Center for Individual Rights

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The Center for Individual Rights (CIR) is a right-wing legal organization originally known for its opposition to affirmative action, the Voting Rights Act, and other equity policies that favor those who have traditionally been discriminated against.[1][2]

It was established in 1989 by lawyers, Michael Greve (Executive Director) and Michael P McDonald (President and General Council) [2] It managed to get itself listed as a 510(c)(3) tax free charitable organisation.

In lobbying the tobacco company RJ Reynolds for a donation, it specifies that it

engages exclusively in original and appellate direct litigation and in the active representation of clients in agency proceedings.

Deciphered from legalese, this means that it doesn't do normal legal work but attacks the regulatory agencies (EPA, FDA, FCC, Consumer Produce Safety Commission, etc) by challenging their rights to regulate.
What makes CIR unique is that it is the only organization that targets its reform efforts at the courts rather than at the legislative process.

It had an operating budget of $300,000 -- yet it depends on pro bono help from the large US law firms -- because it engages in "major precedent-setting court cases".[3]

In effect, it was specialising in blocking regulatory agency actions dealing with health, safety and the environmental. It challenged them in court when they were doing their job in watching over the large companies who were clients of these pro-bono lawfirms -- promoted the attack on "junk science in the court-room" and the "economic regulation and Freedom of Speech" (code for the "right to advertise"). Of course it would always have some show-piece actions which were directed at individuals despite the disclaimer sent to the tobacco companies.

  • CIR represents the plaintiffs in the public-sector union "right to work" case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, who are seeking to overturn existing precedent that allows public sector unions to collect "fair share" fees from non-members. See below for more information.
  • CIR supported the Boy Scouts in their effort to exclude gay men from leadership positions.[3]
Documents Contained at the Anti-Environmental Archives
Documents written by or referencing this person or organization are contained in the Anti-Environmental Archive, launched by Greenpeace on Earth Day, 2015. The archive contains 3,500 documents, some 27,000 pages, covering 350 organizations and individuals. The current archive includes mainly documents collected in the late 1980s through the early 2000s by The Clearinghouse on Environmental Advocacy and Research (CLEAR), an organization that tracked the rise of the so called "Wise Use" movement in the 1990s during the Clinton presidency. Access the index to the Anti-Environmental Archives here.

Legal Cases

Public Sector "Right to Work" Case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association

In June 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, the public-sector "right-to-work" case which sought to outlaw "fair share" clauses in public-sector collective bargaining agreements,[4][5] which would have overturned several decades of precedent. Represented by CIR, the plaintiffs in the case were Rebecca Friedrichs, nine other California teachers, and the Christian Educators Association International.[4] The full court heard the case in January 2016, but after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016, the remaining justices returned a 4-4 split decision on March 29, 2016, which left standing the lower court's previous ruling upholding the legality of fair share fees.[6]

The plaintiffs sought to overturn the 1977 ruling in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education that upheld the legality of "agency shop" arrangements in which unions are allowed to assess a fee to non-members to cover the costs of collective representation. CIR argued that "agency shop" arrangements should be invalidated under First Amendment rights to free speech, claiming that "well-settled principles of freedom of speech and association" mean that "the state cannot constitutionally compel an individual to join and financially support an organization with which he or she disagrees."[7]

In These Times had noted in 2015 that "if successful [the case] would affect tens of thousands of union contracts and would force millions of public employees into a right-to-work model," and described the case as "specially crafted for the Supreme Court," following on the heels of Knox v. SEIU.[8] The majority opinion in latter case, written by Justice Samuel Alito, "went beyond the confines of the case to suggest strongly that the decades-old accommodation between union members and non-members in public workplaces violates the First Amendment rights of the non-members," essentially suggesting a legal strategy for union opponents, according to New York Times Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse.[9]

Oral arguments were heard January 11, 2016.[5][10]

See also "Conservative group nears big payoff in Supreme Court case" (Politico), "Supreme Court Case on Public Sector Union Fees Rouses Political Suspicions" (The New York Times).

Challenges to Voting Rights Act

The Center has been involved in several cases challenging the 1964 Voting Rights Act, including Nix v. Holder. Nix v. Holder was ultimately dismissed on procedural grounds. But in a parallel case, Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court in 2013 voted to strike down Section 4(b) of the Act, effectively prohibiting enforcement of the pre-clearance provisions that require communities with a history of discrimination to get prior approval from the U.S. Justice Department to make changes to voting laws.[11]

Defense of James O'Keefe's Secret Recordings

CIR represented video provocateur James O'Keefe, filing a motion in federal court in March 2011 "to strike down a California anti-tape recording statute that CIR contends violates the First Amendment. In that statute, California has made it a criminal offense for a person not affiliated with law enforcement to record his own 'confidential' conversation with any other person, unless that person consents to being recorded." [12]

