Rob Johnson is a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, where he litigates to protect private property, free speech, and other individual rights.
Rob litigates cases involving irrational and overbearing exercises of government power. Currently, for instance, he is challenging a dystopian law enforcement program that subjects individuals to relentless harassment simply because a computer algorithm predicts they are likely to commit unspecified future crimes. He previously developed a lawsuit that ended the NYPD’s use of draconian “no-fault evictions” to coerce residents to waive their constitutional rights, and he also successfully challenged a civil forfeiture program as a violation of due process.
Rob also litigates to uphold the right to financial privacy. He is currently challenging the FBI’s dragnet search and seizure of over eight hundred safety deposit boxes, and he is involved in efforts opposing the expansion of bank reporting laws to cryptocurrencies. He previously represented a series of small business owners who had their entire bank accounts seized by the IRS because of alleged violations of bank reporting laws, and he launched an initiative that resulted in the IRS reopening hundreds of such cases and returning millions of dollars.
Rob’s writing has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Politico, and Reason, among other venues. Rob has testified about occupational licensing before the House and Senate Judiciary Committees and has twice testified about civil forfeiture before the House Ways & Means Oversight Subcommittee. He has also testified before state legislatures across the country.
From 2014-2017, Rob served as IJ’s first Elfie Gallun Fellow for Freedom and the Constitution. In that role, Rob wrote and spoke about the vital role the U.S. Constitution plays in protecting our most precious freedoms. He spends his spare time researching and writing about the history of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Rob lives in Cleveland with his wife and two daughters—all named after characters in Shakespeare plays—and is an amateur large format photographer.
After giving up on using civil forfeiture to claim their safe deposit boxes, the FBI did not return all of Don, Jeni, and Michael's property. They are suing to get their missing coins and cash…
Danny Barbee and his wife Diana together run ProCraft Masonry, LLC, a small masonry company in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Danny is a fourth-generation bricklayer and Diana has worked at ProCraft since its founding in 2010. Their…
Lawsuit Challenges Department of Labor’s Use of Administrative Law Judges to Hand Down Ruinous Fines
When the Department of Labor decided to fine Chuck Saine tens of thousands of dollars, Chuck did not get to make his case to a jury of his peers—or even a real federal judge. Instead,…
Cristal Starling runs a mobile food cart in Rochester, New York, to provide for herself and her grandnephew. She dreamed of expanding the business into a food truck, and she saved enough money to do…
Challenging Wilmington’s tow-and-impound racket, which pays private tow companies by letting them keep and scrap cars.
Wilmington, Delaware partners with a private towing company to tow any car that has more than $200 in unpaid parking fines. The private company makes a profit and Wilmington demands excessive fines in order to…
Family Farm Facing Ruinous Fines for Paperwork Mistake Sues Agency that Acts as Prosecutor, Judge and Jury
In 2016, the Department of Labor demanded $550,000 from a family farm in southern New Jersey. In their case, the agency served as prosecutor, judge, and jury, and the agency won every time. The brothers…
Joshua Gray, a private investigator, wanted to expand his business into his home state of Maine. In violation of his First Amendment rights, the state denied his request for a license, because he has criticized…
FBI agents broke into hundreds of private security deposit box without warrants. Holding government officials accountable for violating Fourth Amendment rights is crucial to ensure similar abuses don’t occur in the future.
Virginia therapist launches a second First Amendment challenge to protect the right to practice talk therapy online across state lines
Elizabeth Brokamp uses talk therapy to help people improve their lives. When one of her clients relocated to New York she was able to continue speaking with the client online. She’s licensed in Virginia, where…
In true dystopian fashion, Pasco County in Florida, harasses people at their own homes through a method called “predictive policing.” The system tramples on the rights of Pasco residents by placing them under near-constant surveillance.
Elizabeth Brokamp uses talk therapy to help people improve their lives. She’s licensed in Virginia, where she lives, near the border with D.C. But D.C. will not let her see clients online who she could…
Coast Guard-empowered private association concocts reasons to keep an experienced captain from working
Captain Matthew Hight thought he would earn a living navigating cargo carriers on the Great Lakes. Instead, an unholy alliance of a federal bureaucracy and a legalized monopoly suddenly rendered him a castaway. Now he’s…
Border Patrol Agents Used a Flimsy Excuse to Seize A Man’s Truck, Then Held It for Two Years, Refusing His Requests for a Hearing. He Is Now Appealing His Case to the U.S. Supreme Court, Calling for Prompt Hearings After Vehicle Seizures
Border Patrol Agents used a flimsy excuse to seize Gerardo Serrano’s truck, then held it for two years. IJ asked the Supreme Court to hear Gerardo’s case, but unfortunately the court declined to do so.
Government Unreformed: IRS Seizes $107,000 From Innocent Small Business, Despite Recent Policy Changes Meant To Prevent Exactly This Kind Of Case
Lyndon McLellan has spent more than a decade running L&M Convenience Mart, a gas station, restaurant, and convenience store in rural Fairmont, North Carolina. Then, one year ago, without any warning, agents from the IRS…
HELD UP: Feds Use Civil Forfeiture To Seize More than $446,000 From Innocent Family Business; Deny Hearing for More than Two Years.
The Hirsch brothers have done nothing wrong, yet the IRS seized their entire bank account.
The IRS seized Carole’s money using civil forfeiture, which allows law enforcement agencies to take cash, cars and other property without so much as charging the property owner with a crime.
Charting a New Course for Economic Liberty: Challenging Lake Chelan’s Government-Imposed Ferry Monopoly Under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Privileges or Immunities Clause
Jim and Cliff Courtney have a plan to bring economic prosperity to their small community. Unfortunately, the state of Washington has sunk their plan with a law that requires them to obtain a certificate of…
Rob's Research & Reports
Economic Liberty | Occupational Licensing
In a nutshell, states should: Charge an independent “licensing ombudsman” with reviewing the actions of state licensing boards; Charge the licensing ombudsman with a mandate to promote economic competition; Make the ombudsman responsible for conducting…
Rob's Amicus Briefs
United States v. $69,490.50 in U.S. Currency
United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
Cleveland Botanical Garden v. Wade
Ohio Supreme Court
Carr v. Saul
Megan Ashley Olson v. One 1999 Lexus
Minnesota Supreme Court
Espinoza v. City of Albuquerque
New Mexico Court of Appeals, Albuquerque
Shannon Nelson and Louis Alonzo Madden v. Colorado
United States Supreme Court
U.S. v. Bednar
U.S. Court of Appeals Fourth Circuit
Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association
US Supreme Court
Obergefell v. Hodges
US Supreme Court
Tony Henderson v. United States of America
U.S. Supreme Court