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Supreme Court rulings are all business

Supreme Court building

KAI RYSSDAL: We'll get to that Congressional travel story in just a bit. But the corporate story of the day comes to us from a slightly unusual souce. The scales of justice tipped heavily toward corporate America today, when the Supreme Court handed down a pair of economic rulings. Weyerhaeuser

, the timber company, got out from under a $79 million damage award. And the cigarette maker Philip Morris saw a $79.5 million award against it thrown out. Nancy Marshall Genzer has the day's Supreme Court business update.


NANCY MARSHALL GENZER: The court decided Weyerhaeuser wasn't guilty of predatory buying — pushing the price of the logs it needs for its paper and lumber businesses beyond the reach of small lumber mills. As for Philip Morris, the Supreme Court threw out a $79.5 million punitive damages award to an Oregon smoker's widow because the jury included all Oregon smokers in the award.

Court watcher Mark Levy says the justices are definitely developing a pro-business tilt.

MARK LEVY:In both cases, the arguments of the business community prevailed, and were accepted by the court.

But consumer advocate Ira Rheingold

thinks the justices are leaning too far toward big business. Rheingold says stringent punitive damages are needed to punish bad corporate behavior.

IRA RHEINGOLD: Well I think what we're seeing in businesses across the country, they're doing a cost-benefit analysis in terms of their behavior. How close to the line of bad behavior are they going to walk so that they can maximize their profits?

But Quentin Riegel

of the National Association of Manufacturers says the Supreme Court is just helping companies defend themselves.

QUENTIN RIEGEL: There's been a lot of jackpot justice in this country. And it's because plaintiffs' lawyers have been able to introduce evidence that's not really relevant to the case.

Court watchers say it's tough to predict just how far the court is tilting toward the business community. They'll just have to stay tuned.

In Washington, I'm Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

RYSSDAL: Court watchers might have to wait. But stock watchers got immediate gratification. Shares in both Weyerhauser and Philip Morris parent company Altria reacted to the rulings today. Down about three-tenths percent apiece.

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.

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