My friend Max Sawicky beats me to the punch on the devastating blow a jury in Angleton, Texas dealt to pharma giant Merck this week. The jury awarded a $253 million lawsuit to the widow of a man who died after taking Vioxx -- and with 4,000 more wrongful death suits in the pipeline, Merck is terrified. But the real story here, Max notes, is what it says about the justice administered by Southern juries:

The Merck decision gives me an occasion to note a continuing, long-standing curiosity: supposedly conservative Southerners, when given the opportunity, often choose to sock it to corporations in civil liability cases. In effect, they're not against regulation when it's on a discretionary, case-by-case basis in what you could call a participatory-democratic setting.

I wrote about this earlier, just as state legislatures were gearing up to pass a flury of "tort reform" measures in Georgia and other states -- by far the biggest state-level issue on the corporate agenda this year:

Last fall, Mississippi native Curtis Wilkie wrote a thoughtful piece in the Boston Globe about the special role of trial lawyers in the South. In a region where states advertise their "business-friendly climate" and lax regulations, trial lawyers have served as rare populist heroes and public advocates -- a voice for the "little guy."

That's exactly why "tort reform" is so important to the political right, especially in the South. Look for only more of the same, especially given our President's record (pdf) on the issue.