Does the Judge Matter? Exploiting Random Assignment on a Court of Last Resort to Assess Judge and Case Selection Effects
Cornell University, Law School (deceased)
Tel Aviv University - Buchmann Faculty of Law; Harvard Law School; Harvard University - Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics
Tel Aviv University - Buchmann Faculty of Law
November 30, 2011
Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, 2012
Cornell Legal Studies Research Paper No. 11-33
We study 1410 criminal law cases appealed to the Israel Supreme Court in 2006 and 2007 to assess influences on case outcomes. A methodological innovation is accounting for factors — case specialization, seniority, and workload — that modify random case assignment. To the extent one accounts for nonrandom assignment, one can infer that case outcome differences are judge effects. Individual justices cast 3986 votes and differed by as much as 15 percent in the probability of casting a vote favoring defendants. Female justices were about two to three percent more likely than male justices to vote for defendants but this effect is sensitive to including one justice. Defendant gender was associated with outcome, with female defendants about 17 percent more likely than male defendants to receive a favorable vote on appeal. Our data’s full samples of mandatory and discretionary jurisdiction cases allow us to show that studies limited to discretionary jurisdiction case outcomes can distort perceptions of judges’ preferences. Justices’ ordinal rank in rate of voting for defendants or the State was uncorrelated across mandatory and discretionary jurisdiction cases. For example, the justice who sat on the most criminal cases was the fourth (of 16 justices) most favorable to the State in mandatory jurisdiction cases but the twelfth most favorable in discretionary jurisdiction cases. This result casts doubt on studies of judges on discretionary jurisdiction courts, such as the U.S. Supreme Court, in which votes in the selection process are not observed.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 46
Keywords: Courts, Judges, Jurisdiction, Bias, Random assignment, Gender, Criminal law, Empirical
JEL Classification: C93, D7, K14, K4, K40, K41
Date posted: November 30, 2011
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