(WASHINGTON POST) For a nation as diverse as the United States, the judiciary is quite male and white. In theory, this shouldn’t matter. Judges are supposed to be impartial — as boring as “umpires,” in the famous words of Chief Justice John Roberts.
In practice, of course, it’s much messier. People can’t help but see the world through the lens of their own experiences. A recent report by two sociologists showed that white federal judges are about four times more likely to dismiss race discrimination cases outright. Another analysis found that they are half as likely as black federal judges to rule in favor of people alleging racial harassment in the workplace.
“Since African American judges have likely experienced discrimination themselves, they can recognize more complex and subtle forms of racial harassment,” the authors argue.
But in criminal cases, the evidence has been blurrier. Just because black judges might understand more about the black experience doesn’t mean that they’re more sympathetic toward black criminals. In fact, a surprising new study shows that judges in Louisiana — white or black — actually give longer sentences to juvenile offenders of their own race.