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News Briefs

Four Justices Oppose Juvenile Execution


Four Supreme Court justices declared their opposition Monday to executing juvenile offenders, a strong signal that sentiment is growing at the court for further restrictions on the death penalty in the United States.

The announcement by Justices John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, the court’s most liberal members, came in a written opinion dissenting from a 5-4 decision in which the court’s conservative majority refused to reconsider the question of whether executing murderers who committed their crimes at age 16 or 17 is “cruel and unusual punishment” prohibited by the Constitution.

The opinion, written by Stevens and co-signed by Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer, called the practice of executing juvenile offenders “a relic of the past (that) is inconsistent with evolving standards of decency in a civilized society.”

“We should put an end to this shameful practice,” the opinion said.

Bush to Propose Rules to Ease Generic Drug Availability


President Bush plans to propose new rules designed to make it easier for Americans to buy generic medicine by reining in the ability of brand-name pharmaceutical companies to keep lower-price drugs off the market.

Administration officials Sunday night estimated the plan, which could take effect within the next several months, could shave $3 billion a year off the nation’s rapidly escalating expenditures on prescription drugs.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Bush essentially will call for a new interpretation of a law that covers how the brand-name drug industry gets and preserves patents for the therapies that it develops.

The White House is responding to criticism of the industry, including in a recent federal study, that has accused the companies of exploiting loopholes in the law to thwart competition -- and thus increase the price of medicine for patients, employers and government-run insurance programs.

Biotech Industry Bans Some Gene-Altered Crops


Spurred by growing fear that drugs or chemicals made in gene-altered plants will taint the food supply, the North American biotechnology industry is adopting a broad moratorium on planting certain types of crops in major food-producing regions.

The voluntary ban, which goes beyond any proposed government regulation, is designed to prevent the spread of exotic genes into field crops likely to be used for food or animal feed. Its most immediate impact will be to bar companies from planting certain types of gene-altered corn in the Midwest farm belt or from planting some types of canola on the Canadian prairie, but the ban could eventually apply to numerous crops and regions.

Michael Phillips, executive director for food and agriculture at the Biotechnology Industry Organization, outlined the new policy in an interview Monday. The Washington organization, the trade group of the North American biotechnology industry, formally adopted the plan several days ago, after more than a year of intensive discussions. Word of it has been filtering out to interested groups, but the policy has not previously been disclosed to the public.