The Merry Revolutionary

Clint Bolick is trying to change the world, one lawsuit at at time.

This week, Bolick actually took Hogan's side on a case -- in a manner of speaking. IJ filed a motion with the court asking to be named as a plaintiff in a lawsuit where Hogan is suing the state of Arizona on behalf of school districts that serve poor kids. Hogan wants the state to give the districts more money. Bolick wants the state to give money directly to parents, so they can send their kids to private schools.

"Certainly this is the sort of case we would have contemplated bringing on our own," Bolick says. "But it is essential to our success not to allow Hogan to define the terms of the education debate anymore."

Hogan won't talk about Bolick, but Bolick is delighted to talk about Hogan.

IJ founders Clint Bolick (left) and Chip Mellor, in the early days.
courtesy of Clint Bolick
IJ founders Clint Bolick (left) and Chip Mellor, in the early days.
Clint Bolick at home in Phoenix with greyhound Saber.
Vivian Spiegelman
Clint Bolick at home in Phoenix with greyhound Saber.

"I have never been in a state where I have seen as effective a left-wing public interest law firm and I have to admire the heck out of him because he sets the standard for public interest advocacy in the state of Arizona," Bolick says.

But he can't resist aiming one across the bow: "I think that leftist groups have grown flaccid."

A little competition may be good for Hogan, but will the courts be good to Bolick? No, says Jay Heiler, former chief of staff to Governor Fife Symington and longtime observer of and player in conservative politics in Arizona. Arizona might have a libertarian-leaning electorate, but the courts are a different matter, Heiler maintains.

"Hogan's effectiveness comes in good part from his own skills and diligence . . . but equally from the tender ministrations of friendly judges determined to accomplish through judicial power what lefties cannot accomplish through the political process," Heiler says.

"Clint Bolick is not going to find the same reception."

Bolick says he's here for the sunshine.

On a December morning, it's standing room only in Maricopa County Superior Court for what passes in Arizona politics as a big-ticket event: oral arguments in a case about the state's Clean Elections law. The law, the nation's most sweeping effort to publicly finance political campaigns, is being challenged because of the way it's funded, through lobbyist registration fees and a surcharge on parking tickets and other court fees.

Becky Fenger is lucky enough to have found a seat in the courtroom. Fenger is a self-appointed local spokeswoman for the far right -- over the years she's fought for Freon and against public transit. She raises pot-bellied pigs and writes a column for a local daily newspaper, featuring a "Separated at Birth" item in which she compares local politicians to, among other things, zoo animals.

At the moment, she is eavesdropping on the conversation behind her.

Two young pants-suited women are talking about the joys of living in Washington, D.C.

Fenger whips around, aghast. Why would anyone want to live there, she asks the women, who just look at her.

So Fenger keeps going. "If you live there and you're not black, the dating pool is down to about 10 percent," she says.

One of the girls sucks wind. And looks around, giggling. "These are things people think, but don't say," the girl comments.

Arizona conservatives are constantly saying things people shouldn't say. But Clint Bolick doesn't make such mistakes. (And he has no complaints about the D.C. dating pool, since that's where he and his wife, Shawnna, met.)

All eyes are on Bolick this morning -- all except Fenger's. The hearing starts at 9. By 9:15, her eyes are closed, head resting on the wall next to her.

Today, Bolick is up against two Arizona institutions: the state attorney general's office and, far more impressive, the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest. Although another lawyer is actually arguing the case today, the center is synonymous with Hogan, its director.

Everyone in the room knows Tim Hogan. Few know Bolick -- he has yet to even take the Arizona Bar exam, although he has a grace period that allows him to appear today. But Bolick almost immediately makes it a point to humiliate the opposition by noting that they have already ceded their case on some level, by announcing on the Clean Elections Web site that they expect to lose half the case, the part dealing with lobbyist fees. Now that has nothing to do with the facts of the law, per se, but it's vintage Bolick -- remember, he plays hardball in the court of public opinion. "I think this is an indication of something less than total confidence in their case," he says.

There are titters in the audience.

Bolick calls Clean Elections a tax on the First Amendment.

Elizabeth Daniel, Hogan's colleague, counters that there's no legal reason to oppose it. "Plaintiffs object to the program basically because they don't like it," she says. One defense is that there are all sorts of endeavors in our society funded by public money -- public television, the National Endowment for the Arts, public schools.

Sounds like the Institute for Justice's "to do" list, although Clint Bolick is far too savvy to go after Big Bird.

The Clean Elections supporters were correct: The lobbyist provision was struck down and the court fees stand. The Arizona Supreme Court will decide this month whether to consider the case.

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