Research Shows Black Judges Reversed On Appeal More Often

This morning, NPR highlighted research that black judges are reversed on appeal more than white judges.

President Obama has tried to diversify the federal judiciary by appointing more black judges, and there are currently more black judges in the federal judiciary that at any other time in history. But data shows that black federal district court judges are overturned on appeal 10 percent more often than white judges.

In 2015, Harvard Political Science Professor, Maya Sen, analyzed how often black judges were appealed between years 2000 and 2012. During that time, black judges were overruled at significantly higher rates.

In real terms, this means that between 2000 and 2012, a black federal district judge will have statistically had around 20 extra rulings overturned than if they had been white. The average number of cases authored by black judges and reversed over that period is 196.

Being overturned generally means that higher courts are questioning the legal reasoning of an opinion.

So is this phenomena really a factor of race? Or just a different view of law? The researchers controlled for ideological differences, and they still found a gap by race.

The researchers went on to hypothesize that it may be implicit bias at work. Implicit bias refers to subtle forms of possibly unintentional prejudice affecting judgment and social behavior. In this case, implicit bias appears to be held against black federal judges, and carried by their mostly white colleagues at the federal appellate level.

Presidents have tried to diversify the judiciary to have a broader point of view, promote public confidence, create better and richer decision making, assure that different perspectives are included, establish role models, and contradict prejudices.

As it stands, the judicial system is still overwhelmingly and disproportionately white and male, and the diversity point is being overruled by the higher courts.


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