Fighting for freedom in the courts
Author: Timothy Sandefur
Reason magazine’s July issue features an excellent cover story by Damon Root about the conservative/libertarian public interest legal movement, and mentions PLF prominently. Excerpt:
The conservative legal movement occupies one of the biggest tents in American politics, with a membership ranging from religious traditionalists to gay-friendly libertarians who shouldn’t really be called conservatives at all. The movement’s origins lie in the political backlash against the Supreme Court’s perceived liberal activism during the 1960s and ’70s, when it issued landmark decisions legalizing abortion, giving defendants procedural safeguards against self-incrimination, endorsing school busing, applying “heightened” judicial scrutiny to alleged sex discrimination by the government, limiting the scope of executive power, and loosening the eligibility requirements for federal welfare programs. In the eyes of many conservatives, the Court wasn’t just fulfilling the liberal wish list; it was inventing new rights previously unrecognized in constitutional law….
Several organizations soon formed to [redress this problem], including the Pacific Legal Foundation (founded in 1973), the Landmark Legal Foundation (founded in 1977), and the Washington Legal Foundation (also founded in 1977). They filed amicus briefs, challenged various government regulations, and pursued conservative and/or libertarian policy goals—both in and out of court….
[But u]niting against a common liberal enemy turned out to be much easier than agreeing on controversial political issues once the movement gained enough clout to start winning cases. In particular, conservatives and libertarians during their decades in the wilderness papered over profound divisions over one of the most fundamental questions in American law: the proper role of the courts.
Incidentally, those interested in the history of the freedom-based public interest legal movement should check out Steven Teles’ excellent book The Rise of The Conservative Legal Movement (which I reviewed here) and Lee Edwards’ Bringing Justice to The People: The Story of the Freedom-Based Public Interest Law Movement.