The Goldwater Institute was known as the Arizona libertarian think tank that mainly issued policy papers.
Then came Clint Bolick.
Then came the lawsuits.
The institute's Center for Constitutional Litigation, with Bolick as director, opposed public subsidies to a mall in Phoenix. It fought for parents to get public records from a school district near Wickenburg. It defended a tattoo parlor in Tempe. In the three years since Bolick arrived to create the litigation department, it has been involved in 16 lawsuits and racked up a handful of victories. Bolick is seen as a champion for taxpayers and small businesses.
"I think it's incredibly important for the little guy to stand up to government tyranny, and the courtroom is the most level playing field to do that," the 52-year-old says. "If we don't represent people whose basic rights have been violated, then no one will."
Bolick is a crusader shaped by apparent contradictions.
His parents were staunch Democrats, though his father, a welder, in 1964 voted for the Republic nominee for president: Arizona's Barry Goldwater.
Yet throughout his career, Bolick has teamed up with people and groups many a Democrat would frown upon. At the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Bolick worked for Clarence Thomas, who would become a U.S. Supreme Court justice and the godfather of one of Bolick's sons. At the Institute for Justice in Washington, D.C., Bolick defended school-voucher programs. He was president of the Alliance for School Choice, a national public-policy organization.
He loves the underdog, yet as the autographed baseballs by Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Reggie Jackson in his Phoenix office show, he loves the New York Yankees, an attraction he says stems from his college days at Drew University in New Jersey. He earned his law degree from the University of California-Davis.
Opponents say that Bolick has quickly made his mark in Arizona but that he goes too far and gets in the way of progress.
Chuck Coughlin is a longtime political consultant who opposed Bolick when the city of Phoenix attempted to provide incentives to a developer for the CityNorth project, a mixed-use community next to Desert Ridge in northeast Phoenix. That case went to the state Supreme Court, which allowed the incentives but issued new guidelines on when cities can offer tax incentives.
"He will fight for the little guy, but sometimes the little guy doesn't dictate the market, especially in this economy," Coughlin says. "There are three branches of government, and they all have to make it work. He uses one (court) as a cudgel to derive results that are more to his liking."
Bolick takes such criticism as a badge of honor, saying his organization is looking out for taxpayers. And he has a warning.
"There is no government we won't sue if they cross the line," Bolick says.