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.