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Are Judicial Performance Evaluations Fair to Women and Minorities? A Cautionary Tale from Clark County, Nevada


  • Rebecca D. Gill,

  • Sylvia R. Lazos,

  • Mallory M. Waters

  • For helpful comments on previous versions of this article, the authors wish to thank Chris W. Bonneau, Eric Waltenburg, Udi Sommer, and Malia Reddick. Please address correspondence to Rebecca Gill, University of Nevada Las Vegas, Department of Political Science, 4505 S. Maryland Pkwy., Box 455029, Las Vegas, NV 89148-5029; e-mail


Because voters rely on judicial performance evaluations when casting their ballots, policymakers should work diligently to compile valid, reliable, and unbiased information about our sitting judges. Although some claim that judicial performance evaluations are fair, the systematic research needed to establish such a proposition has not been done. By the use of attorney judicial performance survey data from Clark County, Nevada, this analysis shows that objective measures of judicial performance cannot explain away differences in scores based on race and sex. Minority judges and female judges score consistently and significantly lower than do their white and male counterparts, all other things being equal. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that judicial performance evaluation surveys may carry with them unexamined and unconscious gender/race biases. Future research must compare judicial performance evaluation structure, content, and execution across states in order to identify those evaluation mechanisms least susceptible to unconscious gender and race bias.