Gender & Politics Sway Federal Court Judgements?


It’s long been suspected that the politics and gender of the federal sentencing judge had a profound impact on the sentence imposed in a criminal case. Now, there is statistical data to support that supposition. In a provocative study that’s just been finished where data was mined from more than 600,000 federal sentencing judgments filed between 2000 and 2009, the following patterns were divined: (1) female judges sentenced defendants convicted of similar crimes to serve 1.7 fewer months than their male colleagues; (2) judges appointed by Democratic presidents were 2.2% more likely to exercise leniency than those appointed by Republicans; and (3) there is a substantial variation in the sentence that a defendant would receive depending on the district where the sentence was imposed—as much as 11 months.

These trends are the grist mill used by advocates for mandatory sentencing guidelines, like those in place between 1987 and 2005. The drumbeat in Congress to push for more “uniformity” and “standardization” in sentencing is beginning again and, at this point, it’s unclear who, if anyone, is listening.