Study Showing Greater Racial Bias By Republican Judges Has to Shatter Our Assumptions

I was getting ready to draft a rebuttal to an article from the New York Times, Would you go to a Republican Doctor, reporting a study that “knowing about people’s political beliefs did interfere with the ability to assess those people’s expertise in other, unrelated domains,” and suggesting that that interfered with rational decision-making.  In one of those “cooperation in meaningless tasks studies” (my term), “people sought and then followed the advice of those who shared their political opinions on issues that had nothing to do with politics, even when they had all the information they needed to understand that this was a bad strategy.”  If you want the detail, look at the article.  In short, people trust those who agree with them politically, even if irrational.

But according to a very different article:

Judges appointed by Republican presidents gave longer sentences to black defendants and shorter ones to women than judges appointed by Democrats, according to a new study that analyzed data on more than half a million defendants.“Republican-appointed judges sentence black defendants to three more months than similar nonblacks and female defendants to two fewer months than similar males compared to Democratic-appointed judges,” the study found, adding, “These differences cannot be explained by other judge characteristics and grow substantially larger when judges are granted more discretion.”


The study was conducted by two professors at Harvard Law School, Alma Cohen and Crystal S. Yang. They examined the sentencing practices of about 1,400 federal trial judges over more than 15 years, relying on information from the Federal Judicial Center, the United States Sentencing Commission and the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.

Perhaps most astonishingly:

“The racial gap by political affiliation is three months, approximately 65 percent of the baseline racial sentence gap,” the authors wrote.

This has profound implications.

Firstly, first think about the fact that almost two thirds of the racial sentencing disparity in a case in the Federal Court is attributable to being a Republican judge.  Now, judging is perhaps the most transparent and discretion-guided element in the system.  What on earth is this number for the other players, who operate more in the shadows, and with less constraints on the behavior.  Moreover, it would be nice to think that the judicial selection process somewhat filters out the more obviously racist judges.

Add to this all the emerging data about correlations between Trump voting and things like authoritarian personality, preference for dominance in society, contempt for science, and racism.

So, put simply and sadly, political attitudes are highly relevant to certain kinds of capacity, and as the judge study shows, appears to have been so for a long time.  In medicine, for example, the doctor’s attitude to human relationships is absolutely critical.  I hope I will be persuaded otherwise, but for now, I do care about my doctor’s world view. — and not just my doctor’s.







About richardzorza

I am deeply involved in access to justice and the patient voice movement.
This entry was posted in Access to Justice Generally, Bias, Chasm with Communities, Discrimination, Federal Courts. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Study Showing Greater Racial Bias By Republican Judges Has to Shatter Our Assumptions

  1. james burdick says:

    Not sure how a parallel bias for physicians would be constructed: maybe Republicans more susceptible to overuse? Or, if more conservative, underuse?
    Unrelated to politics, these are undecided public health areas of medical practice.
    Jim Burdick

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