Juan Carlos Vera, a former employee of the community organizing group ACORN, had sued O’Keefe for civil damages with regard to video O'Keefe secretly recorded in 2009.[12] The lawsuit alleged that O'Keefe and his associate filmed Vera in the San Diego ACORN offices without his consent, a violation of California law, and portrayed him untruthfully. The video was later heavily edited and published on conservative mega-blog, making it appear that Vera had conspired with O'Keefe to smuggle underage girls across the Mexican border, when in fact Vera had immediately contacted the police after O'Keefe left his office. O'Keefe agreed to pay $100,000 to settle the lawsuit in March 2013.[13]

Suit Against ACORN

CIR also represented Anita MonCrief, former employee of ACORN's subsidiary Project Vote, in her countersuit against ACORN "for abuse of process" in the organization's suit against MonCrief "alleging she committed trademark infringement and other torts in connection with her blogging and emailing about the intertwined groups," as CIR described it.[14][15] MonCrief is now a regular contributor to right-wing blogs such as "Big Government, Hot Air, NetRight Daily, RedState [and] NewsReal Blog."[16] As of May 2011, she was also a spokesperson for American Majority and editor-in-chief of the website Emerging Corruption.[17]

Challenges to Affirmative Action

CIR litigated the affirmative action case Grutter v. Bollinger in which the Supreme Court chose to uphold affirmative action admission practices at the University of Michigan Law School in 2003.[18]

CIR litigated the affirmative action case Gratz v. Bollinger in which the Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that the University of Michigan's Undergraduate Admissions' point system was unconstitutional.[18] Though the universities affirmative action policies were overall upheld in Grutter v. Bollinger, the Court voted against the specific process of assigning minority applicants with a default of 20 points towards their admission decision (admittance was granted at 100 points).[19]

In 1996, CIR's Hopwood v. Texas case nearly succeeded in severely limiting diversity programs at the University of Texas but was overturned by the Supreme Court.[18]

In 2001, CIR's represented the sponsors of Proposition 209, a referendum which would primarily eliminate state affirmative action programs in California.[18]

A list of further cases can be found via CIR's case finder.

College Campaign Against Affirmative Action

In 1999, CIR began an aggressive campaign encouraging students to sue their colleges for considering racial identity in admission decisions. CIR placed advertisements in at least fifteen campus papers outlining the process and providing resources for students to investigate and charge their schools.[20] Some successful examples of this campaign are Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger.[21]


CIR, which does not disclose its funders, took in $3.5 million in revenue in 2014, $2.5 million of which was from grants and other contributions.[22] The following organizations have reported giving grants to CIR, according to tax data compiled by the American Bridge Foundation's Conservative Transparency Project[23] and by the Center for Media and Democracy:

Ties to the Koch Brothers

Koch Wiki

Charles Koch is the right-wing billionaire owner of Koch Industries. As one of the richest people in the world, he is a key funder of the right-wing infrastructure, including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the State Policy Network (SPN). In SourceWatch, key articles on Charles Koch and his late brother David include: Koch Brothers, Americans for Prosperity, Stand Together Chamber of Commerce, Stand Together, Koch Family Foundations, Koch Universities, and I360.

CIR received a $40,000 contribution from the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation, a Koch family foundation, in 2007. CIR also received $1,522,800 from the Koch conduits DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund between 2003 and 2013.[23][29]

DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund are both "donor-advised funds," which means that they divide their funds into separate accounts for individual donors, who then recommend disbursements from the accounts to different non-profits. Funds like DonorsTrust are not uncommon in the non-profit sector, but they do cloak the identity of the original donors because the funds are typically distributed in the name of DonorsTrust rather than the original donors.[30] Very little was known about DonorsTrust until late 2012 and early 2013, when The Guardian and others published extensive reports on what Mother Jones called "the dark-money ATM of the conservative movement."[31][32]

The group receives most of its funding from libertarian and conservative foundations such as those run by Richard Mellon Scaife.[33]

Core Finances


  • Total Revenue: $3,500,374
  • Total Expenses: $2,515,675
  • Net Assets: $3,689,160


  • Total Revenue: $2,691,252
  • Total Expenses: $2,339,171
  • Net Assets: $2,704,461


  • Total Revenue: $1,482,104
  • Total Expenses: $1,476,916
  • Net Assets: $2,412,380


  • Total Revenue: $1,821,736
  • Total Expenses: $1,742,721
  • Net Assets: $2,407,252


The Center for Individual Rights is a conservative U.S. public interest law firm started in April 1989. According to CIR's website, its "founders, Michael McDonald and Michael Greve, met through their work at the Washington Legal Foundation. McDonald, an attorney, specialized in First Amendment litigation and had launched WLF's Legal Studies Division in 1987; Greve, in turn, wrote on environmental issues and assisted with WLF's fundraising."[37]


Staff (as of July 2015):[38]

  • Terence J. Pell, President
  • Michael E. Rosman, General Counsel
  • Christopher J. Hajec, Associate Counsel
  • Michelle A. Scott, Associate Counsel

Board of Directors (as of July 2015):[39]

