Race and the Politics of Criminal Cases on State Supreme Courts
Annual Meeting of the Southern Political Science Association, New Orleans, LA, January 4-6, 2007
32 Pages Posted: 18 Sep 2007 Last revised: 5 Feb 2009
In this paper we answer one of the longstanding questions in judicial politics: do nonwhite judges behave differently than white judges? It has long been presumed that white judges differ from their minority counterparts in terms of sentencing, deliberation, and propensity to overturn decisions. However, to date, evidence on whether there are systematic differences in behavior between these two groups of judges has been largely elusive. Here, we utilize the newly created judge-level State Supreme Court Database to assess whether judicial decisionmaking is affected by race. Looking at all criminal cases decided by all state supreme court judges from 1995-1998, we find little evidence of differences between white and nonwhite judges. In fact, specifying our model a variety of ways, the race of the judge does not appear to matter at all in terms of the likelihood that a judge will vote to overturn a criminal conviction or a sentence. This indicates that even though descriptive representation has intrinsic merits, it does not translate into substantive representation.
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