Consider this extraordinary narrative: A resident of a small town brings a tort action against a big corporation and wins a multi-million-dollar jury trial award. While the judgment is pending on appeal to the state supreme court, one of the liberal justices known to often side with tort plaintiffs is up for judicial re-election. To ensure the election of a new justice more sympathetic to corporate defendants, the corporation’s CEO pumps in an extraordinary amount of campaign money, both as candidate contributions and as independent political action committee advertising expenditures. Predictably, the newly elected justice casts the tie-breaking vote in favor of the corporation and reverses the jury trial victory.

If this sounds like a narrative from a John Grisham novel, that is because it actually is. I have summarized the plot of The Appeal, Grisham’s 2008 bestseller. When Grisham was interviewed on NBC’s Today Show during his promotional tour, the host, Matt Lauer, asked whether such a chain of events could ever realistically occur. “It’s already happened,” Grisham answered. “It happened a few years ago in West Virginia. A guy who owned a coal company got tired of getting sued, and he elected his own man to the state supreme court.” Reality is, indeed, stranger than fiction. The amazing case to which Grisham referred is, of course, the subject of this panel’s discussion—Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal.

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