  • Jeremy A. Rabkin, (Chairman) professor of International Law at the George Mason Law School.
  • Larry P. Arnn, President of Hillsdale College.
  • Robert P. George, Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University.
  • James B. Mann, Principal of Sunlight General Capital LLC
  • Arthur Stephen Penn, retired president of Elmrock Capital, Inc.
  • James Piereson, President of the William E. Simon Foundation
  • Gerald Walpin, retired senior partner and Chair of the Litigation Department of Katten Muchin Rosenman
  • Mark S. Venezia, retired from Eaton Vance Management



Center for Individual Rights
1233 20th Street, N.W., Suite 300
Washington, DC 20036
Phone: 202-833-8400
Fax: 202-833-8410
E-mail: cir AT

Resources and Articles

Related Sourcewatch Articles

External Articles


  1. Center for Individual Rights Equal Protection Cases, organization website listing recent court cases, accessed July 1, 2015
  2. Center for Individual Rights Civil Rights Cases, organization website, accessed July 1, 2015
  3. Center for Individual Rights Dale v. Boy Scouts of America, organization website, accessed July 1, 2015.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Supreme Court of the United States, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, SCOTUS Blog, accessed July 1, 2015.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Lyle Denniston, New Threat to Public Employee Unionism, SCOTUS Blog, accessed July 1, 2015.
  6. Adam Liptak, "[1]," The New York Times, March 29, 2016.
  7. Center for Individual Rights Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association et al., organization website, accessed July 1, 2015
  8. Moshe Marvit, "The Supreme Court Case That Could Decimate American Public Sector Unionism," In These Times, February 3, 2015.
  9. Linda Greenhouse, "Justice(s) at Work," The New York Times, February 6, 2013.
  10. Supreme Court of the United States, Homepage, docket accessed January 2016.
  11. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, "Shelby County v. Holder," organizational website, accessed July 2, 2015.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Center for Individual Rights James O'Keefe Challenges California Anti-Tape Recording Law, organization website, March 15, 2011, accessed July 1, 2015
  13. Kevin Robillard, "James O’Keefe agrees to pay $100,000 settlement," Politico, March 8, 2013.
  14. Center for Individual Rights Lawsuit against Anita MonCrief dismissed, organization website, April 6, 2010, accessed May 10, 2011
  15. Center for Individual Rights Case dismissed, organization website, April 6, 2010, accessed July 1, 2010
  16. Andrew Breitbart Anita MonCrief, profile, accessed May 10, 2011
  17. Anita Moncrief Editorial Board, Emerging Corruption website, accessed May 10, 2011
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 Brendan Fischer, For Bradley Foundation, Challenging Affirmative Action & Voting Rights Is Part of Long-Term Crusade, PR Watch, June 27, 2013.
  19. US Supreme Court Center, Gratz v. Bollinger,, 2003.
  20. Laura Flanders, Affirmative Racism, The Nation, February 18, 1999.
  21. CIR website, Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger, accessed July 1, 2015.
  22. 22.0 22.1 Center for Individual Rights, 2014 IRS Form 990, organizational tax filing, August 5, 2015.
  23. 23.0 23.1 Conservative Transparency Project, The Center for Individual Rights, funding profile, accessed July 7, 2015.
  24. Conservative Transparency Project, Kirby Foundation funding to Center for Individual Rights, 1998-2012, database accessed July 2015.
  25. F.M. Kirby Foundation, "2014 IRS Form 990," organizational tax filing, May 14, 2015.
  26. F.M. Kirby Foundation, "2013 IRS Form 990," organizational tax filing, May 20, 2014.
  27. Conservative Transparency Project, Sarah Scaife Foundation funding to Center for Individual Rights, 1998-2012, database accessed July 2015.
  28. Sarah Scaife Foundation, "2013 IRS Form 990," organizational tax filing, July 31, 2014.
  29. See DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund Grant Recipients.
  30. Rebekah Wilce, A Reporters' Guide to the "State Policy Network" -- the Right-Wing Think Tanks Spinning Disinformation and Pushing the ALEC Agenda in the States,, April 4, 2013.
  31. Andy Kroll, Exposed: The Dark-Money ATM of the Conservative Movement, Mother Jones, February 5, 2013.
  32. Suzanne Goldenberg, "Secret funding helped build vast network of climate denial thinktanks," The Guardian, February 14, 2013.
  33. Center for Individual Rights, Media Transparency, accessed November 2010.
  34. Center for Individual Rights, 2013 IRS Form 990, organizational tax filing, August 14, 2014.
  35. Center for Individual Rights, 2012 IRS Form 990, organizational tax filing, August 19, 2013.
  36. Center for Individual Rights, 2011 IRS Form 990, organizational tax filing, July 30, 2012.
  37. History of CIR, Center for Individual Rights, accessed July 1, 2015.
  38. Center for Individual Rights, "Staff," organizational website, accessed July 1, 2015.
  39. Center for Individual Rights, "Board of Directors," organizational website, accessed July 1, 2015.