What does John Grisham's The Appeal inform us about the politics of judicial elections?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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One moral lesson John Grisham clearly reveals in his novel The Appeal concerns the potential corruption of judicial elections. Some states, though not all, elect judges into office rather than having them appointed. Grisham is pointing out the potential for corruption in a system that elects judges.

For those states that elect judges, two different methods can be used. Some states hold partisan elections in which only a chosen electorate can vote. Judges in partisan elections are chosen based on party rather than the person. Other states, like Mississippi, hold non-partisan elections in which candidates' names are placed on a ballot and voted on, but their party affiliation is not listed on the ballot. Grisham shows that, when individuals are voted on, big money and private interests can play a large role in corrupting elections.  

In his novel, Krane Chemicals has just been found guilty in a trial of emptying carcinogenic toxic wastes into Bowmore, Mississippi, contaminating the town's water. The carcinogens have made Bowmore's cancer rate 15 times greater than the nation's average cancer rate, and Krane Chemicals has just been ordered by the court to pay $41 million in damages to Jeannette Baker for the deaths of both her husband and son. However, Krane Chemicals is intent on overturning the court's decision through appealing to the Mississippi Supreme Court, which will soon be electing new judges.

The owner of Krane Chemicals, Carl Trudea, knows he may successively get the case appealed if he can manipulate the elections; he, therefore, hires a firm by the name of Troy-Hogan to do just that. The owner of Troy-Hogan, Rinehart, knows they can win the appeal if they swap the more liberal Justice Sheila McCarthy for the more conservative Christian candidate Ron Fisk. Both the firm and Krane Chemicals begin illegally dumping money into Fisk's campaign to make McCarthy look morally untrustworthy and Fisk trustworthy, and the scheme works. Though Fisk begins having moral objections to ruling in favor of the appeal, the novel ends with Fisk taking the side of Krane Chemicals simply because of all the money the company invested in Fisk's campaign, showing us just how much big money can corrupt a judicial election, as well as any election.

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