The Institute for Justice is The National Law Firm for Liberty
By Chip Mellor
IJ is in the right place at the right time with the right strategy. The need for constitutional limits on government power has never been more urgent than it is right now. The U.S. Constitution sets the rules by which government must abide. Until the courts enforce those rules, we will be governed by the ambitions and avarice of politicians and their cronies inside and outside of government.
We are the advocates for liberty that must be present in federal and state courts if they are to fulfill their duty to enforce constitutional limits on government power and protect individual rights. The alternative offers no solace. Leaving liberty at the mercy of ad hoc cases and random judicial decisions amounts to gambling against a stacked deck.
We know the weight of the adverse precedent we face, we know the tyranny of the status quo, and we know the resources and ruthlessness of the forces arrayed against us. The task is daunting, but the magnitude of the challenge is itself a call to action.
Every day, everyone committed to liberty answers—by word and by deed—two questions that make possible our united resolve to prevail against all odds.
The two questions are quite simple.
What can I do? What will I do?
We all recognize that the range of what we can do is limited only if we lack the courage of our convictions, only if we succumb to cynicism or despair.
We all recognize that we will do our parts in securing the blessings of liberty. That we will not be bystanders. That we have chosen, and will choose, to act.
At IJ we answer those two questions by relentlessly pursuing the mission that has guided us since we opened our doors 23 years ago:
“Through strategic litigation, communications, activism, research and training, we advance a rule of law under which individuals can control their own destinies as free and responsible members of society.”
We are constitutional entrepreneurs and, like any successful entrepreneur, we must stay focused. As Liberty & Law readers know, we focus on our four pillars: economic liberty, property rights, school choice and free speech. These form the foundation of the American dream.
How are we doing? Over our lifetime and during the past year, we have made measurable, real-world progress in every pillar.
We have a success rate in our litigation of 70 percent, meaning we have earned victories either through court decisions or legislation during litigation that positively resolves the case. This is remarkable, given that all of our cases are uphill battles against entrenched precedent and powerful interests, like we faced in our challenge to Louisiana’s caskets-sales law. Readers will remember, in 2013, we won a unanimous federal appellate decision in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, on behalf of the monks of Saint Joseph Abbey, striking down Louisiana’s protectionist law and setting a major economic liberty precedent.
Last year, we continued to score major victories in all four pillars.
In economic liberty, we won a unanimous decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, the second-highest court in the nation, striking down the IRS’s unlawful attempt to license more than 350,000 tax preparers.
We also opened the Milwaukee taxi market and we didn’t need an app to do it.
As you will read in this issue, when it came to property rights, we ramped up our challenges to civil forfeiture and began doing what we previously did for eminent domain abuse, school choice and economic liberty. We took an important issue that affected tens of thousands of people but which languished in obscurity because the people affected lacked the means and the platform to make their plight known. And we put it on the national agenda. A milestone in this regard came when we beat the IRS’s effort to seize the assets of the Dehko family grocery store in Michigan.
IJ engaged in an unprecedented amount of school choice activity in the past two years, with six cases in litigation at one point. Although most remain in litigation, we won two unanimous state supreme court decisions that upheld school choice programs.
As a result, Indiana now has the potential to be the largest choice program in the nation.
In a unanimous decision, the New Hampshire Supreme Court expressly credited IJ for making the unique argument upon which its decision was based.
In our free speech pillar, we won another unanimous decision from the D.C. Circuit underscoring the important connection between free speech and economic liberty—an emerging area of constitutional law we call occupational speech. Our victory was on behalf of Bill Main and Tonia Edwards and their tour guide business, and The Washington Post, in an editorial, called their victory “a blow for common sense.”
We have been to the U.S. Supreme Court five times and emerged victorious four times—we’re proud of that record, but the important thing is that we are not done. With the cases and strategies we have underway, we are on the path to more.
We have more cases and more sophisticated, consequential cases than ever before.
As I write this article in early November, we have 48 active cases. We are in court in 26 states and the District of Columbia. We are before six state supreme courts and have 11 federal appellate cases.
IJ has truly become The National Law Firm for Liberty.
Led by our stellar communications team, we make every case and every project a platform to educate the public about the principles at stake. We have won 39 national awards for communications, and our work has been used for case studies in the leading PR textbooks.
Videos that we produce entirely in-house have nearly four million views and are frequently used by traditional news outlets and blogs.
Our strategic research is sophisticated social science research, used as expert testimony in court and in support of our litigation and communication efforts in the court of public opinion. It has never been impeached. It was even cited by Chief Justice Roberts in one of our Supreme Court victories and has been cited as well in more than 120 scholarly publications and peer-reviewed articles.
In recent years, IJ activism secured legislative reforms 59 times, in areas ranging from eminent domain to interior design, and stopped 56 projects where eminent domain was being used for private gain.
For this fiscal year our budget is $19.5 million, the most ambitious budget ever. It reflects 29 percent growth over the previous year. That is a 20 percent increase in program activity and staffing. And we have allocated nine percent to build out our headquarters office in Virginia, where we are taking over the whole floor of our building. By the end of this fiscal year on June 30, 2015, we will have a staff of 88, which includes 40 attorneys housed in seven offices across the nation.
We are able to accomplish all this because we are very fortunate to have more than 8,000 current donors. As has historically been the case, about 80 percent of our funding is from individuals and 20 percent foundations.
Only with such loyal and generous support are we able to generate the momentum, tackle the challenges and take the risks essential to success.
Now, let me ask you to reflect on something.
There is a clear need to defend the Constitution, and there is plenty to be done.
For more than 23 years, IJ has proved this can be done very effectively through strategic public interest litigation.
We have generated consistently excellent media coverage.
We have shown it is possible to secure funding in a principled way.
We have trained hundreds of law students and lawyers and supported other organizations as they did their own litigation.
So the question is: Why are there not more IJs…or even one more? Those who follow IJ closely will know the answer to that question. We combine talent, a clear mission, strategic litigation, heroic clients and your support to make history.
And we do this through IJ’s culture—that intangible, but absolutely vital ingredient which enables IJ staff to do the impossible routinely and efficiently.
Our very first client, Taalib din Uqdah dubbed IJ the “Justice League” because we came to his rescue.
We are not superheroes. We just do what it takes to get the job done, and we can do this because all of our clients and supporters and so many others stand shoulder-to-shoulder with us.
For that, we are deeply grateful and enormously excited about what we will accomplish together.
Chip Mellor is IJ’s president and general counsel.
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