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When the Big Game arrived, Clint Bolick watched from the sidelines, as itchy as a second-string quarterback who knows he can move the ball. The vice president of the Institute for Justice, a conservative-slash-libertarian litigation shop, invested 12 years of effort in the school choice movement, pushing school districts nationwide to allow public school students to attend private schools through the use of vouchers. He beat the bushes in places like Maine and Wisconsin and wedged himself into court cases across the country. All in all, he has joined the conflict in 16 states. But this year, when a challenge to the Cleveland voucher program reached the U.S. Supreme Court, Bolick, 45, was voiceless. His institute, as a nonparty intervenor in the case, had no role to play other than cheerleader. He watched oral arguments in February, quelling the urge to leap to his feet in retort to the anti-voucher forces. And he confined his rhetoric to the plaza in front of the Supreme Court, not within it. “It was the first time in any of the cases I had to coach, not argue,” says Bolick, who holds a law degree from the University of California at Davis. “It was difficult. It sparked a Pavlovian instinct to get up there.” Two years ago, Bolick took his act on the road, moving from the District of Columbia to set up the institute’s first state office in Arizona. His return visit to Washington this year proved triumphant when the Court handed down a favorable ruling June 27 in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, finding Cleveland’s voucher program passed constitutional muster. “It was a career dream come true,” Bolick says. “But as high as my spirits were, it was really staving off disastrous consequences. To think that these kids would have to leave their schools was unthinkable.” For Bolick, the voucher fight has always been “all about the children.” While that declaration might induce serious eye-rolling in some, his prime adversary in the litigation says Bolick comes by his beliefs honestly. “A lot of people in this business have a hidden agenda,” says Robert Chanin, general counsel for the National Education Association. “I may disagree with him, but he is absolutely sincere. He believes he’s doing God’s work on behalf of poor inner-city children. Clint believes in what he is doing. He really does. When he makes a speech with a tear in his eye, he means it.” While Bolick’s role in most of the state cases has been largely limited to making secondary arguments, Chanin says that Bolick has done his best work on the voucher issue “outside the courtroom, shaping the issues for public relations.” Despite the Supreme Court decision, Bolick and the NEA remain fierce opponents as anti-voucher advocates turn to other legal avenues. Bolick’s work of late involves opening Institute for Justice chapters in other states. Last week found him in Seattle, using the voucher win as a calling card. “We’re doing something no libertarian or conservative public interest group has done before,” he says. “Now we have a track record of changing the world in a significant way.”

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