Study Shows That Republican-Appointed Judges Give Harsher Sentences to Black & Male Defendants
A new study by Alma Cohen and Crystal S. Yang of Harvard Law School, analyzing sentencing data on over 500,000 federal defendants, found that judges give longer sentences to black defendants than similar non-black defendants, and harsher sentences to males than similar female defendants. The data suggests that the disparity results from judicial ideology tied to political affiliation. Specifically, they found that Republican-appointed judges had a greater gender and race disparity in sentencing than Democratic-appointed judges.
Harvard: "We find that Republican-appointed judges give substantially longer prison sentences to black offenders versus observably similar non-black offenders compared to Democratic-appointed judges within the same district court. The racial gap by political affiliation is 3.0 months, approximately 65 percent of the baseline racial sentence gap. We also find that Republican-appointed judges give female defendants 2.0 months less in prison than similar male defendants compared to Democratic-appointed judges, 17 percent of the baseline gender sentence gap."
Cohen and Yang suggest that more research is needed to determine the underlying causes for the disparities they found, but they also offered some theories.
Harvard: "Overall, these results indicate that judicial ideology may be a source of the persistent and large racial and gender disparities in the criminal justice system. The precise reasons why these disparities by political affiliation exist remain unknown and we caution that our results cannot speak to whether the sentences imposed by Republican or Democratic-appointed judges are warranted or “right.” Our results, however, do suggest that Republican and Democratic-appointed judges treat defendants differently on the basis of their race and gender given that we observe robust disparities despite the random assignment of cases to judges within the same court. Our results also indicate that these disparities are not solely due to differences in the treatment of certain offense types by judge political affiliation as we find large racial and gender gaps even within specific crimes such as drug offenses. More speculatively, our results are consistent with some judges holding discriminatory attitudes given that we find larger disparities among judges who serve in courts from states with higher racial bias, which are disproportionately located in the South. For instance, some have suggested in the context of defendant gender, that judges may sentence females more leniently than males because of a perception that women are mere accessories to male partners, or that women are primary caregivers to children (see Goulette et al. 2015, Starr 2015).15 Our results suggest that a judge’s political ideology may affect how he or she views the dangerousness or blameworthiness of different defendants by race and gender."
By: Don Lam & Curated Content