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‘More Objective Than They Get Credit For’: State Judges Are Far Less Biased Than Law School Students, New Study Says

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The judges, lawyers and law students were instructed to assess legal problems designed to gauge their political bias

Jacob Gershman reports: You often hear from liberals and conservatives that judges are too political, that, instead of calling balls and strikes, they allow their own ideological, political or religious views to steer legal opinions.

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A new study says judges, at least ones sitting on state benches,  are more objective than they get credit for. The report, forthcoming in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review, says judges by and large are able to exercise professional judgement and reach consensus on disputes that polarize the general public.

“The experimental results furnished evidence strongly at odds with the conclusion that judges are influenced by political predispositions when they engage in legal reasoning.”

The study, which took more than two years to conduct, included about 1,500 subjects: 253 judges, 225 lawyers, 250 law students (from five schools including Harvard and Yale), and 800 adults members of the general public.

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“Judges of diverse cultural outlooks—ones polarized on their views of the risks of marijuana legalization, climate change, and other contested issues—converged on results in cases that strongly divided comparably diverse members of the public.”

The judges, lawyers and law students were instructed to assess legal problems designed to gauge their political bias.my_cousin_vinny_1992_450x250_466716

One sample scenario involved a police officer accused of violating a disclosure law that makes it a crime for a government official to intentionally leak confidential investigatory information about a private citizen.

There were two versions of that scenario — “prochoice” and “prolife” — and subjects were randomly presented one of them.

In the first, the officer supplied information to a ‘family planning’ abortion facility about a job applicant who secretly belonged to an anti-abortion group. In the “prolife” version, the officer leaked information to an anti-abortion family planning center about a job applicant who secretly belonged to a prochoice group.

“The experimental results furnished evidence strongly at odds with the conclusion that judges are influenced by political predispositions when they engage in legal reasoning,” the study said….(read more)

Law Blog – WSJ

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