Descriptive Representation and Judicial Outcomes in Multi-Ethnic Societies

Grossman, G, Gazal-Ayal O, Pimentel S, Weinstein J.  2016.  Descriptive Representation and Judicial Outcomes in Multi-Ethnic Societies. American Journal of Political Science. 60(1):44-69.


The extent to which judicial outcomes depend on judges' identities is a central question in multiethnic societies. Past work on the impact of the racial composition of appellate courts has narrowly focused on civil rights cases in the USA. We expand this literature by testing for ethnicity-based panel effects in criminal appeals in Israel. Using randomness in the assignment of cases to panels, we find that appeal outcomes for Jewish (majority) defendants are independent of panels' ethnic composition. By contrast, panel composition is highly consequential for Arab (minority) defendants, who receive more lenient punishments when their case is heard by a panel that includes at least one Arab judge, compared to all-Jewish panels. The magnitude of these effects is sizable: 5-10% reduction in incarceration rate and 10-15% reduction in prison-term sentencing. These findings contribute to recent debates regarding the relationship between descriptive and substantive representation in judicial bodies.

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