Sunday, April 17, 2005

Libertarians Featured in New York Times 

NYT Magazine 4/17/05 Posted by Hello

Must read article today in the New York Times Magazine as Jeffrey Rosen, George Washington University Professor, traces the history of libertarian judicial theory. From the article:

According to a history of conservative legal activism published by Heritage, ''Bringing Justice to the People,'' the first person to take up Powell's challenge, in the early 1970's, was John Simon Fluor, a wealthy Reagan supporter. Fluor was upset that environmental groups had managed to delay the construction of the Alaska pipeline and the initiation of offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. After conversations with fellow Reagan supporters, including Meese, Fluor provided the seed money for the Pacific Legal Foundation, the first conservative property-rights litigation shop in the nation. It was staffed with members of the Reagan welfare-reform team and incorporated in 1973.

Other conservative business interests quickly replicated Fluor's model. In 1975, money from the major oil companies helped to create the National Legal Center for the Public Interest, an umbrella organization for several regional litigation groups. Each group's focus was determined by its location. The most influential spinoff group to emerge was the Mountain States Legal Foundation, financed by the beer magnate Joseph Coors, which was set up in 1977 to challenge federal land-use and natural-resources regulations, long a source of political resistance in the West. (The foundation's distinguished alumni of the period include Gale Norton, now secretary of the interior, and Jon Kyl, now a senator from Arizona.)

Though these conservative groups clearly served the interests of local businesses, they also attracted a number of libertarians, many of whom were not always consistent supporters of big business. One of the more thoughtful of these is Chip Mellor, who joined the Mountain States Legal Foundation in the late 70's and is now the head of the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public-interest law firm in Washington. When I visited him recently at his office near the White House (with an impressive corner view of the Old Executive Office Building), he spoke engagingly of his youthful idealism. ''I came out of the protests of the 1960's,'' he recalled, ''where I was dissatisfied with the right and the left.'' He immersed himself in the writings of Milton Friedman, the Nobel Prize-winning free-market economist, as well as those of the libertarian novelist Ayn Rand. ''It was quite illuminating for me to read Friedman and Rand and to realize that you could not divorce economic liberty and private property rights from the truly free individual,'' Mellor said. ''I came to see that societies where those rights were taken away inevitably led to people impoverished in monetary wealth and basic liberties.''

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