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A Libertarian Litigator Dons the Judge's Robes

Clint Bolick, a co-founder of the Institute for Justice, was for years one of the libertarian movement's most successful trial lawyers.

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Clint Bolick, a co-founder of the Institute for Justice, was for years one of the libertarian movement's most successful trial lawyers. In 2002, his advocacy for school choice culminated in the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, in which Cleveland's pioneering school voucher program was upheld. Three years later, he argued and won Granholm v. Heald, in which the Court struck down protectionist state laws that banned the direct sale of wine to consumers from out-of-state wineries.

In 2007, he joined the Goldwater Institute in Phoenix, Arizona, as vice president for litigation. But now Bolick is shaping the law from the other side of the bench.

In 2016, Republican Gov. Doug Ducey appointed him to the state Supreme Court. Under the terms of the Arizona Constitution, a justice must stand in a judicial retention election two years after being appointed, and then stand again every six years after that. In November 2018, Bolick kept his seat with 71 percent of the vote.

The libertarian litigator has already distinguished himself as a justice. In Arizona v. Maestas (2018), for instance, he wrote a significant concurring opinion in the case of a valid medical marijuana card holder arrested by Arizona State University police for having a small amount of pot in his dorm room. The case turned on whether a 2012 law forbidding the possession of marijuana on state college campuses could be squared with the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act of 2010, which legalized and regulated pot possession. State officials had urged the court to defer to the legislature's 2012 actions.

"When the judiciary fails to interpret and enforce constitutional rights and limits," Bolick responded, "it shrinks from its central duty and drains the Constitution of its intended meaning." The medical marijuana card holder prevailed.

Arizonans might also appreciate something else about the recently retained jurist. "When I took on the cause of tattoo studios and their free speech rights, I vowed that if we won I would get inked," Bolick told me, referring to a past case. "We did win and, much to my wife's chagrin, I got inked. The tattoo is a scorpion, which is on my right index finger. I've typed everything I've ever written with [that] finger. I thought it would be appropriate, now that I'm an official desert resident, to have a desert creature on my typing finger. I am not aware of any other state Supreme Court justices who are visibly tattooed, but I hope to start a trend."