Political Science ETDs


Jason Morin

Publication Date



The increase in the number of racial and ethnic minority judges in the federal courtroom has led several scholars to examine the merits of descriptive representation. Advocates of descriptive representation argue that it is important, not only because it can translate into positive attitudes towards government, but also because it can lead to more substantive policy outcomes that can benefit under-represented groups in society. Research focusing on the latter of the two merits of descriptive representation, however, has a tendency to treat racial and ethnic minority judges as monolithic groups. It contends that racial and ethnic minority judges, based on their experiences with discrimination, will be more likely than their white colleagues to vote in favor of the claimant across policy issues considered salient to other racial and ethnic minorities. It also argues that these same differences in individual voting behavior will give racial and ethnic minority judges a distinct advantage, as they can crystallize issues of race, enhance perceptions of policy specialization, and threaten panel unanimity to influence panel outcomes. This research is far from conclusive, however. While research focusing on the behavior of African American judges demonstrates mixed results with regards to both individual voting behavior and panel outcomes (Scherer, 2004-2005; Boyd et al., 2010), others find that Latino judges tend to be more conservative than their white colleagues (Manning, 2004). This dissertation attempts to reconcile some of these mixed results and unexpected findings by providing one of the first comprehensive examinations of African American and Latino judicial behavior in the U.S. Courts of Appeals. More specifically, it extends the above arguments by focusing on those conditions that can mediate the individual voting behavior of African American and Latino judges and their ability to influence panel outcomes, which includes both panel rulings and majority opinion writing. While the presence of salient policy issues, such as discrimination cases, provides one condition for understanding African American and Latino judicial behavior, this dissertation contends that claimant effects' or the presence of co-racial and co-ethnic claimants can enhance perceptions of commonality that motivate African American and Latino judges to vote in favor of the claimant as well as influence panel outcomes. By controlling for these judge-claimant relationships, it is possible to not only test whether previous results are due to the exclusion of 'claimant effects,' but also examine whether theory is applicable to both African American and Latino judges across the same set of data. To test my argument, this dissertation focuses exclusively on Title VII employment discrimination cases based on race and ethnicity between 2001 and 2009. The data is unique in that it records both the race and ethnicity of the judge and the claimant. The results from this dissertation show that African American and Latino judges are not monolithic in their individual voting behavior. Although African American judges are more likely than non-Black judges to vote in favor of other co-racial claimants, Latino judges are less likely than non-Latino judges to rule in favor of Latino and non-Latino claimants alike. The results also show that African American and Latino judges are not marginalized in the courtroom, as they can influence both individual voting behavior and panel outcomes. While the presence of an African American judge on a panel increases the probability that a panel will rule in favor of a Black claimant, the presence of a Latino judge has the opposite effect by decreasing the likelihood that both Latino and non-Latino claimants will win their appeal. Finally, the results demonstrate that African American and Latino judges are more likely than their white colleagues to write the majority opinion across Title VII employment discrimination cases. Interestingly, though, the likelihood of writing the majority opinion is not conditioned by the formal role of the presiding position. Overall, the results from this dissertation have important implications for the relationship between descriptive representation and substantive outcomes. In the U.S. Courts of Appeals, it has been well documented that Title VII employment discrimination claims are difficult to win on appeal. Minority judges, at least African American judges, can help alleviate some of this difficulty by bringing a different voice to the bench. Different from Latino judges, African American judges can influence their panel colleagues and, at the very minimum, moderate the policy preferences of their panel colleagues. By having more opportunities to write the majority opinion, moreover, African American judges can also set the policy agenda as well as change, strike down, or even create new legal guidelines that may lead to more winnable claims in the future. This dissertation also provides an added dimension to the study of descriptive representation by focusing on the more direct effects that African American and Latino judges can have on the claimants who wish to appeal or defend their case in the intermediary courts. By coming to the bench with a different perspective, African American judges can level the playing field by being directly responsive to other Blacks claimants. This is especially important given that Blacks are over-represented in Title VII employment discrimination claims. Finally, this dissertation concludes by arguing that diversity in the courtroom is a normative good. Even though Latino and African American judges come to the bench with different voices, efforts to make the bench look more like the United States' diverse population remains important for achieving greater inclusion in the political system.

Degree Name

Political Science

Level of Degree


Department Name

Political Science

First Committee Member (Chair)

Sierra, Christine

Second Committee Member

Rocca, Michael

Third Committee Member

Diascro, Jennifer

Fourth Committee Member

Velez, Maria




Judicial process -- United States, Hispanic American judges -- Attitudes, African American judges -- Attitudes, Appellate courts -- United States

Document Type