Empathy

A recent study conducted by Maya Sen, a political scientist at the University of Rochester, and Adam Glynn, a government professor at Harvard, shows that judges who have at least one female child may be more likely to rule in favor of women in certain types of cases. The report “Identifying Judicial Empathy: Does Having Daughters Cause Judges to Rule for Women’s Issues?” finds that having at least one daughter corresponds to a 7 percent increase in the proportion of cases in which a judge will vote in a feminist direction. The study further finds that having one daughter as opposed to one son is linked to a 16 percent increase in the proportion of “gender-related cases decided in a feminist direction.” The study found the “daughter effect” was more dramatic in judges appointed by Republican presidents than in those appointed by Democrats.

Sen told the New York Times in a recent interview, “By having at least one daughter, judges learn what it’s like to be a woman, perhaps a young woman, who might have to deal with issues like equity in terms of pay, university admissions or taking care of children.” Sen and Glynn consider other causal explanations for their findings, but conclude that learning is the mechanism at play. For example, they rule out the possibility that parents of daughters feel compelled to rule in ways that would protect their female children Sen and Glynn saw an effect only in gender-related civil cases, not a conservative shift among gender-related criminal cases like sexual assault.

The problem with the study is not that the data are wrong. The problem is that too often those who use data like these mean to either exempt the judgments from moral consequence altogether or to praise particular judicial motivations that they happen to like. In the first instance, they justify legal realism with data, omitting any reflection on whether the observed effects can or should be minimized. They gloss over too the overwhelming number of cases that are decided by mundane, less-subjective methods. In the second variation, they celebrate the phenomenon as “empathy” with some results, while condemning it as “bias” in others . . . .

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Judge Susan Graber

All of us as judges have had life experiences that could be said to affect our perception of the cases that come before us. Some of us have served as prosecutors and others have not; some have experienced discrimination as women or minorities and others have not; some are intensely religious and others are not, and our religions vary…. These life experiences do not disqualify us from serving as judges on cases in which the issues or the facts are in some indirect way related to our personal experiences.

– Judges Marsha S. Berzon and Richard Tallman, in an elegantly written Ninth Circuit order explaining why Judge Susan P. Graber does not need to recuse herself from a capital murder case because her father was murdered 40 years ago.

Did you watch Lost? I was a big fan of the show, which ran on ABC from 2004 to 2010. The series required quite a commitment from its viewers, since it had a large ensemble cast and was a true serial — you really couldn’t miss any episodes. After the third season, the producers made the unusual announcement that the series would definitely conclude at the end of the sixth season. Since so many elements of the show remained a mystery until the very end, it became a guessing game as to whether the writers would be able to tie everything together into a satisfying ending.

Toward the end of the final season, the show revealed a location that we’d never seen before that was crucial to explaining the Island’s secrets. (I’m not giving anything away here if you haven’t seen it.) But the location, a glowing cave, was rendered with cheesy special effects that looked like they’d been borrowed from the original 1960s “Star Trek” series. The bad effects were so jarring that they took the viewer out of the story, causing you to say, “What’s with the cheeseball special effects?”

What the heck does this have to do with improving your legal writing? Find out after the jump.…

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