Nonprofit litigator

New institute, to be run by retiring Supreme Court justice, will focus on state constitutional law.

By Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. [03.29.04] — While it initially may focus on the constitutionality of state incentives to spur new industry, the new North Carolina Institute for Constitutional Law will not be sponsored by a single corporate, business or industry group, says one of its founders.

The new institute, to be headed by Bob Orr after his early retirement later this year as a justice of the N.C. Supreme Court, aims to raise philanthropic support mainly from individuals and foundations.

The group will have a “broad-based individual donor program,” and will solicit grants from foundations at both the state and the national level, says former state Rep. Art Pope, president of Variety Wholesalers in Raleigh and a member of the institute’s board.

The group also will “welcome and solicit support from businesses,” he says.

The John William Pope Foundation made a seed grant to the institute, which temporarily will be run on an interim and voluntary basis by Heather Royster, counsel for government relations and philanthropy at Variety Wholesalers.

Pope, who has spearheaded creation of the new institute, says it will be a center for research and publication, advocacy and litigation on issues involving state constitutional law.

The new group aims to help fill a gap created through the decision last year by the Institute for Justice, a libertarian nonprofit law firm in Washington, D.C., to close its North Carolina office after less than a year of operation.

Royster was a lawyer for the North Carolina office before Pope hired her at Variety Wholesalers.

Pope, who also is a board member and major donor for the John Locke Foundation, a “free-market” policy and education think-tank in Raleigh, says the new institute initially will have annual operating costs of roughly $250,000, a total that could grow to $500,000 “if we’re successful in raising more and hiring good people.”

Additional funds would be needed to litigate complex lawsuits, he says.

Chairing the institute’s board is Bill Graham, a former state superior court judge and former state commissioner of banks.

Orr, elected last year for a second eight-year term on the Supreme Court, says he opted to retire early because of the “opportunity to start at the beginning with this group.”

Unlike the U.S. Constitution, which is a “grant of power from the states to the federal government,” he says, the state constitution is a “limit on government power.”

“It’s an interesting area and it’s an evolving area and an important area,” he says.

While the institute has not yet selected any issues to pursue initially, he says, a topic its board has discussed involves the “parameters of the state constitution provision that limits the government from using tax dollars for anything other than a public purpose,” particularly in the case of incentive-packages for industry.

The institute plans to hire a younger lawyer, Orr says.

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