The Mississippi tobacco case: Reform and the boundaries of law and politics

by Kaib, David, Ph.D., AMERICAN UNIVERSITY, 2011, 300 pages; 3468032


This dissertation analyzes the Mississippi tobacco litigation, the first state suit against the industry, as a case of litigation as an instrument of reform. The method is a qualitative case study and the focus is on competing interpretations of reform. Outside of court, the state's team and their allies painted the litigation as a significant threat to the tobacco industry, unlike earlier efforts and an opportunity for others to achieve their goals by supporting existing suits and filing new ones. The industry countered by portraying the litigation as similar to earlier failures—both costly and unlikely to succeed. Such disputes suggested that the litigation was an extension of political conflicts over this issue, rather than taking place in a distinctly legal and principled arena.

In court, lawyers for the state sought to legitimate the litigation by constructing narratives around the issue of smoking and health, the character and motives of the actors, and the law. These competing interpretations were used to pursue both formal decisions and to influence the available claims, the rules the parties would operate under, and the scope of discovery, all of which could put pressure on either side to either settle or abandon their claims. The state's team sought to reassure the court that this case would maintain the symbolic boundary between law and politics and thereby uphold the status quo. They presented the industry's tactics and claims as a threat to these. The tobacco defendants argued that the plaintiffs claims threatened to replace law with politics and would have repercussions well beyond the issue of tobacco, both in terms of the law and policy, consequently posing a threat to the status quo. Placing interpretive battles, especially over the distinction between law and politics, at the forefront of the analysis allows us to understand the arguments and tactics of the parties that would otherwise be obscured or unintelligible.

AdviserGregg Ivers
Source TypeDissertation
SubjectsLaw; Management; Legal studies; Political Science; Social structure
Publication Number3468032

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