IJ Adds Strategic Research To Our Public Interest Work

February 1, 2007

By Chip Mellor

Our lawsuits address the legal problems of our clients, but they do much more than that.  The issue at the heart of each IJ case also affects countless other people who are similarly afflicted by government excess.  It is therefore all the more important that we present to the court and to the public the real-world context and consequences of our cases.

One way we do this is by using research and scholarship to create public awareness and appreciation of our issues before going into court.  This strategy produced excellent results, for instance, in our property rights litigation.  Back in 2003, when many people had not even heard of eminent domain, we produced a groundbreaking report, Public Power, Private Gain, which documented more than 10,000 instances of eminent domain abuse in just a five-year period.  The report put into context the pervasiveness of the problem, sparking a dramatic increase in media attention.  Coverage, which included features on 60 Minutes, NBC Nightly News, ABC World News Tonight, and National Public Radio, brought the issue into the nation’s living rooms and propelled it to national prominence.  The report even garnered a cite by Sandra Day O’Connor in her famous dissent in Kelo v. City of New London.

A few years earlier, we saw similar success with our economic liberty “city studies” in which we documented the widespread nature of arbitrary licensing laws.  The research not only helped us identify new cases but also generated so much media coverage that one of the nation’s largest public relations association awarded us one of their highest honors.

Clearly, there is tremendous potential for such research to enhance our mission.  But the pressing demands of litigation mean that our attorneys can only occasionally produce these important works.  So we decided to create a new program at IJ that will institutionalize the approach that we’ve used previously very successfully in an ad hoc fashion.

Download this report from the IJ website at: www.ij.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1422&Itemid=249

The Strategic Research program is led by Professor Dick Carpenter of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and IJ Director of Communications Lisa Knepper.  Each brings to the task exceptional talents ideally suited to the creation, timely execution and marketing of first-rate research.  Dick has written extensively on education policy, has published in numerous peer-reviewed journals and is a brilliant teacher.  Lisa is a gifted editor and strategist and brings her years of experience as an integral member of IJ’s award-winning public relations team.  Through this program we will combine IJ’s cutting-edge litigation with the intellectual firepower of a think tank.  It adds a dynamic new element to IJ that will set a new standard for public interest law.

Our research will focus on the data and evidence behind the issues we litigate.  Strategic research involves the rigorous analysis of an issue using economics, statistics, polling, political science and other such tools to test hypotheses and present findings solidly borne out by data.  It enables us to study how groups of people behave and what may affect their behavior in the future.  This is especially useful to us in revealing the real-world effects of regulations and laws.

The program already is off to a great start.  In our challenge to New Mexico’s interior design cartel, for instance, Dick produced a report showing how laws like the one in New Mexico have a history of deliberately excluding competition.  In defense of Arizona’s new school choice programs, Dick’s research (described on page 4 of this newsletter) directly undercut our opponents’ assertion that the new choice programs were both unprecedented and dangerous.  (Both studies are available at www.ij.org/publications/other.)  Many other studies are already in the pipeline adding further ammunition to our arsenal.

Our Strategic Research program is but the latest example of how IJ constantly strives to refine and redefine public interest advocacy.  Only by such dedication will we secure our precious liberties from constant government threat.

Chip Mellor is IJ’s president and general counsel.

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