Latino Judges on the Federal District Court: ¿Cómo Deciden?

Published date01 May 2020
Date01 May 2020
Subject MatterArticles
American Politics Research
2020, Vol. 48(3) 343 –354
© The Author(s) 2019
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1532673X19867052
Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump
rallied his political base by promising to build a wall and
restrict immigration. He drew only mild criticism from
Republicans, except for comments he made about the presid-
ing judge in the class action lawsuit against his university.
Trump drew condemnation for denigrating the decisions of
Judge Gonzalo Curiel, by saying, in part,
Let me just tell you, I’ve had horrible rulings, I’ve been treated
very unfairly by this judge. Now, this judge is of Mexican
heritage. (Wolf, 2018)
President Trump’s comments about Judge Curiel were not
the only break from established norms in that his adminis-
tration has reversed a bipartisan trend of increasing diversity
on the federal judiciary; in fact, Trump’s nominations at this
point are the least racially and ethnically diverse since the
Ford administration.1 Trump’s tenure has seen a decrease of
Latinos in the judiciary.
Although it is impossible to empirically assess the impact
of Trump’s judicial appointments now, we provide among
the first large N empirical studies analyzing the different vot-
ing tendencies of Latino judges compared with non-Latinos
using data from 1985 to 2012. Due to the lack of available
data on Latino judges, scant empirical research has been con-
ducted on how Latino identity affects the judiciary (Haire &
Moyer, 2015; Harris & Sen, 2019; Morin, 2014). We empiri-
cally examine the extent to which the behavior of Latino
judges differs from other judges on the district courts using a
large data set of case outcomes.
We consider the following research questions: Do Latino
judges decide differently than their non-Latino counterparts?
If so, how? Are Latino judges more or less conservative, and
in what policy areas? These questions are timely given the
growth of the Latino population as well as perceptions that
such identities might have important ramifications on case
We find strong evidence that Latino judges decide more
conservatively than their co-partisans of other races. Trump’s
political goal of a more conservative judiciary may be under-
mined by his selection of primarily White2 Republican
judges; meanwhile, the lack of diversity has brought nega-
tive attention from the media (Corriher, 2018; Kapur &
Litvan, 2018). We begin by analyzing Latino representation
in the federal judiciary and then discuss different concepts of
judicial decision-making. We conclude by discussing the
importance of our findings considering the growing rele-
vance of the federal courts in American politics.
Background: Latinos on the Federal
District Court
The number of Latino3 federal judges has increased since
1961 when President Kennedy appointed Reynaldo Garza as
867052APRXXX10.1177/1532673X19867052American Politics Research.Hofer and Casellas
1St. Francis College, Brooklyn, NY, USA
2University of Houston, Houston, TX, USA
Corresponding Author:
Scott Hofer, St. Francis College, 180 Remsen St. Brooklyn, New York
11201, USA.
Latino Judges on the Federal District
Court: ¿Cómo Deciden?
Scott Hofer1 and Jason Casellas2
As the Latino population in the United States grows, it is increasingly important to understand how the unique experience of
Latino judges translates into legal decisions. This experience has included, until recently, a bipartisan prioritization to appoint
Latinos to the federal judiciary. For the first time, we analyze the judicial decision-making of Latino judges with enough
observations to provide robust results. We find that the differences in priorities between the two parties have typically
meant more conservative Latino judges on the bench. Using the Carp-Manning U.S. District Court Case Database, we
analyze the decisions of Latino judges to determine policy areas where they diverge from their non-Latino counterparts. We
find strong evidence that, under certain partisan, ideological, and policy-specific conditions, Latino judges decide differently
than non-Latino judges.
race, ethnicity, judicial politics, Latino, representation

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