After obtaining extension after extension from the U.S. Supreme Court (something our Rich Samp criticized here a few weeks ago), the time had come this week for the federal government to “fish or cut bait,” as it were, on whether it would urge reversal in one case involving the FDA’s graphic tobacco warnings, and oppose certiorari in another case.
As reported by several news outlets this morning, the Department of Justice announced that it would not seek Supreme Court review of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit’s R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. v. FDA decision. There, the court held in a facial challenge that the tobacco warnings violated the companies’ First Amendment rights. DOJ’s decision not to pursue reversal leaves in place a powerful precedent which businesses in other industries might deploy in situations where government labeling or warning requirements go beyond disclosure of pure, noncontroversial facts. The Washington Post story noted that FDA said it would “go back to the drawing board and ‘undertake research to support a new rulemaking consistent with the Tobacco Control Act.'” So that’s the end of the controversy for now, right?
Not necessarily. The government has until Friday to respond to a petition in the Supreme Court that it review another challenge to the graphic warnings, this one an “as applied” challenge rather than a “facial” challenge. The Sixth Circuit upheld the graphic warnings in American Snuff Co. v. United States. No doubt, the Solicitor General will argue that its decision not to appeal R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. obviates the need for the Court to grant certiorari in American Snuff. Will the justices take the government at its word that it now realizes the warnings can’t survive First Amendment scrutiny and that FDA will “go back to the drawing board”? If one were to look at the FDA web page on the graphic health warnings, one might question FDA’s interest in giving up the fight.