"Strict constructionist" is a buzzword these days as the Bush Administration seeks to get a second Supreme Court nominee appointed to the high court. The president and his lieutenants don't want people who will "legislate from the bench," so the story goes, at least when it's politically expedient to pretend that.
Fortunately for us, our current Supreme Court declined an opportunity to do a little legislating from the bench today, despite the pleas of the same administration's laywers in a continuing battle against tobacco companies such as Altria
In a case that is still pending, the government is using RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act) statutes, which were written by Congress to combat organized crime. Really, the people with the protection rackets, the pistol in the back of the head, all of that. So how did it come to pass that government lawyers decided to apply these laws to U.S. companies? The smell of money. The novel -- and to my mind wholly inappropriate -- attempt at a rewrite of the laws' goals was made in order to try and pry a mere $280 billion out of the U.S. tobacco companies after the first shakedown failed. (Bill Mann discusses that here.)
Today, the Supreme Court let stand -- by refusing to review -- a lower court ruling that said the government could not seek the damages, or disgorgement, of $280 billion in cumulative profits and then some, representing "ill-gotten gains" earned over the past 50 years.
Though I own shares of UST