Judging the Judges 2013

A Preliminary Analysis


by Rebecca D. Gill


Several stories have been written in the last month about the 2013 Las Vegas Review-Journal Judging the Judges survey. The overall results can be found here, and a short summaries have been written by Carri Geer Thevenot and Jane Ann Morrison. My own piece calls attention to the gender gap in these survey scores, which continues a troubling pattern with Judicial Performance Evaluations across the country.

Below, I provide a supplement to my piece in the LVRJ. Table 1 provides some summary information about the results of the survey. While much of the information is derived from the Judging the Judges survey results, I have supplemented these data with additional publicly-available information about the judges.


Table 1


Table 1
Descriptive Statistics for 2013 Judging the Judges Survey


This table presents a breakdown of the judges by a number of different criteria. For each subgrouping, I’ve provided the average “retention score” for the group. This retention score is simply the percentage of attorneys who recommend retention of the judge. The table shows that the vast majority–76%–of our county’s judges are white. However, there is near gender parity on the bench; 53% of judges are male, and 47% are female. The last column, however, shows the gender gap in retention scores. This gap is statistically significant (t=2.77, df=86, p>.003).

I’ve included a number of other measures here, too. The presence of a gender gap is not enough to implicate gender bias in the surveys. Instead, we need to hold constant whatever additional measures related to judicial quality we can obtain. I’ve done this in a multivariate model, the results of which are found in Table 2.


Table 2


Table 2
OLS Regression predicting retention scores in 2013 Judging the Judges survey

Table 2 shows that the gender gap remains even after we control for the judge’s experience, the prestige of her law school education, and other variables related to judicial quality. This is in keeping with my previous research, as Professor Sylvia Lazos detailed here. In 2014, Clark County’s female judges scored about points lower than did their similarly-situated male counterparts. This finding is robust to a number of different model specifications, and has held consistently in Judging the Judges surveys since at least 1998.

I’ve also added the 2013 data to the information from the past. The results of this analysis can be found in Table 3.


Table 3
Table 3
OLS Regression with Panel Corrected Standard Errors predicting retention scores from Judging the Judges surveys 1998-2014


Here, we can see that the gender gap across this time period is about 11 points. Newspaper scandals bring scores down significantly, but the remainder of the predictor variables are insignificant predictors of retention scores. This model also highlights a race gap, which is more difficult to capture statistically due to the limited number of non-white judges on the bench in Clark County.

The Women of Harvard Law Review

This article from the Chronicle of Higher Education talks about the striking gender imbalance on this year’s Harvard Law Review editorial board. The author, Carl Straumsheim, puts it like this:

The number of women editors this year fell to its lowest point in about two decades — even as the Harvard Law School itself nears gender parity. Of the law review’s 44 editors, only 9 are women. Women make up 48 percent of the class of 2015.

Apparently, the school is planning to address this by allowing for the consideration of gender in the selection of the 12 members chosen by a discretionary committee. But what is interesting to me (and unexplored in the article) is how the remaining editors are chosen:

Of the remaining 34 positions on the board, 20 are filled based on the results from the law school’s first-year writing test, and 14 on a combination of their grades and writing test results.

It is interesting to me how the women seem to be systematically unable to match the performance of their male counterparts on these measures. It must be at least partly the case that women are not achieving the top scores on the legal writing test–but why?