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Opening Opportunities and Challenging Government Abuse: IJ Responds to COVID-19

The trying past few months have demanded the best of all of us—and the Institute for Justice is no exception. Though many industries have ground to a halt, courts nationwide remain open, arguments are happening (albeit on Zoom), filing deadlines are in place, and our clients’ rights must still be vindicated. In addition to pushing our mission forward with a record number of active cases, IJ staff and attorneys are creatively and persistently finding ways we can respond to the COVID-19 pandemic that play to our strengths and experience.

IJ’s institutional response to COVID-19 taps our established expertise to provide immediate real-world assistance to the individuals and businesses working to improve the situation. In sum, we are opening opportunities, especially in the medical field and for small businesses, while also standing guard against the government overreach that inevitably arises during a crisis.

We’re breaking down systemic barriers in medicine by challenging certificate of need requirements. And we are increasing access to care during the crisis by challenging arbitrary licensing laws that prevent qualified individuals from offering services. For example, we have called on eight states to lift unnecessary restrictions preventing nurse practitioners from offering their services at overburdened hospitals.

We are providing direct assistance to local entrepreneurs through the Shop In Place project launched by the IJ Clinic on Entrepreneurship in Chicago, which we’ve now expanded to other cities. And the sweeping economic liberty legislative reform described in this issue of Liberty & Law will be crucial as lockdowns ease and millions of unemployed people try to get back to work.

We are also acutely aware that governments throughout history have used crises to seize power and to restrict liberty. So IJ is closely monitoring federal and state responses and looking out for abuses that we are well positioned to address. For instance, we wrote Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, urging her to rescind her executive order closing—without justification—independent garden centers and nurseries during a time when people should be able to make use of their own land to grow food. The governor responded by modifying the order and reopening the centers.

As this crisis recedes, we will do our part to ensure that any emergency and supposedly temporary powers assumed by the government do not become permanent. We will also cement favorable reforms that loosened up licensing requirements and other regulations during the pandemic. A full and up-to-date list of all IJ’s COVID-19 related activities is available at ij.org/COVID-19.

Meanwhile, our other essential work goes on. As you can see in this issue’s cover story, we are positioned to defend individual rights in a dramatic way with our ninth case before the U.S. Supreme Court. This case on behalf of James King has the potential to enforce crucial checks on government abuse, and it comes a mere three months after we first launched our Project on Immunity and Accountability. We also filed a pathbreaking search and seizure challenge in Tennessee, and we launched a fines and fees database that documents the nationwide scope of laws enabling “taxation by citation” and will serve as an invaluable and timely resource for researchers, reporters, and reform advocates.

There is no script for the times in which we find ourselves. We shift and adapt to changed circumstances. We improvise. But in everything we do, IJ is always grounded in our core principles—fighting for the rights of individuals to pursue their destinies and challenging abuses by government when it exceeds its constitutionally prescribed powers.

Scott Bullock is IJ’s president and general counsel.

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