The Washington Post leads with, and the rest of the papers front, a federal appeals court ruling that the government can’t seek $280 billion in damages from tobacco companies. The Justice Department filed a racketeering lawsuit against the companies, accusing them of defrauding the American people for 50 years about the dangers of smoking and sought $280 billion, which it estimated was the companies’ profit from selling cigarettes to minors over three decades. The New York Timesleads with the ruling by a state judge in New York City that said prohibiting gays and lesbians from getting married violates the state’s constitution. The judge, who compared not allowing same-sex marriage to the ban that used to exist on interracial marriage, gave the city 30 days to appeal the ruling before the city clerk’s office starts issuing marriage licenses. The Los Angeles Times leads with the resignation of California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley. He is currently the subject of several state and federal investigations, which include accusations that Shelley mishandled federal money, received improper campaign contributions and created a hostile work environment for his staff. Even though Shelley said he did make mistakes, he denied doing anything illegal.
The trial against the tobacco companies that started in September continues, but the latest ruling by a federal appeals court greatly decreases the amount of money the companies would have to pay out if they are found guilty. The court ruled that under the civil racketeering law, known as the RICO act, penalties could only be imposed to prevent future violations. Demanding past profits “is a quintessentially backward-looking remedy focused on remedying the effects of past conduct to restore the status quo,” the court wrote. This was a big victory for the tobacco companies and, predictably, their stocks sharply increased after the decision was announced.
The WP and LAT front word that several Sunni leaders who called for a boycott of last Sunday’s Iraqi elections may be willing to work with the new government, particularly in writing the country’s constitution. Although the WP cautions that this new attitude may change, the LAT details how some prominent Sunni figures are calling for participation in future elections.
In other Iraq news, the NYT fronts the latest in the fight against insurgents. The Iraqi Interior Minister and the chief of police in Mosul have teamed up to create videos that show confessions of captured insurgents, often combining these images with video footage of the same insurgents executing a hostage. Officials hope that showing how insurgents break down when caught by the police will undermine their effort. The airing of these videos, however, may violate war treaties and some say they raise questions over whether torture was used to obtain confessions.
To illustrate the way packed farms in Asia could cause a bird flu (otherwise known as avian influenza) epidemic, the WP fronts the story of a Thai poultry farmer. Southeast Asia and China have doubled their poultry production in the last ten years, leading the way to farms having too many animals living in close proximity to one another. If the bird flu mutates and is able to spread among humans, which experts deem likely, the global death toll could be between 2 million and 7 million and could reach as high as 100 million. An op-ed piece in the NYT explains that the 2 to 7 million estimate is based on previous epidemics that were not as deadly as avian influenza, which has been known to kill 70 percent of humans it infects. The NYT also profiles a survivor of the avian flu who may have gotten the disease from his brother, leading some to wonder whether the virus has already started mutating.
All the papers go inside with the latest from Condoleezza Rice’s first trip to Europe as secretary of state, where she received a pledge from German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder that his country will do more to help in the Iraq effort. Although Germany has not sent any troops to Iraq, it is helping to train Iraqi police officers in the United Arab Emirates. Responding to questions, Rice emphasized several diplomatic options are still available to deal with Iran’s potential nuclear weapons and that an invasion is “simply not on the agenda.”
The LAT fronts the beginning of a Senate Intelligence Committee inquiry into the intelligence currently available about Iran. It seems the senators are looking into this now to avoid making the same mistakes with intelligence as were made in the prelude to the invasion of Iraq.
The search continues for the missing airplane in Afghanistan that was carrying 104 people, including three American aid workers. The aircraft seems to have lost contact with Afghan airport authorities on Thursday night. All the papers note that there are still conflicting reports on the airplane’s trajectory and whether it was denied landing rights by air traffic controllers in Afghanistan due to bad weather. The NYT is alone in quoting local media reports that claimed part of the plane wreckage was found in a remote mountainous area of Afghanistan.
The WP and LAT front, while the NYT reefers, the death of actor, director, writer, and civil rights activist Ossie Davis. Davis, 87, was found dead in his hotel room in Miami Beach where he was making a movie. Davis had a prolific career in movies, television, and theater. The papers, however, focus more on the role Davis played in the fight for civil rights. Davis and his wife, actress Ruby Dee, were masters of ceremonies at the 1963 March on Washington and he gave the eulogy at Malcolm X’s funeral, calling him “our shining black prince.” In December, Davis and Dee received Kennedy Center honors for their contribution to the arts as well as their fight for civil rights. “One of the greatest things I got from him and Ruby Dee was that [they] were activists and artists,” Spike Lee, who cast both Davis and Dee in several movies, said. “They did not hide what they believed.”