Friday, October 27, 2006

Justice John Roberts...Come On Down

I'm still undecided on Justice Roberts. I've had no squabbles with his performance so far, but this case may define him and the SCOTUS.
When Jesse Williams died of lung cancer, his widow sued Philip Morris, claiming it misled him about the danger of smoking. A jury agreed, awarding her $79.5 million in punitive damages. The Oregon Supreme Court affirmed the award, calling Philip Morris’s decades of deception “extraordinarily reprehensible.”

The United States Supreme Court is hearing arguments in the case next week, and the broader business community has joined Philip Morris in asking the court to sharply reduce the damages. They are relying on a controversial line of recent cases in which the court struck down punitive damages awards that it deemed “excessive.”

The Philip Morris case will tell us a lot about the John Roberts court, which may be the most pro-business court in decades. It is a test of whether the court will abandon its conservative principles to be activist and “rights-making” when the party that needs help is a large corporation. It will also reveal whether the court will continue on its current disturbing path of giving corporations more protection from excessive punishment than it gives to people.

My money's on Philip Morris.
(read more)


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