By Andreas Kuersten
The personification of justice is a blindfolded woman holding a scale and a sword. She cannot see an individual’s wealth, social stature, education, or other personal attributes. Rather, in cases before her, she objectively weighs competing sums of evidence and, in line with how the scale tips, rightfully dispenses judgment.
This woman, however, is merely a representation of justice, not its actual incarnation. A torrent of studies over the years have exposed Lady Justice to be peeking out from under her blindfold, as ostensibly irrelevant qualities tip her scales one way or the other. Some of the most damning examinations have revealed the consistent impact of an individual’s race in regards to their experience with the American justice system, and the outcomes it dispenses. Black individuals, in particular, experience a different dispensing of justice than white counterparts. For example, on average, a black male has an increased likelihood that he will be incarcerated, and that he will face a longer prison sentence than a white male convicted of a similar crime.
Yet, examinations of the interaction of race and the law have tended to focus on when minorities are subject to legal process, not their treatment when administering it. In a recent study, however, Professor Maya Sen of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University turns attention towards how black judges’ rulings are treated when appealed. Sen engages this issue by looking at the rate at which the decisions of black federal district court judges are reversed by the federal appellate courts reviewing them, as compared to the reversal rate for their white colleagues.
Picture: Roland Zumbuehl [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D