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Paul Avelar

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Managing Attorney of the Institute for Justice Arizona Office


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Paul Avelar is the Managing Attorney of the Institute for Justice Arizona Office. He joined the Institute in March 2010 and litigates free speech, property rights, economic liberty, school choice and other constitutional cases in federal and state courts.

As the head of IJ’s national Braiding Freedom Initiative, Paul represents natural hair braiders across the country to protect their right to earn an honest living. The Initiative uses lawsuits, activism and research to remove laws that require potential braiders to undergo hundreds of costly training hours just to braid hair. Since IJ launched the Braiding Freedom Initiative in 2014, 12 additional states have freed braiders from unnecessary licensing burdens. Paul drafted the model Natural Hair Braiding Protection Act, which has been adopted in Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Texas and South Dakota. He is currently representing braiders in Missouri, where state laws infringe upon their right to earn an honest living.

In his free speech work, Paul has challenged numerous laws that trample First Amendment rights.  In Arizona Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett, he represented candidates and independent groups in a successful U.S. Supreme Court challenge to the “matching funds” provision of Arizona’s publicly financed elections system. He represented grassroots groups and individuals in Arizona, Mississippi and Washington, where state laws burdened their political speech by requiring them to register with the government, to navigate complex regulations and to face fines and possible criminal penalties merely because they talked about political issues. In Washington, Paul protected a lawyer’s right to defend, pro-bono, the First Amendment rights of political speakers.

Through litigation and legislation, Paul leads the fight against abusive civil forfeiture laws in Arizona and elsewhere.

Paul also co-authored the most comprehensive published study of economic liberty protections in the Arizona Constitution. The Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court appointed Paul to the Task Force on the Review of the Role and Governance Structure of the State Bar of Arizona, where he dissented from the majority report and called on leaders to substantially reform the Bar and state regulation of the practice of law. He often speaks at law schools across the country about constitutional issues and his work at IJ.

Prior to joining IJ-AZ, Paul worked as an attorney in Philadelphia. He clerked for Judge Roger Miner on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Justice Andrew Hurwitz on the Arizona Supreme Court, and Judge Daniel Barker on the Arizona Court of Appeals.

Paul graduated magna cum laude from the Arizona State University College of Law in 2004 and was elected to the Order of the Coif. He received his undergraduate degree from Princeton University in 2000.

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Research and Reports

  • December 10, 2018    |    Strategic Research

    Forfeiture in Arizona

    An Institute for Justice Analysis of FY2018 Reporting Data

    In 2017, Arizona adopted incremental but important bipartisan reforms of the state’s civil forfeiture system. These reforms included new transparency requirements for forfeiture, obliging agencies to report the value, type and date of a property seizure, whether any criminal charges were filed, and the final disposition of the seized property. This reporting reform was designed…

  • July 1, 2014    |    Legal and Policy Studies

    Untangling Regulations

    Natural Hair Braiders Fight Against Irrational Licensing

    Natural hair braiding is a beauty practice popular among many African, African-American and immigrant communities in the United States. But braiders in many states have to endure hundreds of hours of unnecessary coursework and pay thousands of dollars before they can legally work.

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