In the spring of 2014, I sat at the back of the Supreme Court as the justices heard arguments in CTS Corp. v. Waldburger, the ramifications of which would touch some of the most contaminated sites in the country. The lawyer for the company that had polluted my hometown of Asheville, North Carolina, argued that his client bore no responsibility for the rash of cancers, including my own, that plagued the area surrounding its factory.
Chief Justice John Roberts seemed intent upon the attorney’s line of reasoning, as did many other justices. But Ruth Bader Ginsburg, barely visible above the bench, had shrewd questions for the attorney. The other justices sat up straighter when she spoke. Yet I had the sinking feeling the cards were stacked against us and walked out of the Supreme Court that day with a pit in my stomach.
The rest was a blur: I met Erin Brockovich on the steps outside, hugged my parents goodbye, and boarded the bus back to college in New York’s Hudson Valley. When the decision came down months later, it was 7–2 against us.
The implications were profoundly bad. CTS, an electroplating company, had dumped carcinogenic chemical solvents into the groun... Read more