Report: Ethnicity Influences Judiciary Decision Making

Article excerpt

Comprehensive study reveals judges' race affects outcomes in workplace racial harassment cases.

A recent examination of federal lawsuit decisions found that plaintiffs charging workplace racial harassment prevailed 45.8 percent of the time when the presiding judge was Black. The percentages decrease by more than half when those cases were heard by a White judge.

However, there were only 24 Black judges, compared with 350 White judges, to hear complaints from about 300 Black plaintiffs.

"African -American judges' (likely) experiences (with discrimination) give them valuable knowledge, perspectives and understandings of minority plaintiffs that many Whites lack," the study said. Black judges are better able to identify "subtle and nuanced forms of discrimination," according to "The Myth of the Color-Blind Judge: An Empirical Analysis of Racial Harassment Cases," which observers say bolsters arguments for a more diverse judiciary.

"All judges of all races should follow the legal principles and look at just the facts. What our research found is judges are doing that but they come out with different decision-making patterns based on race in these cases. This just didn't happen by chance," said Pat K. Chew, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh who conducted the analysis with Robert E. Kelley, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business.

Chew and Kelley randomly selected and analyzed more than 400 workplace harassment cases reported from six federal circuits from 1981 to 2003. The study also examined judges' political affiliation, plaintiffs' success rate in winning a case and types of cases, such as those involving racial slurs.

Dana Horst, director of development and marketing for Just The Beginning Foundation, which works to increase diversity in the judiciary, said this study is confirmation that the under-representation of minorities in the judiciary influences the application of the law.

"The interpretation of occasionally murky legal principles ... creates an argument for a diverse and representative judiciary. Although, as the paper notes, judges of all races are equally attentive to the merits of the case, it is the inclusion of unclear principles in many of these cases that call for personal interpretations informed by specific experience," Horst said.

The study places renewed significance on the diversity of President Barack Obama's judicial picks as he tries to fill 103 federal bench vacancies. …