Nevada Study Suggests that Evaluation of Judges Still Subject to Bias

This is sad, disappointing, and perhaps predictable.

A careful study of attorney evaluation of judges in Nevada finds statistically significant indications that attorney evaluators are reflecting social bias.  Here is the abstract:

Judicial performance evaluations (JPEs) are an important part of the judicial selection process in the states, particularly those using a version of the merit plan. All states that use JPEs follow the ABA’s Guidelines (1985), which claim to minimize the potential for unconscious bias through the use of behavior-based evaluation. But these measures have yet to be subjected to rigorous analysis. This analysis of the “Judging the Judges” survey of Nevada attorneys provides such an analysis. After controlling for objective measures of judicial performance, gender and race still contribute significantly to the scores on all of the behavior-based measures implemented in the Nevada poll. I find evidence of significant unconscious bias, as social cognition theory would predict. The analysis also cast serious doubt on the overall validity of these measures of judicial quality. This result raises serious questions about the validity and fairness of JPEs around the country.

The basic methodology, as I understand it, was to show that that the differences in survey evaluations of minority and female judges were not consistent with the prestige of the judges’ law schools, or their reversal rate, or their experience.  The key para is here:

. . . The set of independent variables explains about a third of the variance in the dependent variables. But, across the board, the coefficients on the race and gender variables are statistically significant and of high magnitude. Women score almost two tenths of a point lower than men, even after controlling for the various alternative measures of judicial performance. Minority judges fare even worse, losing more than a quarter of a point, regardless their scores on the objective measures. On a three point scale, this is of magnitude large enough to cause some alarm.

Obviously this has implications way beyond judicial retention issues.  It suggests that women and minority judges are still given a “hard time” in one way or another.  It makes you want to cry, 60 years after the cases opening legal education to minorities.


About richardzorza

I am deeply involved in access to justice and the patient voice movement.
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3 Responses to Nevada Study Suggests that Evaluation of Judges Still Subject to Bias

  1. Malia Reddick says:

    It’s important to recognize that there are many different processes in place to evaluate judicial performance, and the Las Vegas Review-Journal uses one that is the equivalent of a bar poll. The format of their questions wouldn’t pass the laugh test in the academic realm. This is NOT the gold standard in evaluating judicial performance.

  2. Pingback: Progress on Improving Judicial Evaluation Surveys | Richard Zorza's Access to Justice Blog

  3. Claudia Johnson says:

    Richard, thanks for sharing this study. As a woman of color the results come to me as no surprise. Minority professionals are not yet treated equally–and the more prestigious the position, the more likely that they are underrepresented and the more likely they have to work 3X as hard as everyone else to overcome intrisic, race, gender, class, and national origin biases. The main focus needs to be removing the barriers that continue to create non diverse environments or environments where minorities and those who come from different backgrounds and cultures can succeed. In PA, Judge Ida Chen has been building on work that started in the early 2000s, with support from the Hispanic Bar Association of PA and the Philadelphia Bar Association, to improve the diversity w/in the courts. This is a recent publication that focuses on diversity in the courts and Bar in PA. It has very good suggestions on how to improve diversity in the bench and in the courts, and excellent statistics on how the law student and attorney population in PA as well ast he work force has changed. I don’t know if other court systems are engaged in this type of analysis or being proactive about diversity in the bench. To the degree that judges are elected, the ability to raise funds and organize a campaign and attract donors has strong bearing on how non-diverse a court system ends up being.What are judicial organizations and national court support organizations doing regarding diversity in the bench? Is this a discussion happening in those realms? The conversation about diversity in the bench is far from over. Now, the issue of fair evaluation and removal of biases needs to be part of that discussion. Thanks for pointing this study out!

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