The General Accounting Office, which has been investigating the pricing of drugs sold to the U.S. government, yesterday lost a Supreme Court battle for access to drug company cost data.
The court deadlocked 4-to-4 (Justice Potter Stewart, who owns drug company stock, did not participate), automatically affirming a lower court decision without issuing an opinion.
The court upheld Bristol Laboratories' refusal to turn over information relating to its expenses for research and development, marketing and promotion, and distribution of products. Bristol wanted this information kept confidential for reasons of competition and argued that, in any case, those expenses could not be assigned to individual products purchased by the government. The company did agree to turn over other records to the GAO.
The case was one of five disputes with different pharmaceutical manufacturers stemming from GAO's efforts, begun in 1971, to see if Veterans.Administration hospitals and other government drug purchasers were being overcharged.
Government lawyers said the Supreme Court's ruling probably did not settle the other cases as well because the justices did not issue an opinion.
In other actions yesterday:
The court permitted a departure from the "one-man, one-vote" principle by allowing an election systems for directors of an Arizona water supply district in which only landowners can vote.
The Salt River Project Agricultural Improvement and Power District is responsible for water distribution on 236,000 acres of land in central Arizona. It also sells electricity to thousands of Arizonans.
The directors of the district are elected, but under state law only landowners may vote, with voting power apportioned according to the amount of land owned.
The court ruled 5-t0-4 in Ball v. James that the narrow functions of the district, and the fact that it is not a conventional governmental entity, permit it to have an electoral system that would otherwise be blatantly unconstitutional.
Justice Potter Stewart wrote for the majority. Justices Byron R. White, William J. Brennan Jr., Thurgood Marshall and Harry A. Blackmum dissented, saying that the district's functions were broad enough to subject it to one-man, one-vote principles.
The court sidestepped that was expected to be a major decision concerning how far federally aided universities have to go in helping the handicapped. Walter Camenisch, a deaf student, sued the University of Texas to get a sign-language interpreter for his classes. The university appealed a lower court order requiring that it provide an interpreter.
Meanwhile, Camenisch got an interpreter and graduated. For that reason, the justices ruled unanimously that the case was moot.