[JURIST] Cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris USA [corporate website] on Friday asked [cert. petition, PDF] the US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] to overturn a 2006 district court ruling [JURIST report] that held the tobacco industry [JURIST news archive] liable under civil racketeering laws for deceiving American consumers as to the health effects of their products. Philip Morris argued that the trial court's decision did not properly consider issues involving the First Amendment [text] and that the government's application of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) [18 USC § 1961–1968] was overbroad. The company gave its reasoning for the appeal:
The government's use of injunctive litigation to obtain regulatory authority that it had been unable to secure through the legislative and administrative processes upended the First Amendment, distorted RICO beyond recognition, and vastly exceeded the remedial authority of Article III courts. Absent further review, the government will henceforth be free to pervert RICO into a device for evading the legislative process, penalizing and chilling public debate on scientific matters, and constraining constitutionally protected speech through vague and sweeping injunctions. And, the government will be able to do so without significant procedural protections beyond the findings of a single judge.
Altria Group [corporate website], Philip Morris' parent company, also filed a petition [cert. petition, PDF] in the case. Additionally on Friday, the Obama administration submitted a petition [cert. petition, PDF] in the case seeking to overturn a federal appeals court ruling [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] that the government could not seek a $280 billion penalty against the companies for past profits and limited relief to prevention of future violations.
The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia [official website] affirmed [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] the district court ruling in May. The US brought the initial action under RICO, which criminalizes the conduction or participation in the affairs of an enterprise that affects interstate or foreign commerce through a pattern of racketeering activity. The ruling required tobacco manufacturers to issue public statements to correct messages it had put out denying the health hazards of smoking, the addictiveness of smoking, the dangers of second-hand smoke, and the manufacturers' manipulation of cigarette design to ensure optimum nicotine delivery. The companies were also required to cease using any express or implied health terminology such as "light" or "low tar." While the appellate court affirmed many of the district court's remedial injunctions, it rejected a remedy that would have required tobacco manufacturers to effectively force retailers to display large freestanding displays to convey the corrective messages, reasoning that the district court did not consider the rights of innocent persons as required [18 USC § 1964] by RICO.