Consumer Issues Top Supreme Court's Docket As the Supreme Court opens its new term, the justices have more business and consumer cases on their schedule. Key cases revolve around packaging rules, state lawsuits and protecting dolphins in California.


Consumer Issues Top Supreme Court's Docket

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This is the first Monday in October, the traditional opening day for a new Supreme Court term. So far the court has steered clear of most hot button social issues this year. Still, as NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg reports, the justices are planning to address several compelling topics, including immunity for drug companies.

NINA TOTENBERG: While abortion and gay rights may ring people's chimes and fuel political campaigns, the fact is that Supreme Court decisions determining whether individuals have the right to sue at all and on what grounds, those decisions actually affect the lives of far more people and shape the conduct of business in America. Last term, the newly constituted and more conservative Supreme Court gave business a bunch of big victories, essentially barring most investor lawsuits against Enron and similar bad actors in the corporate world, and also barring most lawsuits against medical device manufacturers.

L: Wyeth is arguing that lawsuits like this one are barred because the FDA approved the label. The FDA is for the first time taking the side of the company. The case poses two questions. First, could Wyeth have changed the label, and should it have? And second, if it could or should have changed the label, can injured consumers sue in state court for damages, or is the FDA the sole entity that can take action against the drug company? Former Solicitor General Seth Waxman represents the drug company and argues that juries should not be making such case-by-case judgments.

SETH WAXMAN: The pharmaceutical companies and industry have said if we're going to have a single national economy that competes in any meaningful way, we certainly have to have a world in which a single expert agency will make these balancing decisions.

TOTENBERG: In the past, in administrations Democratic and Republican, the FDA has said that the label it approves is in essence the minimum warning drug companies must provide and that they can do more. Since the FDA gets most of its information from the drug companies themselves, the agency saw lawsuits as an additional check on the pharmaceutical industry. Now, however, the Bush administration has abandoned that position, and as Georgetown law professor David Vladeck explains...

DAVID VLADECK: Part of the issue in this case is whether the FDA has the capacity to monitor effectively all of the 11,000 drugs on the market, post-approval.

TOTENBERG: There are many other important issues pending before the court, from a major sexual harassment question to a case testing when religious groups are entitled to have monuments on public property. So stay tuned. Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.

SHAPIRO: For more analysis of the new Supreme Court term and for some insight into how the justices might rule in key cases, visit our Web site,

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