West Law Report

Punitive Damages: Philip Morris USA v. Williams (2007)

A leading case summery of Harvar Law Review (Issue 121, Nov 2007): Philip Morris USA v. Williams (2007) (11 pages)

Punitive Damages

The history of the Fourteenth Amendment is one of hierarchy and capitalism. In the Amendment’s first 139 years, courts have consistently used it to perpetuate dominant notions of class and culture — to maintain deeply rooted inequality and resist meaningful changes in the areas of poverty, race, and gender. While the Amendment’s beautiful language and spirit could have been used to ensure equality and meaningful participation in all aspects of a civil community, its words have instead been employed as a tool for just the opposite. Last Term, in Philip Morris USA v. Williams,1 the Supreme Court used the Fourteenth Amendment to reaffirm and enrich procedural and substantive due process protections for corporations sued for
punitive damages. This is the sad reality of a legal system and a culture that have often lacked the courage necessary to promote the practice of daily human life in a manner consistent with our values. But by reconceptualizing the kinds of harms that it addresses, we can transform the Amendment — now itself part of the machinery of cruel myth and illusion — into a tool for equality and justice.