In a surprising turn of events, the Supreme Court sided with consumers today in a narrow 5-4 decision that allows a lawsuit filed against tobacco companies by smokers in Maine to move forward. The case, Altria Group v. Good, was the first to be argued this term and was widely publicized as one of the most important consumer right’s cases of the year. The plaintiffs in the case originally filed suit because they claimed that tobacco companies misled the public in advertisings for “light” cigarettes, despite the fact that the companies knew they were just as dangerous as regular ones.
During oral arguments, the justices hearing the case seemed open to the argument advanced by Altria’s lawyer, former Solicitor General Ted Olsen (of Bush v. Gore fame), that FTC regulations preempt state laws, including Maine’s Unfair Trade Practices Act. But it turns out Justice Stevens, along with Justices Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer and Kennedy didn’t buy it. Writing for the majority, Justice Stevens said that federal labeling laws would not immunize tobacco companies from suits stemming from deceptive advertising. Of course, the Court’s conservative bloc continued its track record of siding with corporations, and all four voted to toss the suit.
In a statement released this afternoon, AFJ President Nan Aron said that “while today’s decision is a triumph for consumers, it is also an alarming reminder of how close we are to a Supreme Court that puts corporate interests ahead of the rights of ordinary Americans. Though the members of the Court’s conservative bloc pay lip service at the altar of states’ rights when it suits their agenda, they were all too willing to overturn a state law in order protect Big Tobacco’s bottom line.” She went on to say that today’s split decision “illustrates the next administration’s important task of nominating judges and justices who will put the law and interests of ordinary Americans ahead of a pro-corporate agenda”