August 17, 2016 — In an era of bitter and divisive politics, one organization has consistently and positively bridged the gap between Left and Right—working with the NAACP and the ACLU as effectively as with the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute to advance individual liberty—all while staying true to its principles. That organization is the Institute for Justice (IJ), which marks its 25th anniversary in September.
IJ—a public interest law firm that protects private property, economic liberty, school choice and free speech—has racked up an impressive and improbable winning streak against its only opponent: the government. Since its founding, IJ has won seven out of ten cases it files, either through outright court victories, legislative reforms or victories in the court of public opinion.
“Over the past 25 years, the Institute for Justice has time and again taken relatively obscure issues and has put them on the national map,” said IJ President Scott Bullock.
- IJ warned the public about how local governments nationwide were engaged in eminent domain for private gain, conducting the first nationwide study on the issue and litigating cases across the country, including the Kelo case before the U.S. Supreme Court. Even after losing that case, IJ didn’t give up. It rallied the public and focused their outrage to pass eminent domain reforms across the nation to better protect property rights, along with obtaining several wins in state court against eminent domain abuse. And IJ continues this fight to this day, defending ordinary Americans who merely want to keep what is rightfully theirs.
- IJ spotlighted the issue of civil forfeiture, documenting how the government engages in “policing for profit,” taking people’s property in North Carolina, Connecticut,Maryland and elsewhere without ever convicting them of, or often charging them with a crime. As a Department of JusticeIRShttp://endforfeiture.com/#legislation
- IJ continues to spotlight the abuse of occupational licensing laws that employ government power on behalf of special interests to block opportunities for Americans who merely want to earn an honest living and compete in the marketplace. IJ succeeded on behalf of casket-making monks, cab and van drivers, independent tax preparers, African hair braiders and so many more.In just the past two years, IJ has convinced nine states to do away with their licensing laws for hair
- IJ is the law firm for school choice. It continues litigating in courts across the nation, all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, on behalf of families looking to secure a quality education for their kids.
“In an era when politicians continue to sow the seeds of distrust and discord across the political aisle, IJ has formed sophisticated and effective non-traditional alliances with organizations on the Left and the Right to defend the constitutional rights of ordinary Americans,” Bullock said. “For example, IJ has teamed up with the NAACP, LULAC and many other organization on the Left as well as conservative and libertarian organizations like the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute, to rein in eminent domain abuse. Likewise, IJ teamed up with organizations across the political spectrum to fight occupational licensing laws, establishing the foundation for agreement even between the Obama White House and Charles Koch.”
Bullock was the first staff attorney hired by the Institute for Justice 25 years ago. In 2015, he was elevated to the office of president after IJ’s founding president, Chip Mellor, retired and took over as IJ’s chairman of the board.
“IJ continues to look over the horizon to our next cutting-edge constitutional challenge,” said Institute for Justice Litigation Director Dana Berliner, who has worked at IJ since 1994. “Occupational speech—where individuals, such as tour guides, speak for a living but find unconstitutional government licensing in their way—is an area IJ has recently pioneered. We will continue to expand on that as we set the legal framework for other innovative and important constitutional challenges, such as heightened state constitutional protections for economic liberty and challenging the role of perverse financial incentives in government decision making, as we have in the area of civil forfeiture.”
Over the course of the past 25 years, the Institute for Justice has been known as an organization that litigates effectively not only in the courts of law, but also in the court of public opinion. IJ’s Vice President for Communications John Kramer has directed that effort over the past 24-plus years.
“There are two key insights that IJ has applied over the past two and a half decades that have helped us carry the day in the court of public opinion,” Kramer said. “First, unlike in other legal practices, we encourage our clients to speak with the media and to share their stories firsthand. That’s very unusual, but extremely important because it demonstrates that our cases aren’t solely about constitutional issues; they are about the everyday lives of ordinary Americans who want to make decisions about their lives that they are best able to make, but the government is standing in the way. Second, we personalize our stories to the reporters we pitch, we humanize those stories with our clients, and we dramatize our cases so they make for interesting reading, viewing or listening. In the end, we tell stories so the public understands these are important issues that could impact their lives, too.”
IJ has grown over the years from a start-up with six employees to an organization today that numbers nearly 100 full-time staff members, nearly half of whom are attorneys. In addition to its litigation and communications work, IJ efforts are supported with robust departments specializing in strategic research, legislative outreach and grassroots activism.