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Judges with daughters

Supreme courtjudgeIt’s been widely assumed though not necessarily documented that life experiences shape a judge’s world views.

And indeed that notion makes perfect sense. If you’ve walked the walk of a person on unemployment, or a person who’s endured on the job discrimination, you’ve learned a little about that experience.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg thought as much when she attributed former Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s shift on women’s issues to his dealings with a daughter struggling as a newly-divorced mother with a demanding job.

But now political scientists have proof.

In a report released last week, Maya Sen from the University of Rochester and Adam Glynn from Harvard concluded — after reviewing 2,500 votes by 224 federal appeals court judges — that having at least one daughter increased the likelihood that a judge would vote in a feminist direction on gender-related issues.

Here’s their conclusion as stated in the report abstract:

Using new data on the family lives of U.S. Courts of Appeals judges, we find that, conditional on the number of children a judge has, judges with daughters consistently vote in a more feminist fashion on gender issues than judges who have only sons. This result survives a number of robustness tests and appears to be driven primarily by Republican judges. More broadly, this result demonstrates that personal experiences influence how judges make decisions, and it is the first paper to show that empathy may indeed be a component in how judges decide cases.

Professor Sen called the result of the study “startling.”

“Here, we’ve found evidence that there is a third factor [in addition to law and ideology] that matters: personal experiences,” she told the New York Times. “Things like having daughters can actually fundamentally change how people view the world, and this, in turn, affects how they decide cases.”

And that revelation may just extend across issues.

“Having daughters,” she said, “is just one kind of personal experience, but there could be other things — for example, serving in the military, adopting a child or seeing a law clerk come out as gay. All of these things could affect a justice’s worldview.”

 

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