My nine-month internship at the Institute for Justice in 2001 was rich in new experiences and truly inspiring. Aware of the differences between Sweden and the U.S. in terms of their respective legal systems and traditions, this study at IJ was pursued with the ultimate goal of starting a similar non-profit litigation shop in Sweden.
Back home, I first published the book The New Rights Revolution about the impact of IJ and similar public interest groups in the past decade. And after a year of legal workshops and fund raising, Centrum för Rättvisa—the Center for Justice—was launched in Stockholm in December of 2002.
Historically, the constitutional protection of individual liberties in the welfare state of Sweden has been weak. Swedish judges have been very skeptical toward judicial review. And different government agencies designed to protect individual rights have in practice promoted group rights and entitlements instead. However, in 1995, Sweden joined the European Community. EC law demands that the national courts play a more assertive and independent role to protect individual liberties. In this context lies a new potential for a successful Swedish public interest litigation program.
In December, we filed our first lawsuit on behalf of 1,200 people in a relatively poor and segregated suburb of Stockholm. Based on a new, unconstitutional law, a national government agency recently stopped these people from buying their apartments from the landlord—a company owned by the local government—even though the contracts were already signed. Given the Swedish welfare state system, this is a critical case about individual choice and empowerment. These so-called “million program areas”—built on a massive scale by the government in the 60s and the 70s—are today homes of social despair. For our clients and many others, private ownership represents the only hope for individuals, families and neighborhoods.
Our next lawsuit will follow soon, this time in the area of economic liberty. Many nurses with exams from non-EC countries—our client is one of them—are today denied a license by Swedish authorities despite their obvious qualifications and the fact that hospitals want very much to hire them. In IJ terms, it’s all about “the right to earn an honest living.”
So, to the list of new state chapters, IJ now can add a Swedish chapter. Though not formally tied to each other, the vision, the strategy and the spirit of our respective organizations are the same. Give us Swedes a couple of years and this, I hope, will be true in terms of results as well.
Gunnar Strömmer is co-founder and president for the Centrum för Rättvisa.