"Diversity on the Bench: Is the 'Wise Latina' a Myth?"

By Andersen, Seth S. | Judicature, March/April 2010 | Go to article overview

"Diversity on the Bench: Is the 'Wise Latina' a Myth?"


Andersen, Seth S., Judicature


I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life.

- Thenjudge Sonia Sotomayor, Judge Mario G. Olmos Memorial Lecture, University of California, Berkeley, School of Law. 2001.

Judge Delissa Ridgway, Chair of the National Conference of Federal Trial Judges of the ABA Judicial Division, opened the ABA 2010 Midyear Meeting program, "Diversity on the Bench: Is the 'Wise Latina' a Myth?" by quoting then-Judge Sotomayor's much-repeated observation about the connection between diversity and judicial decision making. A record 60 ABA entities and affiliated organizations, including the American Judicature Society, co-sponsored the program.

Professor Pat K. Chew of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law discussed her article, "Myth of the Color-Blind Judge: An Empirical Analysis of Racial Harassment Cases" (Washington University Law Review, 2009), which found a strong link between judges' race/ethnicity and case outcomes. While plaintiffs were successful in 22 percent of all cases examined by Professor Chew, those cases presided over by African-American judges were decided in favor of plaintiffs 46 percent of the time. White judges found for plaintiffs in 21 percent of cases and Hispanic judges in 19 percent of cases.

Professor Chew noted that a judge's race/ethnicity was statistically significant even when the political party of the appointing president was taken into account. She observed that the personal experiences and socialization of judges can affect judicial decision making, and that increased diversity on the federal bench has brought a wider range of perspectives to bear on all case types.

Jennifer Pereste, author of "Female Judges Matter: Gender and Collegial Decisionmaking in the Federal Appellate Courts" ( Yale Law Journal, 2005), presented her research findings based on analysis of 556 sexual harassment and discrimination cases heard in U.S courts of appeal between 1999 and 2001. Pereste found that male judges were twice as likely to find for female plaintiffs in sexual harassment cases, and three times as likely in sexual discrimination cases, when a female judge was on the appellate panel. …

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