In 1993, an elderly widow named Vera Coking was happily residing in Atlantic City in a house she and her husband had owned for about 35 years, and Donald Trump came knocking. He wanted to expand his properties surrounding his casino and hotel in Atlantic City so he could build a parking lot for limousines, and he wanted Vera's house. He had already purchased several other lots in the area, and Coking's was in a prime spot for him. But she didn't want to sell her house―so the city condemned it, claiming 'eminent domain' allowed them to. The city said they would give her $251,000―only about a fourth of what the house had been appraised for nearly a decade earlier.
Fortunately for Coking, the country's only public interest law firm came to her aid, and prevailed against the city so that Coking could keep her home. The Institute for Justice, founded in 1991, engages in cutting-edge advocacy and litigation on behalf of people whose most basic rights are being infringed upon by the government. Prior to the Institute for Justice getting involved with Coking's case, most people presumed that individuals such as Vera Coking had no recourse in fighting eminent domain rulings. But when the Institute prevailed, they set an important precedent, and continue to build upon that precedent even today, with the mission of preserving individual property rights all across the country.
The Institute's property rights litigation efforts also include challenges to the abusive use of civil forfeiture laws, as well as warrantless searches of businesses and homes. You can find the 'merry band of libertarian litigators' (as columnist George F. Will described them) wherever there is a case of basic rights being denied by the government, such as private property rights, the right to earn a living, and the right to free speech, especially on the Internet.
The institute is focused on advancing laws where people can control their own destinies, living as free and responsible members of a civilized society. Its mission is to secure economic liberty, private property rights, school choice, and other critical individual liberties, and they seek to restore constitutional limitations on the amount of power the government can wield over citizens. Additionally, it offers training for law students, attorneys, and activists in the strategies involved in public interest litigation.
The clients represented by the institute have been sorely aggrieved by their government, and in many cases, the institute's help is their only hope. And often, that hope is restored with the institute's assistance. The motto on the institute's website is, "We change the world, and have fun doing it!" Indeed, visitors to the institute usually say that the staff seems to really enjoy doing what they do, and that there is a camaraderie amongst them that is unlike most other workplaces. Although the issues they deal with are very serious constitutional arguments, they make a concerted effort to infuse their workplace with joy, because they love the work that they are doing.