Center for Individual Rights
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The Center for Individual Rights bills itself as “a nonprofit public interest law firm dedicated to the defense of individual liberties against the increasingly aggressive and unchecked authority of federal and state governments.” The CIR takes up cases which “challenge excessive government regulation, unconstitutional state action, and other entanglements characteristic of the modern state” and CIR says they “make no apologies for bringing only those cases which overtly advance this agenda.”
CIR is most infamously known for its work opposing affirmative action,including a campaign urging white students to sue their colleges “even if they had no proof that they were being discriminated against.” The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education argued in 1999 that the CIR “has used staged litigation, deceptive public statements, and incitements of racial fears for the purpose of ethnically reengineering college admissions procedures in a way that would remove most African Americans from our leading colleges. The goals of the Center appear to be far less concerned with equal treatment of the races than with guarding the interests of segregationists and protecting the established economic and class advantages that enable whites to maintain their superior access to the leading colleges in the United States.”
CIR is unapologetic regarding its advocacy against affirmative action, arguing that “CIR’s civil rights agenda reflects the reality that the American civil rights movement has all but collapsed.” CIR represented the plaintiffs in the landmarkHopwood v. Texas case as well as the plaintiffs in the two University of Michigan cases, Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger, where the group came up short. CIR admits “the final Supreme Court rulings fell far short of CIR’s goal of eliminating race as a factor in admissions.”
Additionally, CIR is the legal force behind Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, “a case designed to decimate public-sector unions” by challenging their ability to charge “fair share” fees to non-union members who benefit from union negotiations, according to the American Prospect. In what was described by a law professor as “really nefarious” and “conclusive,” the CIR repeatedly asked lower courts to rule against their client, Friedrichs, in order to continually appeal the case to higher courts with the hope of reaching the Supreme Court.
In addition to anti-affirmative action and anti-labor cases, CIR has: defended the right of the Boy Scouts of America to discriminate against gay scout leaders; opposed the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act; challenged the Voting Rights Act; and sought to overturn a court-ordered injunction barring an employee from using racial slurs towards his co-workers. In the Friedrichs case, CIR is additionally representing the Christian Educators Association International. According to the American Prospect, “CEAI is virulently opposed to LGBT rights, and its website includes a statement accusing public schools and the National Education Association (NEA) of promoting ‘the homosexual agenda.’”
The funding power behind CIR is, according to the American Prospect, “a who’s who of the right’s organized opposition to labor,” including several funders who “enjoy the support of Charles and David Koch.” For instance, CIR has received funding from DonorsTrust, Donors Capital Fund, and the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation. Koch allies the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation also are major funders. Meanwhile, more academic arms of the “Kochtopus” such as the Cato Institute, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Fund, and the Mackinac Center (a member of the State Policy Network) have offered friend-of-the-courtamicus curiae briefs in CIR cases. According to the Nation, mirroring the Kochs’ early support for the nativist John Birch Society, CIR was at one point supported financially by the Pioneer Fund, a group dedicated to research supporting “the genetic superiority of whites.”
The history of CIR also illuminates more connections to the Koch brothers’ network as well as the conflux of tobacco and oil corporations that have been major players in the conservative dark money movement for years. CIR was co-founded by Michael McDonald and Michael Greve, formerly co-workers at the Washington Legal Foundation. WLF, in turn, has partnered with Exxon Mobil, Philip Morris, and the Koch-run Lambe Charitable Foundation. And although both have moved on, Greve is currently working as a professor at the Koch-backed George Mason University School of Law.
The current leadership maintains those connections: Chairman of the Board Jeremy Rabkin is also a professor at George Mason Law School. Board member Robert George received an award from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a neoconservative-backed group founded by Lynne Cheney which has received Koch money. Another board member, James Pierson, previously headed the William E. Simon Foundation and the John M. Olin Foundation, both key funders in the conservative movement. In 2015, CIR received $2.5 million in grants.