Republican-Appointed Judges Treat Black Defendants More Harshly for Some Reason


Here’s a shocker: a new study has found that, on average, federal judges appointed by Republican presidents impose tougher sentences on black defendants than federal judges who were appointed under Democratic presidents. It also found that Democrats impose tougher sentences on women.

The study, which was written by Harvard Law professors Alma Cohen and Crystal S. Yang, observed the sentencing practices of 1,423 federal judges between 1999 and 2015, using data on over a half a million federal defendants in that time period.

“Republican-appointed judges sentence black defendants to three more months than similar nonblacks and female defendants to two fewer months than similar males compared with Democratic-appointed judges,” wrote the study’s authors. “These differences cannot be explained by other judge characteristics and grow substantially larger when judges are granted more discretion.”

The study is being hailed for helping to put hard data behind discrimination in sentencing. “It’s an extraordinarily important contribution to our statistical understanding of sentencing decision making in federal courts over the last two decades,” sentencing law expert Douglas Berman told the New York Times.

Overall, the study found that Republican-appointed judges sentence defendants to 2.4 months longer in jail than Democratic-appointed judges. They also found that racial and gender gaps in sentencing are “larger among less experienced judges,” as well as in places where there’s a history of higher racial bias, primarily in the South.

While the study’s authors stress that they don’t know exactly why the disparities exist—though I have an idea—the effects are obvious. “Our results, however, do suggest that Republican- and Democratic-appointed judges treat defendants differently on the basis of their race and gender given that we observe robust disparities despite the random assignment of cases to judges within the same court,” they wrote.

The result? Republican presidents make the criminal justice system more racially discriminatory. “Our estimates suggest that a 10 percentage point increase in the share of Republican-appointed judges in each court would increase the racial sentencing gap by approximately 5 percent and the gender sentencing gap by roughly 2 percent,” Yang and Cohen wrote, adding that a Republican president could alter the makeup of the courts by as much as 15 points. The Times added that 50 percent of judges could be appointed by Republicans by 2020, a 16-point jump from when Donald Trump entered office.

The authors also say that Trump, in particular, is potentially making all of this worse by not submitting his judicial picks to the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee for evaluation before he nominates them; he and George W. Bush are the only presidents since Dwight Eisenhower not to do so. Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, also steadfastly opposes sentencing reforms that might, you know, fix this problem.

Just one more reason why Donald Trump and the Republican Party are an absolute disaster for civil rights.

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