By Chip Mellor
I met Gerrit Wormhoudt 25 years ago when I was struggling to figure out how to create a public interest law firm that would restore constitutional protection for rights at the heart of the American Dream—economic liberty, property rights, free speech and parental rights in education. This would involve challenging not only entrenched legal precedents, but also a prevailing orthodoxy in the legal profession that viewed such a quest as at best hopelessly naïve, and at worst, a threat to established order.
To succeed, I thought the effort needed to be grounded on individual natural rights. The problem was, I was a neophyte in my thinking and it seemed no prominent attorney in private practice anywhere recognized, much less believed, that liberty starts with rights vested in the individual—inalienable rights, our Founders called them.
Then, I met Gerrit.
In his gentle, thoughtful way, he refined my thinking with questions, discourses on jurisprudence and suggestions of books to read. By the end of our first dinner together, it was as if a ray of light had pierced the uncertainty clouding my mind.
The inklings, hopes and aspirations I brought to the dinner were not so far-fetched. Indeed, there was a deep and rich tradition to draw on. And there was a man of obvious integrity steeped in these traditions. I was inspired to go forward and, with Gerrit as a founding Board member, we launched the Institute for Justice in 1991.
During the ensuing years, Gerrit’s wisdom and kindness were indispensable as we took the Institute for Justice from a dream to what it is today. The lives of our Board members, staff and clients were enriched immeasurably by his counsel and the example he set.
Chip Mellor is the Insitiute’s president and general counsel.