The welcome John McAdams victory is not a David v. Goliath story.
It is instead a reminder of the pivotal role of public interest law firms in fighting for key principles — in this case the rights of an individual who otherwise would have been smothered by the full legal and political clout of Marquette University.
The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) is a relative newcomer to the scene. In operation for less than a decade, it has scored one victory after another in advancing “the public interest in the rule of law, individual liberty, constitutional government, and a robust civil society.”
In WILL’s words, it pursues that honorable agenda “in partnership with like-minded individuals and organizations – often our clients – who are committed to classical liberalism and constitutional government. We recognize that these ideals are neither Democratic nor Republican, but American.”
The McAdams victory will resonate nationwide. It hard to overstate the impact, particularly for academic intellectuals — such as McAdams — who don’t march to the numbing drum of current campus orthodoxy. A university president who fails to read today’s decision does so at his or her institution’s peril.
Today’s decision comes more than two decades after another public interest law firm — The Institute for Justice — stood up for Milwaukee parents seeking the right to choose the school attended by their children. Throughout the 1990s, IJ fought one effort after another by Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction to throttle the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. After prevailing twice in the Wisconsin Supreme Court, IJ and others carried the fight to the US Supreme Court. It argued successfully for principles that allow parents in publicly-financed choice programs to choose sectarian or non-sectarian schools. Tens of thousands of Wisconsin families now benefit as a result. Nationally the number is in the hundreds of thousands.
To those who share WILL’s commitment to freedom and the rule of law it can be easy to take its presence for granted. That would be a notable mistake. In savoring today’s outcome it is important to never forget that without WILL — and others such as IJ — fundamental principles and rights would be at risk.