A recent study by Assistant Professor of Political Science Maya Sen suggests that minorities and women are consistently given lower ratings by the American Bar Association (ABA) than their white male counterparts.


The inspiration for this study resulted from current events occurring during judicial vetting processes.


“I read with great interest several articles and stories coming out in the media reporting liberals’ frustration that Obama’s candidates to the federal courts were not making it through confirmation,” said Sen. “When I investigated further, I discovered that many of these judicial candidates who were being withdrawn due to low ratings were women and minorities.”


This observation led Sen to wonder if the pattern was significant.


Her results showed that even when taking into account similar education, work experience, preparatory work, and other markers of prestige, minorities and women were still rated lower.


Sen said there could be confounding variables that may  have played a role in the results of the study.


“One possible explanation for these findings might be that there are characteristics that differ between whites/males and minorities/females that aren’t captured by quantitative data,” Sen said.


According to Sen, another explanation could be that ABA rates candidates subjectively, using words like “temperament” or “integrity.”


“In general, moving toward more objective criteria and increased transparency would help social scientists like myself understand why the ratings awarded to women and minority candidates are lower,” Sen said.


Nominees for any position in the federal judicial system must  first go through a vetting process by Congress. Because of this, many politicians rely on the ABA rating to judge nominees they hardly know. This has implications for court decisions where minorities or women are rated lower.


“Other scholarship has shown that women and minority judges tend to vote differently in certain areas of law –— for example, women judges vote in a more progressive direction on sex discrimination issues, and African American judges on race discrimination issues,” Sen said. “Having fewer of these judges on the bench could potentially affect how these sorts of cases are decided.”


Johnson is a member of the class of 2016.


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