Carry the Torch
Carry the Torch
By Chip Mellor,
President & General Counsel
"I know we don't agree on some things, but my friends need help and you came when no one else would," said Reverend Oscar Tillman, of the Denver NAACP. As we shook hands, Reverend Tillman explained that he had been trying for months to interest the NAACP's national office, the ACLU, and the Legal Services Corporation in the plight of Leroy Jones and his partners who were trying to start a taxicab company in Denver. Despite the fact that the government-enforced taxi monopoly hurt inner-city residents and minority entrepreneurs, his pleas had consistently fallen on deaf ears.
When the Institute for Justice filed suit to challenge the Denver taxicab monopoly, Reverend Tillman joined with us as a plaintiff over opposition from the NAACP national headquarters. He knew what was at stake: economic opportunity in inner-city Denver. And he knew that the Institute sought to advance principles of economic liberty. He stood with us because he believed the real-world impacts these principles could have in his community were more important than partisan politics.
Our approach to public interest law depends not only on cutting-edge legal theories, but also on the kinds of non-traditional alliances exemplified by our experience with Reverend Tillman. At a time when the contradictions and pathologies of the Regulatory Welfare State are undeniable to all but its most ardent defenders, low-income, inner-city residents are increasingly receptive to efforts that foster economic opportunity, community, and responsibility without government programs. Indeed, they recognize that government is frequently the source of many impediments to their well being. The time is ripe to connect these people with a strategic empowerment litigation campaign.
That's where the Institute for Justice comes in. By forming non-traditional alliances we enhance the effectiveness of our litigation, which seeks to break down government barriers to opportunity, and we bridge the chasm that historically has divided those who believe in the free market and those who are at the bottom of the economic ladder. Our client, Taalib-Din Abdul Uqdah, who fought to overturn the District of Columbia cosmetology regulations that threatened to shut down his African hairbraiding salon, hit the nail on the head when he said, "The principle of economic liberty gave definition to my struggle."
Cincinnati Mayor Roxanne Qualls recognized the real world implications of the Institute's work when she called to seek our help in opening the Cincinnati taxicab market. Qualls, a liberal Democrat, stood alone in her efforts to provide greater economic opportunity to entry-level, inner-city entrepreneurs. We joined with her and turned the tide of opposition to change into a wave of support for entrepreneurship in an open taxicab market. The undeniable power of another non-traditional alliance led to victory.
The dependency-creating welfare system exemplifies one of the most tragic invidious barriers to opportunity. New Jersey Assemblyman Wayne Bryant, an African-American who represents Camden, New Jersey, has one of the poorest constituents in the nation. Bryant recognized that welfare was killing initiative, destroying families, and smothering hope for a better life. He pioneered a pathbreaking welfare reform program that dramatically changed incentives to encourage responsible behavior and to get people off welfare. His program included the nation's first family cap, denying additional money to women who have children while on welfare. The Legal Services Corporation, claiming to represent the interest of all poor women in New Jersey, sued to overturn the program.
The Institute for Justice joined forces with Wayne Bryant and represented five women who were receiving welfare, but who believed passionately in the need for the reforms. They, like so many others who have been part of this system, recognized its tragic consequences. As a result of that partnership, the Legal Services Corporation could not claim with impunity and moral self-righteousness that its welfare rights agenda was synonymous with the interests of the poor. The Legal Services Corporation lost in court.
Our success in forging non-traditional alliances advances basic principles of individual rights and economic opportunity for all Americans. We work hard to create and maintain alliances, often going into the heart of inner-city communities to meet with clients and investigate cases. It's an exhilarating experience for both lawyer and client as we join forces to fight the moral bankruptcy of the Regulatory Welfare State and to provide unprecedented, historic opportunities for a new approach to public interest law.