The Impact of Racial Representation on Judicial Legitimacy: White Reactions to Latinos on the Bench

AuthorSusan Achury,Jason P. Casellas,Scott J. Hofer,Matthew Ward
Published date01 March 2023
Date01 March 2023
Subject MatterArticles
Political Research Quarterly
2023, Vol. 76(1) 158172
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/10659129211066875
The Impact of Racial Representation on
Judicial Legitimacy: White Reactions to
Latinos on the Bench
Susan Achury
, Jason P. Casellas
, Scott J. Hofer
, and Matthew Ward
Despite evidence that racial diversif‌ication has increased support for the judiciary, political scientists know little about the
heterogeneous effects of diversif‌ication across different population segments. Previous research illustrates that including
Black judges increases judicial legitimacy among the Black population, but it decreases the legitimacy of the courts among
the White population. We expand on this knowledge by examining the impact of adding Latinos to the bench. Our survey
experiment compares White respondentsperception of the courts based on differing levels of Latino representation in
the ruling panel. Does descriptive representation in the racialized issue area of immigration signal fairness and legitimacy
to White respondents? Or does the inclusion of Latino jurists in immigration cases trigger racial animosity and decreasing
support for the courts? We f‌ind that when the court rules against the White respondents preference, they tend to
penalize all-White judicial panels that rule against the perceived interest of Latinos. Add itionally, we f‌ind that when
presented with a Latino majority panel, White respondents who disagree with the ruling are more likely to punish the
anti-Latino decisions as their levels of group consciousness increase. Ultimately, our f‌indings illustrate how judicial
diversity may affect the countermajoritarian capacity of the judiciary.
judicial legitimacy, race, representation, experiment, Latino
Public support for American institutions, including the
judiciary, have been trending downward for decades and
this slide notably increased under the Trump Adminis-
tration (Hetherington 2005;Kromphardt & Salamone
2021). For example, when a judge ruled against him in
a class-action lawsuit, Trump denigrated the judge and
trial as biased citing the judges Mexican heritage (Wolf
2018). To his mostly White supporters, such statements
potentially reduce levels of conf‌idence in the judiciary as
objective and apolitical, which might have consequences
for support for the judiciary (Kromphardt & Salamone
2021). These eroding levels of conf‌idence, combined with
the inclusion of racial diversity on the bench may shape
perceptions of judicial legitimacy among White respon-
dents in unique ways compared to racial minorities.
President Biden has been able to successfully appoint
more federal judges during his f‌irst 6 months in off‌ice than
any other president since Richard Nixon, and increasing
the courts diversity has been an important priority, ac-
cording to an analysis by Axios (Swan et al. 2021). Still,
questions surrounding White reaction to a more diverse
judiciary remain understudied.
Judicial scholars have long noted differences in per-
ceptions of procedural legitimacy based on the extent to
which racial and ethnic minorities are on the bench, (e.g.,
descriptive representation), and the extent to which de-
cisions reached by the court align with the interests of
citizens (e.g., substantive representation). However, there
is a dearth of research on Latino descriptive representation
on the bench and its impact on perceptions of legitimacy
among Whites. We examine the impact of adding Latinos
to the bench on White perceptions of the fairness of
decision-making procedures, procedural legitimacy.
Specif‌ically, we focus on how respondents view the court
when they disagree with the outcome at varying levels of
Lycoming College, Williamsport, PA, USA
University of Houston, Houston, TX, USA
St Francis College, Brooklyn, NY, USA
University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Lafayette, LA, USA
Corresponding Author:
Scott Hofer, St Francis College, 180Remsen St, Rm 7007, Brooklyn, NY
11201, USA.

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