Race, Context and Judging on the Courts of Appeals: Race-Based Panel Effects in Death Penalty Cases
38 Pages Posted: 17 Apr 2015 Last revised: 27 Jul 2016
Date Written: July 26, 2016
I examine how the identities of judges on multimember courts interact with case context to influence judicial decision making. Specifically, I leverage variation in panel composition and defendant race to examine race-based panel effects in death penalty cases on the Courts of Appeals. Using a dataset that accounts for several characteristics of a defendant and his crime, I find that the random assignment of a black judge to an otherwise all-nonblack panel substantially increases the probability that the panel will grant relief to a defendant on death row -- but only in cases where the defendant is black. The size of the increase is substantially large: conditional on the defendant being black, a three-judge panel with a single African-American judge is about 25 percentage points more likely to grant relief than an all-nonblack panel. These results have important implications for assessing the role of diversity on the federal courts and contribute to the empirical literature on the application of the death penalty in the United States.
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