Studying the Role that Judges' Personal Backgrounds Might Have on Their Decision-Making

Spring 2011

Natalie Padilla is assisting Professor Adam Glynn in gathering data on federal judges' family biographies. Much has been written about the role of ideology in judicial  decision making, but less has been written about the way that a judge's own personal background might affect how he or she rules. Personal characteristics could, however, be hugely important.  For example, one might think female judges might be more empathetic to women plaintiffs in employment discrimination claims, or that black judges might vote differently on cases involving civil rights or affirmative action. This project explores these claims from a causal perspective by looking at two mechanisms: (1) the randomization of cases to judges on the U.S. Courts of Appeals, and (2) the natural experiment that happens when judges parent daughters as opposed to sons. In so doing, the project both explores the causal impact that characteristics such as ideology, race, gender, and parenting could have on judicial decision making and provides a flexible methodology for analyzing the impact of personal characteristics on law and legal precedent.