Effects of Lawyers' Socio-Political Attitudes on Their Judgments of Social Science in Legal Decision Making
24 Pages Posted: 16 Jan 2014 Last revised: 29 May 2014
Date Written: February 1, 1999
One theory to explain why courts often ignore relevant social science research is that it often refutes judges' sociopolitical beliefs. Using the death penalty as the exemplar social issue, this study explored whether lawyers' sociopolitical attitudes affect their judgments about the legal relevance of social science research introduced in court cases. Law students and state court judges completed a questionnaire that presented vignette summaries of two U. S. Supreme Court death penalty cases along with descriptions of the social science evidence contained in the Court opinions, with the evidence manipulated in this study to either support or not support the death penalty. After reading each vignette, participants rated the legal relevance, admissibility, and dispositive weight of the social science evidence. They then were asked about their own attitudes about the death penalty, science and social science background, attitude about social science, and political attitudes. In the case where the social science evidence was used to make new law generally, there was a bias effect: participants rated the evidence higher when it matched their own beliefs as compared to when it did not match their beliefs. Participants' level of science background neither moderated nor mediated the bias effects. There was no relationship between political views and evidentiary ratings or attitude about the use of social science in law. However, there was a relationship between evidentiary ratings and attitudes about the use of social science in law, as well as between evidentiary ratings and attitudes about judicial interpretation. Implications of the results for the use of social science in law are discussed.
Keywords: social science, evidence, admissibility, relevance, sociopolitical, bias, lawyers, judges, judicial decision making, death penalty, judicial education
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