Medina County Courthouse

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Does a Judge's Race, Gender, or Political Affiliation Make a Difference in How Cases are Determined??

There is a fascinating article online that is posted on the American Bar Association Journal website about a recent study by law professors from Pittsburgh.

The studies claim that in cases involving allegations of racial and sexual harassment, the race and gender of the judges led to different results, although not different procedural rulings. That is, the studies indicate that all judges applied the law in the same manner, but that different judges reached different factual conclusions depending on their backgrounds.

According to the article, the studies were made of cases in the Federal court system. They apparently covered both trial and appellate courts. In the case of the racial harassment study, the authors looked at a random selection of 40% of all such cases handled in six federal circuit court of appeals. In the sexual harassment study, the authors looked at 556 cases in the federal appellate courts.

In the racial harassment study, the authors found that plaintiffs "...lost just 54 percent of the time when the judge handling the case was an African-American. Yet plaintiffs lost 81 percent of the time when the judge was Hispanic, 79 percent when the judge was white, and 67 percent of the time when the judge was Asian American."

The study also shows that political affiliation was important, at least in the study of the racial harassment cases. This is a quote from the study regarding racial harassment: "As shown in Table 3, judges appointed by a Democratic President (“Democratic judges”) held for the plaintiff in 29.3% of the cases, in contrast to judges appointed by a Republican President (“Republican judges”) who held for the plaintiff only 17% of the time."

While lawyers may not be surprised by these findings, people who are not lawyers may find these results disconcerting. Most people want to believe that a judge is only influenced by the law and that he or she does not allow their background to influence how they decide cases.

There is also some interesting information in the racial harassment study concerning the racial breakdown of judges in both state courts and federal courts. The racial harassment study can be read online in a pdf format. You can read the article by clicking here.

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