The IJ Moment
The IJ Moment
The Institute for Justice is a special place to work. Washingtonian magazine even named IJ one of the best places to work in the D.C. metro region. Something that makes the Institute for Justice stand out are those magic moments that crystallize not only why IJ is such a wonderful and unique place, but why our clients and our staff have such a special connection to our organization. We call these “IJ moments,” and we asked some of our staff to share their IJ moments with you.
My IJ moment came courtesy of Kwan Fong, who worked with us to fight eminent domain abuse in Washington state. Kwan agreed to address a group of politicians and the media about Seattle’s plan to “blight” his neighborhood and make way for private development. I thought I had an appreciation for property rights until I heard this courageous gentleman, who fled Communist China in the 1970s, explain how important his property was to him and his family and how wrong it was that, in America of all places, the government would try to take it away. In the end, we were able to defeat Seattle’s plan, and Kwan was able to hold on to his piece of the American Dream.
The scene: a hot Mississippi June evening inside an African-American church.
The people: local parishioners; a civil rights activist who was Jesse Jackson’s state campaign manager in the 1980s; Martin Luther King III, the son of the storied civil rights leader; the Archie family of Canton, Miss.; and three libertarian lawyers from Washington, D.C. (Chip Mellor, Dana Berliner and me).
The event: a prayer vigil the night before a court hearing that would decide whether the state of Mississippi could use eminent domain not for a public use but to take the land and homes of the Archie family to give them to Nissan to build an automobile plant.
After several talks, prayers and hymns, my colleagues and I joined hands with the Archies, the parishioners, Mr. King and others, and sang the civil rights anthem: “We Shall Overcome.”
Another IJ moment in this case was when I called Andrew Archie, the patriarch of the Archie family, to tell him that he and his family could stay on the land they had owned since the 1940s, the first land the family had ever owned. IJ moments do not get much sweeter than that!
IJ Senior Attorney Steve Simpson and I arrived in Parker North, Colo., to meet with our clients—six neighbors who had been sued for having the audacity to engage in political speech. They were sued for violating Colorado’s complex and burdensome campaign finance laws by expressing their opposition to the annexation of their neighborhood. As we walked up the driveway of one of our clients, one of their kids was playing basketball. He stopped, ran to the door, and hollered, “Mom, Dad! The cavalry’s here!” That’s IJ—we ride in to save the day for folks who would never be able to stand up to the injustices they face without our—and your—support.
Executive Director of the IJ Arizona Chapter
The night we won Randy Bailey’s case. It was just about time to close the office when we received a call from the Court of Appeals’ Clerk’s office telling us that a decision had been filed. After alerting HQ, I sped over to the court with our law clerk Jennifer Wright. We received the decision from the clerk in a sealed envelope and quickly moved outside to open it on the courthouse steps. As we started to rip open the envelope, Judge Cecil Patterson, one of the three judges in front of whom I had argued the case, walked out and gave us a friendly grin. At that moment I knew we had won—and indeed we had. While zipping back to the office to get out a news release, I immediately called Randy, who was stunned and overjoyed. Soon, the news trucks were rolling out to Bailey’s Brake Service, and I drove out there, too. When I arrived, Randy, who is a big guy, embraced me in a bear hug that lifted me off the ground and cracked my back. As I like to say when I tell others about that night, I’m lucky to be able to stand while telling the story.
Immediately after the Kelo argument before the U.S. Supreme Court in February 2005, we and our New London clients gathered together in our conference room to celebrate taking their case to the highest court in the land. I confess to being a bit distracted: the homes and businesses of our clients in our Norwood, Ohio, eminent domain case were in danger of being torn down any day unless the Ohio Supreme Court granted an emergency motion we had filed to block the demolitions. If the properties were demolished, it was likely that we would never be able to present the merits of the case to the court; thus, the stakes could not have been higher. The motion was a true “Hail Mary” pass; two lower courts had already denied it, and we faced very difficult legal obstacles. Suddenly, John Kramer, our vice president for communications, burst into the conference room to announce that I needed to take a call from the Associated Press regarding the court’s granting of our motion. Cheers and applause erupted. For me, that moment best illustrates how IJ’s “never say die” attitude really can produce miracles.
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