State courts across the country are caught in a high-stakes, high-priced fight between groups trying to get a handle on large damage awards and others who are concerned consumers and wronged employees are going to be left in the dust.

The struggle is being played out this year in states such as Michigan and Wisconsin, where races for spots on their respective Supreme Courts have drawn millions of dollars in contributions, much of it spent not by the candidates but by business groups, unions and trial lawyers.