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Supreme Court hears drug labeling, free speech, Indian land cases

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF] Monday in the case of Wyeth v. Levine [oral arguments transcript, PDF; merit briefs], in which the court will consider whether the drug labeling requirements under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act [text] preempt state products liability laws. A state jury initially found in favor of a Vermont woman who brought a negligence and failure-to-warn products liability suit against pharmaceutical company Wyeth [corporate website], arguing that the company's failure to indicate the dangers of intravenously injected migraine and anti-nausea drug Phenergan eventually led to the amputation of her arm. The Vermont Supreme Court upheld the decision [opinion text], holding that states may require additional drug label warnings. Wyeth appealed, arguing that any state-requested changes to the drug label would have violated Food and Drug Administration (FDA) [official website] requirements because FDA approval is based partly on the label, and that allowing state-requested changes to drug labels would contradict legislative intent by allowing an agency other than the FDA officially to determine drug safety. Lawyers for Levine have responded that the legislature has long accepted failure-to-warn claims against drug companies and that Wyeth could comply with both the federal labeling requirements and the state court judgment. AP has more.

The Supreme Court also heard arguments in the case of Ysursa v. Pocatello Education Association [oral arguments transcript, PDF; merit briefs], presenting the question of whether certain sections of the Idaho Voluntary Contributions Act [text] unconstitutionally abridge labor unions' free speech rights as related to payroll deductions for political activities. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled [opinion, PDF] in October that the Idaho statute, "as applied to local government employers, violates the First Amendment because it is a content-based law for which the State officials assert no compelling justification."

Finally, the Court heard arguments Monday in the case of Carcieri v. Kempthorne [oral arguments transcript, PDF], where the Court will consider whether the US Department of the Interior can take Indian land into federal trust for Indian tribes recognized after the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 [text, PDF] took effect. The case involves the Rhode Island Narragansett Tribe, recognized by the federal government in 1983. The tribe asked the federal government to take a 31-acre parcel of land into trust for the tribe, but Rhode Island has argued that the land should be governed by state law. The US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled against Rhode Island [opinion], holding that the Department of the Interior properly gave the land "Indian country" status. In addition to Indian Reorganization Act question, the Court will consider "[w]hether an act of Congress that extinguishes aboriginal title and all claims based on Indian rights and interests in land precludes the Secretary from creating Indian country there." The Providence Journal has more.

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