The Oregon Supreme Court has re-affirmed its 1999 decision to confirm an award of $79.5 million in punitive damages against Phillip Morris in the cancer death of a lifelong smoker. The original award was vacated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003, and the Oregon court was ordered, according to The Oregonian, to "reconsider the verdict in what some interpreted as a strong suggestion to reduce it significantly".
This is exactly what they did not do.
The deceased smoker had not only tried, unsuccessfully, to quit smoking a number of times; he had read and believed reports that indicated smoking was not as bad as anti-smoking advocates were saying. He turned to the propaganda generated for decades by Phillip Morris and other tobacco companies for intellectual support to his terrible physical addiction. The S.C. of Oregon agreed with the jury that Phillip Morris' lies deserved a harsh penalty -- and today they decided they had been right the first time.
(A personal note. These bastards managed to kill my mom last year, 55 years of cigarettes doing in her heart at the age of 72. She began smoking in high school, back at a time when it was cool and glamorous. She, too, tried to quit, and finally did -- when the emphysema and tumors put her on oxygen. But it was too late. Enjoy your profits, Phillip Morris.)
First of all, YAY for the Supreme Court of Oregon. How easy would it have been to simply take the big hint from SCOTUS and reduce the punitive damages? They had every excuse, and a whole bunch of precendent. Telling the Supreme Court of the United States to stick it in their ear is not an easy thing to do. But our court did it. The pressure to change their minds must have been immense, and this decision is testimony to the power of the truth to give strength in times of need.
Second, this is twice in a month that Oregon has been found to be a place where states rights are alive and well. SCOTUS' inability to set aside the Death with Dignity Act was a blow against the unconstitutional use of power by the administration and Justice Dept. This decision was an acknowledgement, albeit reluctant, that national power cannot trump states rights when the facts determine that the state, and not the federal government, is in the right. At a time when the Bush Administration is trying to absorb all powers to itself, and when the Congress' wingnut Republican majorities seem content to allow this, here in Oregon we are making a stand. Granted, this stand has its limits, and Congress could easily wipe out ODWDA (although we have Wyden's promise to block that, his personal commitment to democracy in Oregon). Granted, there are so many other areas of policy harmful to our state that we can do little about, but damn! In a time when we seem to be sliding into an abyss of tyranny centered in the Oval Office, it's heartening to have glimpses of hope.
I hope word spreads that Oregon is working hardto take care of itself, or at least putting up a damn good fight. 99% of the ballot measures brought before voters are crap, but we have the opportunity to have a say. Our Legislature is amateurish at times, but we have tremendous access to our legislators. Partisanship is a problem in Oregon, of course, but not nearly to the point as in states like Texas. We have strong and extensive grassroots organizations all across the spectrum. The party leaderships do not make all the big decisions -- and when they try, it's not that hard for the base to assert themselves. And on top of all that, whatever people in Oregon may think of our level of public political discourse, we are one of the most civil states in the nation. Most of us respect each other. We talk reasonably to one another most of the time. We refrain from the kind of virulent personal attacks that cripple many states. The brief power surge of the religious right in the 90s set things back a great deal, and the antics of Minnis and Scott are disheartening, but these are aberations. Oregon is a state where laissez faire is strong, and where neighbors tend to let neighbors be.
In short, Oregon is a state where liberal ideals dominate. We like to be left alone, but we're glad to help when it's needed. We have our own morals, but we try not to ram them down other people's throats. We try to do what's right without insisting everyone follow our personal lead. We have strong ethics, but don't like to see them turned into laws. We use our laws to preseve some basic ideals, but not to promote minority prejudices (hence the defeat of measures 9 & 13 and the defeat of most anti-choice measures). And when the Congress or Supreme Court tries to take away our rights and powers -- tries to make us act against our own political rights and beliefs -- we tell them to get stuffed.
But we do it in a civil way. We do it within the context of our laws. This makes us good citizens, in a good state, and it's great to know our high court has our back.