Changing the Law Outside the Courtroom

January 29, 2013

The Institute for Justice is, first and foremost, a law firm. As a public interest organization with subject matter expertise on critical issues like property rights and economic liberty, however, we also search for methods outside the courtroom to restore limits on government power. And at the confluence of our strategic research, outreach, media and legislative advocacy programs, we have found such an approach.

Similar to IJ’s conscientious approach to litigation, our legislative work moves forward only after meticulous attention to the mission and the means by which we will achieve it. For this year’s legislative sessions, most of which started in January, the work actually began this past July with something we had never done before—a legislative summit at our headquarters in Virginia. Led by IJ-MN Executive Director Lee McGrath, the meeting brought together representatives from across IJ’s offices and businesses in order to devise a unified and coordinated plan of action to introduce our two priorities for 2013: civil forfeiture reform and occupational licensing relief.

Honed and finalized in the weeks that followed, the multi-faceted blueprint treats the launch of this year’s legislative effort in the same way we launch a case—while at the same time highlighting the diverse and unique contributions IJ provides to public policy debates. Chief among those is IJ’s ability to assemble original social science research to make the case that change is necessary and to package that message in an easily consumable format aimed at the ever-shrinking attention spans of legislators and constituents alike.

The results are striking. To support our argument that civil forfeiture is one of the greatest threats to property rights today, IJ’s strategic research arm authored three separate reports that emphasize the problem of policing for profit, where law enforcement officials have a direct financial incentive to confiscate cash and goods. The reports focused on three states we targeted for legislative reform: Minnesota, Arizona and Georgia. As a complement to the written reports, Social Media Manager Mark Meranta and others on the production and design team composed a hard-hitting video that ties together findings from our forfeiture research, educates the public about the danger of civil forfeiture and provides simple solutions to rein in these abuses—all in just a few minutes. All of this was rolled out with national and state-specific press releases to maximize the media impact at a time when audiences are paying the closest attention to what issues are most important in the upcoming legislative sessions.

Another key component of IJ’s legislative arsenal is our model legislation. Developed collaboratively within IJ over a number of months—or even years as we learn valuable lessons about promoting our position—model legislation is a critical statement of principle that we use to focus our advocacy and ensure greater freedom across the country. This year we’ll use our civil forfeiture and occupational licensing models—and the ideas they represent—on multiple fronts.

And if our success using model language and marshaling disparate IJ businesses to defeat eminent domain abuse is any indication, we’ll have much more to report on an even greater number of issues in the future.

Subscribe to get Liberty & Law magazine direct to your mailbox!

Sign up to receive IJ's bimonthly magazine, Liberty & Law, along with breaking news updates about the Institute for Justice's fight to protect the rights of all Americans.