Ashcroft’s U-Turn: Suing Big Tobacco for a Quarter-Trillion Bucks

Policy Forum
May 21, 2003 11:30AM
Auditorium/Wintergarden
Featuring Matthew Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids; William B. Schultz, Partner, Zuckerman Spaeder LLP; Robert A. Levy, Senior Fellow in Constitutional Studies, Cato Institute; and Kenneth N. Bass, Partner, Kirkland & Ellis.
Ten months after the tobacco giants and the states settled their differences for a skimpy $246 billion, the federal government decided that it wanted a piece of the pie. So the Clinton Justice Department filed suit, alleging that industry executives conspired to lie about their product, manipulate nicotine content, and target kids with cigarette ads. Then the Republicans took over. Attorney General John Ashcroft, who opposed the suit as a senator, was reluctant to fund litigation that he deemed too weak for trial. But he’s changed his mind. In an astonishing about-face, the Justice Department has now decided to seek an additional $289 billion in damages, with a trial planned for next year if the industry doesn’t cave. Why the reversal? Is the multi-billion-dollar pot just too enticing for the cash-strapped feds? Or is there a real need for one more round in the government’s anti-tobacco campaign? Please join us for a vigorous debate on health, public policy, and the rule of law.