By Chip Mellor
We cannot have liberty without the rule of law which requires, at a minimum, due process, equal protection and an impartial judiciary. Friedrich Hayek observed that the rule of law is what prevents arbitrary government. Under our Constitution, the rule of law limits government power and protects individual rights. It reflects John Adams’ belief that we must have a government of laws, not men.
The rule of law is as fragile as it is indispensable. It can be undermined by unaccountable bureaucracies, venal politicians and self-seeking private interests. One need only watch any cable news program to see this unfolding on a daily basis.
But the rule of law faces a more invidious threat: the American public’s loss of faith in it. Every time government officials run roughshod over people’s legitimate aspirations for a better life, every time courts rubber stamp arbitrary laws, every time powerful interests profit from turning the law to their advantage, the foundation of the rule of law erodes. At some point, cynicism replaces trust, and people expect the worst from their government, and ultimately from life. The optimistic pursuit of happiness that has for so long distinguished our culture flickers out, perhaps for good.
If current trends continue, this is the future we face. But it need not be so. All who cherish liberty must play a role in rejecting such an outcome. Now.
The Institute for Justice has a unique role to play. During the past 22 years, IJ has honed skills and strategies that have achieved success against impossible odds again and again. That expertise will be brought to bear with intense focus in the coming year. We will escalate our efforts in all four of our pillars (protecting private property, economic liberty, free speech and school choice) because the need for securing the rule of law has never been more urgent. Through principled advocacy we will persuade an engaged judiciary to secure a constitutional rule of law.
As the national law firm for liberty, we will strengthen the foundation of the rule of law and turn back the tide of cynicism.
As always, we will have one advantage that makes us even more confident in the outcome: our clients. They offer the antidote to the poison of cynicism. In the face of rampant cronyism and statism, they remain resolute. Despite tremendous adversity, they don’t give up because they believe that in America it is still possible, and indeed it is their right, to achieve their dreams. They are courageous, principled and inherently optimistic.
We see them deal with experiences they never dreamed of and remain steadfast. We see them in the cauldron of contentious litigation that will determine their fate. We see them thrust into the national spotlight. And we see them inspire all those they encounter. Their victories set precedents, educate the public and—most importantly—demonstrate that we can protect the rule of law if only we never give up. At IJ, we never will.
Chip Mellor is the Institute’s president and general counsel.