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Justices reject cases involving flag burning, rock lyrics

The Supreme Court announced Tuesday it won't wade into the political hot-button issues of flag burning and provocative rock lyrics.

The justices, without comment, rejected:

Texas' invitation to reverse a pair of 5-4 rulings that said the First Amendment protects those who burn or deface the American flag as a political protest.

Lawsuits by two Georgia families who say their sons were incited to commit suicide by heavy-metal rock star Ozzy Osbourne's song Suicide Solution.

But the justices agreed to take up a key issue behind the 1992 campaign theme of tort reform: the question of how conflicting scientific evidence should be treated at trials.

The court said it will study whether to reinstate a product liability suit against the anti-nausea drug Bendectin, used by more than 33-million pregnant women before it was taken off the market in 1983.

The parents of two San Diego youths born with severe birth defects sued Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, now Marion Merrell Dow, alleging Bendectin caused the defects. The manufacturer maintained the drug is safe, and the government has never rescinded approval of Bendectin.

Lower courts threw out the lawsuits, saying the scientists the families planned to call as expert witnesses had not shown their methods were verified by other scientists.

In their appeal, the families argue that their expert testimony should have been admitted even though it had not been published in medical journals. The families contend the appeals court ruling will "delegate control over admissibility of scientific expert opinion testimony to the editors of peer-reviewed journals."

The Bendectin cases are named by author Peter Huber in his critique of "junk science" plaguing the nation's courts. Huber and his book, Galileo's Revenge, have been cited by Vice President Quayle and his Council on Competitiveness in calling for tort reform.

In the Texas flag case, the court declined to review a state law enacted after the court struck down an earlier version in 1989.

The justices extended constitutional protection to flag-burning by 5-4 margins in 1989 and 1990. The second decision struck down a federal flag protection statute enacted after President Bush failed to get the two-thirds majority required from Congress in his drive to amend the Constitution to protect the flag.

Since the rulings, two justices in the majority _ William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall _ have retired and been replaced by David Souter and Clarence Thomas.

In the Georgia lyrics case, the justices refused to revive lawsuits by the families of two teenage boys who shot themselves. The lawsuit said the First Amendment shouldn't protect lyrics that incite or encourage children to commit suicide.

Lower courts dismissed the suits, finding that lyrics are no different from other speech and are subject to the same limitations on obscenity, defamation and "fighting words." Those rulings said Osbourne and his band are entitled to free-speech protection because they did not engage in culpable incitement to imminent lawlessness.

In other cases, the justices:

Refused to let former Navy intelligence analyst Jonathan Jay Pollard withdraw his guilty plea to selling U.S. secrets to Israel. Pollard is serving life in prison.

Let stand a Texas court order barring a company from explaining its views in newspaper ads during trial of a civil liability lawsuit over asbestos exposure.

_ Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.