Racial Diversity and Judicial Influence on Appellate Courts


  • I thank the following people for helpful comments and suggestions: Deborah Beim, Christina Boyd, Charles Cameron, Tom Clark, Jeronimo Cortina, Paul Frymer, Jeffrey Lax, Jee-Kwang Park, Maya Sen, and Christopher Wlezien, along with seminar participants at Columbia University. I also thank Herschel Nachlis for excellent research assistance and the Mamdouha S. Bobst Center for Peace and Justice at Princeton University for research support. Earlier versions were presented at the 2011 meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association and the 2011 Conference on Empirical Legal Studies. Replication materials can be found on the Dataverse Network at http://hdl.handle.net/1902.1/17948.

Jonathan P. Kastellec is Assistant Professor, Department of Politics, 39 Corwin Hall, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544 (jkastell@princeton.edu).


This article evaluates the substantive consequences of judicial diversity on the U.S. Courts of Appeals. Due to the small percentage of racial minorities on the federal bench, the key question in evaluating these consequences is not whether minority judges vote differently from nonminority judges, but whether their presence on appellate courts influences their colleagues and affects case outcomes. Using matching methods, I show that black judges are significantly more likely than nonblack judges to support affirmative action programs. This individual-level difference translates into a substantial causal effect of adding a black judge to an otherwise all-nonblack panel. Randomly assigning a black counterjudge—a black judge sitting with two nonblack judges—to a three-judge panel of the Courts of Appeals nearly ensures that the panel will vote in favor of an affirmative action program. These results have important implications for assessing the relationship between diversity and representation on federal courts.