New Study Finds Republican-Appointed Judges Sentence Black Defendants More Harshly

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Paula Rogo May, 29, 2018

A new study has found that judges appointed by Republican presidents hand down longer sentences to Black defendants than judges appointed by Democrat presidents.

The study, conducted by Harvard Law School professors Alma Cohen and Crystal S. Yang, analyzed data related to over half a million defendants. 

The data also showed that judges appointed by Republican presidents gave shorter sentences to women, The New York Times reports. 
 
“Republican-appointed judges sentence black defendants to three more months than similar nonblacks and female defendants to two fewer months than similar males compared to Democratic-appointed judges,” the study found, adding, “These differences cannot be explained by other judge characteristics and grow substantially larger when judges are granted more discretion.”

The study also found that Black defendants are sentenced 4.8 months more than those of other races, confirming the long-established belief that there is a racial gap when it comes to prison sentencing. These gaps become especially pronounced with Republican-appointed judges when it comes to drug sentencing. 

“The precise reasons why these disparities by political affiliation exist remain unknown and we caution that our results cannot speak to whether the sentences imposed by Republican- or Democratic-appointed judges are warranted or ‘right,’” the authors wrote. “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.” 

The findings of the study are especially disconcerting considering the fact that President Trump has been successfully stacking the federal bench with conservative appointees. According to the Times,  some estimate the share of Republican appointees on the federal district courts could rise to 50 percent in 2020, from 34 percent in early 2017.

A Los Angeles Times data analysis found Trump is ranked No. 6 of 19 presidents appointing the highest number of federal judges in their first year.

“It’s one area where the administration has really been successful, so understanding what’s happening is important,” said University of Georgia law professor Susan Brodie Haire.

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