Republican-Appointed Federal Judges Give Blacks Longer Sentences: New Harvard Study

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Written by Ann Brown

Studies have shown that Black defendants get harsher sentences than white, especially when it comes to drug offenses.

A new Harvard study dug deeper to reveal that when Black defendants are in front of Republican-appointed judges, the sentences are longer than what these judges doled out for whites who committed similar offenses.

On average, Republican-appointed federal judges delivered longer sentences to Black defendants. according to the Harvard study, titled “Judicial Politics and Sentencing Decisions,” conducted by Harvard law professors Alma Cohen and Crystal S. Yang.

“The authors found ‘robust disparities’ in how Republican and Democratic-appointed judges treat defendants on the basis of their race and gender ‘despite the random assignment of cases to judges within the same court.’ They also found large racial and gender gaps even within specific crimes including drug offenses,” Diversity Inc. reported.

Republican-appointed judges sentence Black defendants to three more months than similar non-Blacks and female defendants to two fewer months than similar males compared with Democratic-appointed judges, Cohen and Yang wrote in their study.

And the situation under Trump seems even worse. “President Donald Trump is quickly confirming judges —90 percent of whom are white — and some of whom may even support segregation,” Diversity Inc. reported.

On average, the study found that Republican-appointed judges sentence Black defendants to three more months than similar non-Blacks.

The racial-sentencing gap is even more pronounced when judges are appointed for life, particularly among federal district court judges who ‘serve as the final arbiter of more than 99 percent of all federal court litigation, Cohen and Yang wrote.

“These differences cannot be explained by other judge characteristics and grow substantially larger when judges are granted more discretion,” the report stated.

When it comes to Republican-appointed Black judges, they are usually more lenient with Black defendants than their white colleagues. Leniency also depends on where the judges are located.

“More speculatively, our results are consistent with some judges holding discriminatory attitudes given that we find larger disparities among judges who serve in courts from states with higher racial bias, which are disproportionately located in the South,” the authors wrote.

The states with harsher penalties tend to have higher incarceration rates — this seems most pronounced in Southern states like Florida, Georgia, Texas, Mississippi, and Arkansas.

In the case of Louisiana, the Sugar State’s incarceration rate is so high that it’s known as’”the world’s prison capital,’” Bustle reported.

The Harvard study looked at 1,423 federal judges from 1999 to 2015 and studied data on more than 500,000 federal defendants.

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Image: Tom Kubik