Power and Politics - I am Not the Yellow Peril

The life and times of an Asian American activist who tells all the truth (and dishes news and analysis) but with a leftwards slant.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Supreme Court says thank you for smoking

UGH. The US Supreme Court overturned the Oregon Supreme Court's ruling against Philip Morris for $79.5 Million in punitive damages.

What's even weirder is how they arrived at a 5-4 decision:
Justice Breyer’s majority opinion, Philip Morris USA v. Williams, No. 05-1256, was joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and by Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, David H. Souter and Samuel A. Alito Jr. The dissenters were Justices John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

It is typical for the court’s punitive damages rulings to cut across the usual ideological lines. In fact, the only real surprise was the vote by Justice Stevens, who had previously voted with the court’s majority to support limits on punitive damages.

In his dissenting opinion, Justice Stevens said he was “firmly convinced” that those earlier decisions were correct. But he said that “in my view the Oregon Supreme Court faithfully applied the reasoning in those opinions to the egregious facts disclosed by this record.” He said that “no procedural error even arguably justifying reversal occurred at the trial in this case.”

Stevens' reasoning was that juries can only punish defendants for harm done to the person who is suing, not to those who aren't having cases tried as well. It was a line that the company had used successfully, saying that the Oregon jury was encouraged to consider all the health concerns of Oregonians who had smoked a Philip Morris cigarette.

Normally I would expect Kennedy, Souter, Stevens, and Ginsberg to be on the minority 4 side, so the pairing of Scalia and Thomas voting AGAINST Big Tobacco is a bit of a mindfuck. (Don't forget to read this LATimes hagiography of Scalia and his coming conservative rebellion.) Although I will say that he has an excellent sense of humor, even if it is not quite proper. Yeah, he was one of the only people openly bellylaughing (because he's untouchable) at Stephen Colbert's scathing whipsmart takedown of Bush, the White House press corps, DC culture, and the like at the White House Correspondents Dinner.

Can we say, bought out by Altria? For more coverage, I bring you legal expert and former Wonkette abovethelaw writer David Lat: