Constitution, the Law, and the Courts

Cato’s constitutional scholars address a wide range of constitutional and legal issues — from federalism to economic liberty, property rights, civil rights, criminal law and procedure, asset forfeiture, and term limits, to name just a few. Cato expects the judiciary to be the “bulwark” of our liberties, as James Madison put it, neither making up nor ignoring the law but interpreting and applying it through the natural rights tradition we inherited from the founding generation.


What should governments at the federal, state, and local level be doing to combat the spread of the Coronavirus? Does the proper response include getting out of the way of private entities better positioned to address the challenges? Are extraordinary measures needed in an extraordinary crisis?

As Cato scholars continue to analyze the government and non‐​government response to the crisis, they will be looking for signals that public policymakers are learning from this experience and will make reforms to ensure that our system is more nimble in handling similar situations in the future.

Criminal Law and Civil Liberties

Cato’s criminal justice scholars are dedicated to restoring the integrity and legitimacy of the criminal justice systems in the United States. At the federal, state, and local levels, the various institutions and individuals that make up our criminal justice systems lack appropriate oversight and accountability, and consistently give priority to the enforcement of laws–such as marijuana possession–that do not threaten the fabric of civil society while failing to effectively enforce laws–such as homicide, assault, and theft–that do. Cato’s civil liberties scholars are committed to rolling back the surveillance state as investigative agencies utilize new laws and technologies to undermine the constitutional rights of American citizens.

Education and Child Policy

Cato’s education research is founded on the principle that parents are best suited to make important decisions regarding the care and education of their children. Our researchers seek to shift the terms of public debate in favor of the fundamental right of parents and toward a future where government‐​run schools give way to a dynamic, independent system of schools competing to meet the needs of American children.

For more information, read our Educational Freedom Wiki. Start with Educational Freedom: An Introduction.

Energy and Environment

Cato’s energy and environment studies are devoted to explaining how energy markets work and promoting policies that leave questions regarding energy consumption, environmental standards, market structure, and technology to the market rather than government planners. Cato is committed to protecting the environment without sacrificing economic liberty, and believes that those goals are mutually supporting, not mutually exclusive.

Finance, Banking & Monetary Policy

History has shown that monetary stability — money growth consistent with a stable and predictable value of money — is an important determinant of economic stability. As capital markets become more sophisticated, they are simultaneously more crucial to the functioning of a complex economy and more difficult for policymakers to understand. Cato’s analysts study the workings of the capital markets, the value of free flows of capital, and the burdens imposed on markets by regulation.

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Foreign Policy and National Security

Cato’s foreign and defense policies are guided by the view that the United States is relatively secure, and so should engage the world, trade freely, and work with other countries on common concerns, but avoid trying to dominate it militarily. We should be an example of democracy and human rights, not their armed vindicator abroad. Although that view is largely absent in Washington, D.C. today, it has a rich history, from George Washington to Cold War realists like George Kennan. Cato scholars aim to restore it. A principled and restrained foreign policy would keep the nation out of most foreign conflicts and be cheaper, more ethical, and less destructive of civil liberties.

Government and Politics

Today, government poses many new threats to individual freedom and the virtues needed for its preservation. Unfortunately, career politicians, an ever‐​expanding government and massive regulatory constraints dominate American political life. Cato’s government and politics studies are dedicated to bringing the ideals of individual liberty, civil society, limited government and citizen legislators back to the forefront of American political life.

Health Care

Cato’s entitlement research demonstrates that consumers are better off when they, and not the government, are in charge of how their money is spent. This applies to health care, Social Security, and other areas where the government currently controls the dispersal of our tax dollars. In particular, Cato has been a longtime advocate of deregulating the health care industry, so that consumers can afford the health care insurance and treatment of their choice, and privatizing Social Security.

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International Economics, Development & Immigration

Cato seeks to promote a better understanding around the world of the benefits of market‐​liberal policy solutions to combat some of the most pressing problems faced by developing nations. In particular, Cato’s research seeks to advance policies that protect human rights, extend the range of personal choice, and support the central role of economic freedom in ending world poverty. Cato scholars also recognize that open markets mean wider choices and lower prices for businesses and consumers, as well as more vigorous competition that encourages greater productivity.

Political Philosophy

The Jeffersonian philosophy that animates Cato’s work has increasingly come to be called “libertarianism” or “market liberalism.” Rooted in the traditional American principles of individual liberty and limited government, it combines an appreciation for entrepreneurship, the market process, and lower taxes with strict respect for civil liberties and skepticism about the benefits of both the welfare state and foreign military adventurism.

Poverty & Social Welfare

The federal government’s antipoverty programs have failed to promote opportunity, self‐​sufficiency, and inclusion. Cato’s research demonstrates that economic opportunity, rather than welfare programs, are the solution to poverty in America. Specifically, removing government‐​imposed barriers to prosperity in areas such as education, criminal justice system, zoning regulations, and occupational licensure, among others.

Regulatory Studies

Today, there is no greater impediment to American prosperity than the immense body of regulations chronicled in the Federal Register, and academic analysis has documented the economic inefficiencies engendered by the regulatory state. Cato’s regulatory studies set forth a market‐​oriented vision of “regulatory rollback” that relies on the incentive forces of private property rights to create competitive markets and to provide consumer information and protection.

Social Security

Social Security is not sustainable without reform. Simply put, it cannot pay promised future benefits with current levels of taxation. Yet raising taxes or cutting benefits will only make a bad deal worse. However, allowing younger workers to privately invest their Social Security taxes through individual accounts will improve Social Security’s rate of return; provide better retirement benefits; treat women, minorities, and low‐​income workers more fairly; and give workers real ownership and control of their retirement funds.

Tax and Budget Policy

Cato’s economic research examines federal, state, and local spending and tax issues from a limited government perspective. Specifically, Cato’s economic research explores the benefits of lower taxes, a significantly reduced federal budget, and less government involvement in market processes.

Telecom, Internet & Information Policy

Cato’s research on telecommunications and information policy advances a vision of free minds and free markets within the information policy, information technology, and telecommunications sectors of the American economy. Cato scholars work to address the many contentious public policy concerns and debates surrounding these important sectors, including privacy, identification, data security and the information economy; regulation of traditional telecommunications, Internet network management, and electromagnetic spectrum; and intellectual property issues such as copyrights and patents.

Trade Policy

By any reasonable measure, Americans are better off now than during comparable periods in the past, and expanding engagement in the global economy has played an important role in the ongoing, upward trend in American employment and living standards. To promote further progress for American workers and households, Congress and the administration should pursue policies that expand the freedom of Americans to participate in global markets.