Don't Look For Justice At DOJ

08/18/2006 01:05 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Every day, it seems, brings some new evidence of how craven is the Bush administration.

But yesterday, in its own way, was quite spectacular.

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales rushed to call a news conference denouncing the decision. The Department of Justice announced an immediate appeal, and issued a ridiculous statement arguing that the program is constitutional because "the President has the primary duty under the Constitution to protect the American people" -- a theory that suggests there is absolutely no limit on presidential power.

In a case brought by the Department of Justice, Judge Kessler found that the tobacco companies had engaged in a 50-year long racketeering conspiracy to deceive the American people about the health effects of smoking, mislead about the relative safety of "light" cigarettes and conceal the harmful effects of second-hand smoke, among other things. Although she found the tobacco company defendants guilty of heinous actions, she imposed only modest remedies, because of a prior appeals court ruling that sharply limited available remedies under the racketeering law under which the lawsuit was brought.

Judge Kessler made clear in her ruling that she would have liked to do more, but that she viewed her hands as tied by the appeals court ruling.

The reaction from the Department of Justice? A ho-hum release:

We are pleased with the Court's finding of liability on the part of the defendants, but disappointed that the Court did not impose all of the remedies sought by the government. Nevertheless, we are hopeful that the remedies that were imposed by the Court can have a significant, positive impact on the health of the American public. We are continuing to review the Court's 1,652 page opinion.

It's quite clear what the Department of Justice should do, if it cares at all about public health -- Judge Kessler couldn't have made it much clearer. The confining appeals court decision must be appealed.

Of course, this is an administration that cares about corporate profits, not public well-being.

Nonetheless, it is not immune to political pressure -- which is the only thing that stopped the administration from dropping the Clinton administration-initiated lawsuit while it was in progress. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is leading an effort to urge an appeal.


A note of disclosure: I am interested party in the tobacco case. My organization filed an amicus brief urging that remedies be applied to the international affiliates of the tobacco companies and to certain overseas activities of the defendants.