Pernicious Bias and Judicial Illegitimacy: Do Americans Perceive Diverse Judges as Inherently Biased?

Author Name ONO Yoshikuni (Faculty Fellow, RIETI) / Michael A. ZILIS (University of Kentucky)
Creation Date/NO. April 2020 20-E-028
Research Project Research on Political Behavior and Decision Making: Searching for evidence-based solutions to political challenges in the economy and industry
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Perceptions of procedural fairness play an integral role in the legitimacy of the legal system. We explore whether bias against women and minority judges undermines their perceived fairness of their rulings in court. Our exploration follows recent work on bias, but we offer a theoretical contribution by targeting its pernicious nature. Because women and minorities constitute a substantial portion of the bench, we do not expect most citizens to perceive them as entirely unfit to serve as judges. Rather, we argue that bias manifests in a subtle way – in the belief that diverse judges cannot fairly adjudicate controversies that involve their ingroup. To test our theory, we use a list experiment specifically developed to minimize social desirability effects. Our results highlight the pernicious nature of bias, providing some of the first insights into how stereotyping influences perceptions of the U.S. legal system, and suggest serious negative implications for the rule of law.

Published: Ono, Yoshikuni, and Michael A. Zilis, 2023. "Do Americans perceive diverse judges as inherently biased?" Politics, Groups, and Identities, Volume 11, Issue 2 (2023), 335-344.