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April 13, 2014

"Vacancy in Justice: Analyzing the Impact of Overburdened Judges on Sentencing Decisions"

The title of this post is the title of this intriguing empirical paper I just noticed on SSRN. Authored by Jason Best and Lydia Brashear Tiede, here is the abstract:

Vacancies are one of the greatest challenges facing the federal judiciary and they persist due to the politics of the confirmation process.  Despite concerns as to the adverse consequences of judicial vacancies, research about their effects has remained elusive due to the difficulties of specifying the causal mechanism between vacancies and judicial decision-making.

Using an innovative instrumental variables approach to analyze the effect of vacancies on federal district court judges’ criminal sentencing decisions, we show that judges who are overburdened due to vacancies use shortcuts which affect the severity of punishment. Further, how the vacancy was created has differential effects on case outcomes.  Vacancies created by district judges’ assumption of senior status have minimal effects on punishment, while vacancies created by all other methods result in harsher penalties.  The results suggest that policymakers should prioritize filling vacancies based on the manner in which they are created.

April 13, 2014 at 10:55 PM | Permalink

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