Race and Gender Matter — Is This Surprising?

The ABA Journal reports (here) that “Race & Gender of Judges Make Enormous Difference in Rulings, Studies Find.”  Is this surprising to anyone?

The academic studies that inspired the ABA Journal article (and a panel discussion at the ABA Midyear Meeting) are Pat K. Chew and Robert E. Kelley, Myth of the Color-Blind Judge: An Empirical Analysis of Racial Harassment Cases, 86 Wash U. L. Rev. 11178 (2009) and a 2005 student note, Jennifer L. Peresie, Female Judges Matter: Gender and Collegial Decisionmaking in the Federal Appellate Courts, 114 Yale L.J. 1759 (2005).

The ABA Journal summaries the Chew & Kelley study this way:

[Chew and Kelley] found that plaintiffs lost just 54 percent of the time when the judge handling the case was an African-American. Yet plaintiffs lost 81 percent of the time when the judge was Hispanic, 79 percent when the judge was white, and 67 percent of the time when the judge was Asian American …. [The study] examined a random assortment of 40 percent of all reported racial harassment cases from six federal circuits between 1981 and 2003.

The ABA describes Ms. Peresie’s work this way:

[The author] looked at 556 federal appellate cases involving allegations of sexual harassment or sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The finding: plaintiffs were at least twice as likely to win if a female judge was on the appellate panel.

I’m less surprised by the results of either study than I am by the reporting of the results as news.  But then again, the “wise Latina” comment never struck me as particularly activist, either.

-Bridget Crawford

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