IJ State Chapters 5 Years and Growing
By Chip Mellor
With free legal help from the IJ Arizona Chapter, Randy Bailey stood up for his property rights against the abuse of eminent domain and won.
Five years ago, IJ literally opened a new chapter in our nation’s fight for individual rights—we created our first-ever state chapter. Since the launch of the Institute for Justice Arizona Chapter, IJ has gone on to open up other state chapters in Washington State and Minnesota, all of which capitalize on our recognition that state constitutions offer untapped opportunities to secure greater protection for individual rights.
In just five years, these satellite offices of the Institute for Justice have protected private property, promoted school choice, advanced economic liberty and secured free speech protections at the state level. Through our carefully considered, action-oriented approach, IJ chapters continue to add a truly exceptional dimension to our effectiveness. The story of our state chapters illustrates how the Institute for Justice’s entrepreneurial approach produces dramatic results.
The IJ Washington Chapter vindicated the free speech rights of bagel vendor Dennis Ballen, who merely wanted to tell consumers where his place of business was located.
A vital part of our chapters’ success is that, from the outset, each quickly made an impact on the law in their states and, in so doing, established themselves as forces for liberty. IJ-AZ secured a legal victory against eminent domain abuse in Arizona on behalf of client Randy Bailey, whose fight was heralded in such news outlets as 60 Minutes. Today, Bailey’s brakeshop still prospers in its original location and Arizona law provides strong protection for property owners. IJ-WA’s victory on behalf of bagel shop owner Dennis Ballen set important protection for commercial speech, earning the recognition of “lawsuit of the year” from Washington Law & Politics. And the Institute for Justice Minnesota Chapter promptly deregulated African hairbraiding, also earning recognition as a “lawsuit of the year” by Minnesota Law & Politics.
IJ client Lillian Anderson joined with the IJ Minnesota Chapter to fight arbitrary and irrational laws that keep her from earning an honest living.
As gratifying as these legal victories have been, we have been very excited about other aspects of the chapter experience as well. First and foremost has been the potent partnerships we have formed with the state-based think tanks in each state—the Goldwater Institute, Evergreen Freedom Foundation, Washington Policy Center, and Center for the American Experiment. These think tanks have well-deserved reputations for first-rate research on the most pressing public policy issues. In policy briefings, op-eds, conferences and amicus briefs, they have weighed in powerfully on issues IJ chapters champion. As co-producers of Barriers to Entrepreneurship studies authored by IJ chapter attorneys, the think tanks and the chapters send a strong message to state bureaucracies: you are under the microscope and your actions will be exposed and challenged when they violate individual rights.
IJ Arizona Chapter client Larry Park simply wants to provide high-quality landscaping and yard maintenance services at competitive prices, but anti-competitive regulations stand in his way.
Of course, we have learned important lessons along the way and applied them to make the chapter program stronger. Most notably, we found that focusing chapters solely on state-based litigation was too narrow, unnecessarily limiting the talent we’ve attracted to the freedom movement. Today, our chapter lawyers litigate some cases under their state constitutions, but also find themselves involved in federal court cases filed by headquarters or even other chapters. In other words, we maintain a fluid relationship that moves the talent to where the opportunity is greatest. This approach has proved its worth numerous times, most notably during the massive resource crunch surrounding the Kelo case. It also provides a national foundation upon which IJ can launch coordinated efforts simultaneously across the country to bring nationwide attention and focus to important issues and maximize the impact of IJ’s work.
As the chapters have evolved to take on federal cases, the Institute for Justice’s headquarters has in turn recognized new opportunities in state constitutions. This strategic blend of litigation based in some instances on state constitutions and in others on the federal Constitution is especially important today. Securing federal precedent remains an overriding goal because the U.S. Constitution must serve as the bedrock of liberty in America. Yet too often, federal courts defer to legislative or executive authority and permit abuse of basic rights, particularly property rights and economic liberty. This requires us to look to state constitutional provisions that offer greater protections.
In all of our cases, federal or state, we will continue to pursue the unique approach to public interest law that has made IJ’s success possible. Only now, we have the advantage of state chapters working together seamlessly with our headquarters office. As we add new chapters in the coming years, just imagine the impact we will have.
“This strategic blend of litigation based in some instances on state constitutions and in others on federal constitutions is especially important today.”
Chip Mellor is IJ’s president and general counsel.