GROUP SERIOUS OVER SUIT
12/16/03
Under the Dome
Art Pope wasn't kidding about suing Gov. Mike Easley and state government over last week's economic incentives package for Merck & Co. and the tobacco industry.

He has even incorporated a new organization to lead the charge: the North Car-olina Institute for Constitutional Law. Actually, the group is likely to do more than fight business incentives, Pope said. Its purpose will be to conduct legal research and to file lawsuits when necessary to protect citizens' rights" under both the state and federal consti-tutions, he said.

Topics might include safeguarding free speech 'and protecting taxpayer rights.

Pope, a former Republican lawmaker from Raleigh and central organizer of the conservative wing of the state GOP, said he hasn't made up his mind whether he'll actually sue over last week's incentives package, which would grant more than $240 million in cash and tax breaks to Merck, R.J. Reynolds, Philip Morris USA and Lorillard Tobacco Co.

But the son of millionaire retailer John W. Pope continues to study the deal. He'll probably make a decision by January, he added.

"Before you undertake any major litigation, you have to be sure of the law, do research, discuss it with outside counsel," he said.

The new group is not to be confused with the Institute for Justice, the Washington-based, Libertarian public-interest law group that closed its North Carolina office earlier this year. But the mission will be similar, Pope said.

And his group is also not to be confused with the the Center for Citizenship, Enterprise and Government, a think tank that Pope had a hand in creating recently. That group aims to hold panel discussions across the state on such issues as taxes, trade, education and the environment.

And his group is also not to be confused with the the Center for Citizenship, Enterprise and Government, a think tank that Pope had a hand in creating recently. That group aims to hold panel discussions across the state on such issues as taxes, trade, education and the environment.

To pay for itself, the Institute for Constitutional Law will raise money in the traditional political manner - by soliciting contributions from like-minded partisans.

But first, it must organize and choose a board of directors.

And then it must pick a topic. Rest assured that it won't go near one heavily litigated subject of recent years.

"I do not see it getting involved at all in redistricting," Pope said.