Chip Mellor, Litigator
By Clint Bolick
Many friends and supporters know IJ’s President Chip Mellor as our chief fund raiser and the guy who keeps our organization hitting on all cylinders. Indeed, Chip is an excellent manager who presides over an ever-growing and influential public interest law firm.
But what some don’t realize is that he’s even better at litigation, which is not surprising because it’s his true professional love. And in IJ’s first 11 years he has made a significant mark on the rule of law.
Chip was my first boss out of law school at Mountain States Legal Foundation and taught me a great deal about public interest litigation. But during stints in the Reagan Administration and as president of Pacific Research Institute, Chip endured a litigation hiatus.
When Chip and I reunited in 1991 to form IJ, one of our core agreements was that while Chip would run the organization, he also would litigate. Litigation was to be, after all, IJ’s main activity, and Chip wanted to be in on it.
And he has been, to great effect.
Chip led the legal challenge to Denver’s taxicab monopoly, which opened up the taxi market in the Mile-High City and subsequently in Cincinnati and Indianapolis. He helped successfully defend New Jersey’s cutting-edge welfare reform program against legal attack by the ACLU, the National Organization for Women, and the Legal Services Corporation. He defended the highly successful Teen Challenge drug rehabilitation program against efforts by the State of Texas to shut it down. He helped keep commuter vans alive in New York City.
And now his latest and greatest legal triumph: a victory in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in the challenge to Tennessee’s casket cartel.
Please understand the significance of this win. IJ’s quest to restore economic liberty as a fundamental civil right is the most daunting of challenges. When assessing economic regulations, courts employ the “rational basis” test. And if there’s one thing every first-year law student knows, it’s that when the courts apply rational basis, the plaintiffs always lose.
Not any more.
When my colleagues and I began winning economic liberty decisions in district courts–overturning barriers to entry for street corner shoeshine stands, jitneys and African hairstyling—we decided to “bank” those decisions and persuaded the government defendants not to appeal. But the record that Chip developed in the Tennessee casket case was so strong that we were willing to take our chances for the first time in a federal appellate court. The resounding 6th Circuit victory was a path-breaking accomplishment not only for Chip and IJ, but for economic liberty. If the State appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court, we will face that forum confidently with Chip at the helm.
The hallmark of Chip’s litigation success is leaving no stone unturned. He thinks through and discusses every possible angle, welcoming the thoughts of those around him. He prepares assiduously for every brief and court argument. And he never accepts defeat: if a court rules against us, Chip works every possible angle to achieve justice for our clients. The Denver taxicab monopoly, for instance, fell not in court, but in the court of public opinion.
Chip deploys those skills as well in his role as a mentor to IJ’s legal staff. He’s never too busy to work through a problem with one of our litigators, and he’s a valuable part of virtually all IJ litigation teams even when he’s not in charge. His hearty laugh is infectious and he exemplifies the joie de vivre of a truly successful public interest lawyer.
For all those qualities, Chip has earned the respect, admiration and appreciation of the entire IJ team. And for the stellar victory in the Tennessee casket case, our heart-felt congratulations.
Clint Bolick is IJ’s vice president and national director of state chapters.