Pacific Legal Foundation

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Who's behind the integration decision?

It's the Pacific Legal Foundation, champion of right-wing causes for 35 years.

By Mark Tushnet, MARK TUSHNET teaches constitutional law at Harvard Law School.

From the Los Angeles Times, July 7, 2007, Copyright 2006 Los Angeles Times

THE SEATTLE school integration case decided by the Supreme Court last month was brought in the name of a group called Parents Involved in Community Schools on behalf of Jill Kurfirst and her ninth-grade son. But it was a little-known, Sacramento-based organization called the Pacific Legal Foundation — a conservative public interest law firm involved in the case from the beginning — that developed many of the legal arguments five justices ultimately found persuasive.


former Justice Lewis F. Powell

Powell worried that liberal groups had nurtured specialist lawyers and developed litigation strategies to defend government regulation.

Businesses, he argued, were suffering because they had a "disposition to appease" and weren't able to present a countervailing view of what constituted the public interest.

Powell's memo prodded the business community to help create a number of not-for-profit law firms devoted to arguing a conservative point of view.

Ronald Zumbrun and Raymond Momboise, former advisors to California Gov. Ronald Reagan, founded the first one — the Pacific Legal Foundation — in 1973.


  • fight "tyranny" engendered by "overzealous bureaucracies and government red tape"
  • foe of "government regulators and environmental extremists."
  • fighting racial preferences
  • combating eminent domain laws
  • encouraging government to take economic impact into account when designating critical habitat for endangered species
  • tort reform through judicial restrictions on punitive damages and interpreting national statutes in a business-friendly manner to reduce and eliminate penalties for business misconduct

Not Cut and Run, Not Stay The Course, Different StrategeryEdit

Pacific Legal Foundation and other such law firms continued to operate, funded by donors interested in a conservative agenda.

They had to pick cases that garnered a lot of publicity, which meant they were not always the best for giving constitutional law a conservative cast. You can win cases (and publicity) if you can find "horror stories" about government regulation, but winning such cases makes few inroads toward more reasonable government regulations.

The Seattle case shows that conservative public interest law firms can win some big cases. These firms, however, are notorious for lacking follow-through. They get publicity from winning in the Supreme Court, not from slogging through the lower courts time and again to define the contours of the law on the ground.

Winning in the Supreme Court may excite donors, but haggling with school boards over how to enforce the court's decisions does not.

Willing and Conservative CoalitionEdit

Clint Bolick, a co-founder of the Institute for Justice, another conservative public interest law firm

Better Reference, forever link

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