Eric Schippers has been executive director of the Center for Individual Freedom (CFIF) ever since the Alexandria, Va.-based group was founded in 1998. Schippers tells INSIGHT that he likes to call his group a "think tank with teeth"--meaning that it's an organization that issues policy papers and press releases like many other Washington-area groups but that it's also an organization that, in Schippers' words, "pulls up its sleeves and gets its fingers dirty" for the causes of individual freedom and citizen rights. No constitutional issue is too small. CFIF, for example, took on the mayor of Westover, W.Va., after she began pulling up political posters on private property in the name of town beautification, an action that CFIF saw as a violation of property rights and guarantees of free speech.
Nor is any constitutional issue too big. The center has filed briefs in the University of Michigan case now before the U.S. Supreme Court that involves the issue of minority quotas in school-admission policies. Like the Bush administration, CFIF argues against the university's policies, which the CFIF brief calls discriminatory and in violation of the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
Other issues with which the center is involved range from Internet taxation (CFIF opposes it) and campaign-finance reform (the center sees it as violating First Amendment rights). CFIF currently is assisting in lawsuits filed by independent beef ranchers against mandatory beef checkoffs, and by dairy farmers against the dairy checkoffs (the checkoff programs mandate assessments on all beef and dairy producers to pay for generic commercial advertisements).
Schippers tells INSIGHT he acquired his love for individual freedom and his desire to see that it is protected from his grandfather, J. Milton Patrick, who was national commander of the American Legion in the 1970s. The Massachusetts-born Schippers spent summers with his grandfather in the older gentleman's home state of Oklahoma. "Under his tutelage," says Schippers, "I learned about the Constitution and about the basic rights of Americans, and why and how they must be preserved."
INSIGHT: What exactly is the Center for Individual Freedom?
Eric Schippers: First of all, it is a nonpartisan constitutional-advocacy group. We fight to protect individual freedoms and rights in the legal, legislative and educational arenas. We see our role as applying constitutional principles to the contemporary public-policy debate.
You often see cases where lawmakers at the local, state or federal level will try to pass some type of legislation without keeping in mind potential constitutional violations, so we seek to inject our constitutional principles back into contemporary issues. A perfect example would be this rash of prohibitory sign ordinances being passed across the country.
We will sign on to briefs with the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] on matters of free speech. We will sign on with conservative groups on matters of the Second Amendment [the right to keep and bear arms] and with libertarians on matters of the Fourth Amendment [the protection against unreasonable searches and seizures]. It doesn't matter to us as long as it's a pure constitutional issue.
We are always scanning the horizon for legal cases in which we should get involved to protect the Constitution. We have lobbyists working in the legislative areas. There are, of course, a lot of organizations that focus on one issue of constitutional freedom, such as focusing on vouchers or establishment-clause issues. There are organizations that take on a lot of constitutional issues but don't lobby. They write papers and publish books.
We do it all. On the legal front, we'll take on first-line litigation. We will also file amicus briefs before the U.S. Supreme Court and do the policy papers. We do lobbying. So we see ourselves as a kind of one-stop shop with a SWAT-team mentality; a think tank with teeth. …