJ’s board of directors.

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