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20 Years of IJ

By Chip Mellor

As our 20th anniversary year draws to a close, we can look ahead with the knowledge that the IJ approach to public interest law offers tremendous potential to secure constitutional protection for liberty at a crucial time in American history. In our first 20 years, we have gone from a struggling start-up with three attorneys and a unique-but-untested litigation plan, to a nationwide law firm with 33 attorneys, seven offices, a $13-million-dollar budget and, most importantly, a track record of success that proves the effectiveness of our approach.

The confidence with which we face the future is also based on the talent we have attracted and retained. Because the law in favor of government is so entrenched, nothing less than first-rate lawyering has a chance of overturning it. That is just what IJ attorneys provide consistently and creatively. It is no coincidence that we have had five U.S. Supreme Court cases in recent years and that we have won major victories in courtrooms throughout the nation.

But as we knew from the outset, litigation alone is not enough. It must be accompanied by other efforts that are carefully integrated into our strategy. Our communications work has been instrumental in IJ’s ability to set the terms of national debate in all four of our pillars—protecting property rights, economic liberty, school choice and free speech. In fact, it has been so successful that we have won 18 national awards for our communications work from our media relations to web design.

IJ is pioneering another realm of public interest law with our strategic research. Our strategic research produces rigorous social science research that is used to advance our litigation. It must be of such integrity that it can withstand attacks by the other side’s lawyers and experts, hostile academics and skeptical media, and ultimately earn the respect of the judge. It has never failed to meet this challenge.

Add to all that our efforts to train and organize citizens to protect their rights, which not only enhances our litigation, but also achieves victories without having to go to court. We have seen these kind of grassroots victories play out time and again as we work in neighborhoods across the country, with recent successes from New Jersey to Minnesota and beyond.

Even though we stay far away from politics, we are often able to secure favorable legislative victories by providing in-depth expertise and organization in state legislative battles, leading to new reforms that advance individual liberty.

In every case the Institute for Justice pursues, we bring all of these dimensions, carefully integrating them to secure victories in court, in the court of public opinion or legislatively. That is how we can make such an impact against such long odds.

All of this requires hardworking, passionately dedicated IJ staff. But it also requires a stalwart and growing base of supporters who are ready to join with us and to make history over the next 20 years as we work together to secure a rule of law essential to a society of free and responsible individuals. We know that our supporters place not only their dollars, but their trust, in us. That makes them a very special part of everything we do and inspires us to achieve well beyond our grasp.

The need for constitutional limits on government grows every day. We certainly will not run out of government officials to sue anytime soon. That means that IJ has an exciting and busy future.

With such high stakes, we ask ourselves, with the experience and proven approach that we have, how can we not try? And if we try, how can we do anything but succeed?

Chip Mellor is IJ’s president and general counsel.

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