Freedom Versus Power
Freedom Versus Power
By Chip Mellor,
President & General Counsel
How Clint Bolick and I came to found the Institute for Justice in 1991 is best told in person, perhaps over a cold beer. But since it may be some time before you and I have a chance to get together, we decided to publish Carry The Torch to share with you the inside stories of the Institute, its past and its plans. Through this and future issues, you will know better how and why the Institute, with your help, is becoming a nationally acclaimed public interest law firm.
We've all experienced events that led us to take some action to improve our own lives as well as the lot of others.
Today, our fight for economic liberty, school choice, property rights, and other basic tenets of individual freedom strikes a gratifyingly responsive chord across the land, but the roots of the Institute go back nearly 25 years to a time when the political and philosophical climate was quite different. Looking back to those seminal events provides a perspective on insights that are central to the Institute's mission, and an appreciation of our commitment to a long-term strategic approach to public interest law.
Spring 1970. It seems so long ago, yet the scene remains vividly alive in my memory . . . . Tear gas lifted and riot police advanced. Defiantly facing the police were thousands of Ohio State University students protesting the U.S. incursion into Cambodia. As a naive and idealistic freshman, I stood amidst the protesters and watched the oncoming line of helmet-clad police with astonishment and fear.
Only moments before, the protest had been peaceful. Then with startling speed, it mutated into a violent, potentially deadly confrontation. The turning point came when students, urged on by self-appointed leaders calling for power to the people, closed the university gates.
Yet as I looked around the fury, these "leaders" had miraculously melted away, cynically willing to sacrifice the students to a higher cause. Meanwhile, the riot police waded in with apparent glee, egged on by particularly confrontational protesters later revealed to be undercover FBI agent provocateurs. They helped create the perfect moment to demonstrate the resolute authority of the State.
Leaders on both sides manipulated the situation to their own ends. Through their tactics it became clear they were after the same thing: control over others through the coercive power of the State.
Going into the riot, my world view divided neatly along conventional lines: left and right; liberal and conservative; Democrat and Republican. Emerging from the day's events, I would never again take such a simplistic perspective. I had a long way to go in developing a consistent personal philosophy, but one basic insight began my quest: as long as government provided the means for one group to impose its will on everyone else, there would be a continual scramble to control the levers of power for self-serving ends and, inevitably, liberty would suffer.
Ideals into Action
During the next few years Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman, Frank Meyer, and Whitaker Chambers were sources of inspiration and insight. But as my philosophy matured, I remained unsure of how best to put it into action.
For a time I believed teaching held the key. I received a teaching degree, but a few periods in the smoke-filled, despair-laden public school teachers' lounge confirmed my already growing doubts about the public school system and my place there.
Then when reading Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America, I came across the following passage, "There is hardly a political question in the United States which does not sooner or later turn into a judicial one." Indeed I soon learned that advocates of increased government had a very successful track record in achieving their goals through strategic litigation. The NAACP had brilliantly pursued a 30- year campaign to overturn the separate-but-equal doctrine, culminating in Brown v. Board of Education. In its first 10 years, the Legal Services Corporation dramatically expanded welfare by arguing 18 cases before the Supreme Court. Why couldn't a strategic approach to public interest litigation be used to protect individual liberty and free enterprise? Soon afterwards, I enrolled in law school.
There was just one small problem. As I learned more about the status of the law and the legal profession, it became clear that in the mid-1970s there was no outlet for the sort of litigation I envisioned. Somehow I would have to create it.
More Yet To Come. . .
Whether through donations or your interest, you demonstrated your belief in the Institute for Justice's mission. Perhaps watching Leroy Jones and Ani Ebong break the Denver taxicab monopoly inspired you to join us. Perhaps our defeat of Lani Guinier prompted you to write a check. Or maybe you were moved to contribute after witnessing John Jenkins fight heroically to obtain a decent education for his children.
Regardless of your initial reason, we are grateful. And we want you to get to know us even better. So we'll be giving you history and behind-the-scene looks at the Institute in coming issues of Carry The Torch.
Likewise, we want to learn more about you. Let us hear from you with a note or a call. Tell us what got you involved in the fight for liberty and what excites you about the Institute.
Over time, you will become an even more integral part of the Institute. We can't reach our potential without the support of you and others who understand the importance of principle and the need for legal action to protect it today, and for the many tomorrows yet to come.