Longform

The Merry Revolutionary

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From there Bolick moved to the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice, where one of his duties was supervising summer law clerks, which is how he came to meet John F. Kennedy Jr.

Kennedy called it his "conservative summer," recalls Bolick, who found JFK Jr. charming and later provided story ideas for his George magazine.

Over the years, Bolick continued to hammer on his favorite issues -- vouchers, affirmative action, entrepreneurial freedom. He wrote the first of five books based on his philosophy and started talking with Chip Mellor, who had hired him at the Mountain States Legal Foundation, about creating their own public interest law firm. They found seed money from Koch Industries, a family business based in Wichita, Kansas. (David Koch was the Libertarian Party candidate for vice president in 1980. The Koches have funded other libertarian causes over the years, and early efforts in several states to impose term limits.)

Since its creation, IJ has fought against bureaucracy large and small, arguing that retail vintners should be allowed to sell their wine by mail and that high school students should not be forced to perform community service as a requirement for graduation. It convinced a court that Donald Trump should not be allowed to have an old woman's home condemned to make way for a parking lot in New Jersey. It lost its first hair-braiding case in the courtroom, but created such a storm of negative sentiment that the District of Columbia eased the restrictions the IJ had been fighting in the first place.

Bolick and Mellor borrowed unabashedly from the left. Early in the last century, liberals were unhappy with laws regarding civil rights, particularly those involving segregation. So they used the courts to change public policy. The American Civil Liberties Union and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People are two of IJ's models.

Like the ACLU, which can't be pinned as siding with Democrats or Republicans, IJ tries to form non-traditional alliances. Clint Bolick was called a racist when he deep-sixed Lani Guinier's nomination. Then he turned around and represented African-American hair braiders. He also worked closely with affirmative action supporters to try to make race-matching unconstitutional in adoption cases.

IJ looked to liberals, not conservatives or libertarians, when figuring out a public relations strategy.

"Conservatives have really over time allowed themselves to be cast as a movement without a heart," Bolick says, and "libertarians love to argue fine points of philosophy into the wee hours of the morning and to prove their purity even at the expense of achievement. We have really bucked that trend."

The IJ folks call themselves populist libertarians -- they are constantly trying to humanize their cases.

One way to do that is by employing another method borrowed from the left: the David v. Goliath approach. The idea is to find a case that makes the particular philosophical point you want to make -- and will change the law you want to change -- using the most outrageous facts you can find.

That is how Randy Bailey came to be IJ's first Arizona state chapter client.


Bailey's Brake Service has sat on the northwest corner of Main Street and Country Club Drive in Mesa since 1952. Since 1970, the business has been controlled by a Bailey.

Randy Bailey's father ran the place for 21 years, then sold it to his son and retired. Randy figured he'd run it until he retired, too, maybe even sell it to his son, now 11, if he wanted it.

Three years ago, Bailey began to hear rumors that the City of Mesa wanted to condemn his building as part of a downtown redevelopment project. It turned out the rumors were true, and plans are to gut the brake shop to make way for, among other things, a huge hardware store owned by a powerful Mesa family, the Lenharts. The Bailey family isn't powerful at all; the best thing they have going for them is the location of their business, on the corner of a busy downtown intersection.

"I never thought I could fight City Hall," Randy Bailey says. He figured he'd have to sell the city his building and property. Then he got a call from Tim Keller, an IJ staff attorney who had read about Bailey's case in the newspaper.

"It was like a godsend for me," Bailey says.

And hell for the City of Mesa. The city's attorneys aren't used to a client who refuses to settle. The only way an eminent domain (fancy language for what the city wants to do to Bailey) lawyer makes any real money is to negotiate a high sales price for his client. In this case, IJ just wants Mesa to leave Bailey alone. And in so doing, Bolick and Keller hope to change Arizona law with regard to private property rights as they dovetail with cities' redevelopment rights.

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Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at amy-silverman.com.