Lawyers Systematically Rate Black Judges Less Favorably, Study Finds


A long-running judicial assessment system in which Massachusetts lawyers anonymously rate the judges they argue before has exposed systemic bias against black judges, according to a new psychological analysis of the ratings.

The assessment by two psychologists found that lower ratings of black judges over the course of ten years were the product of racial bias, the Boston Globe reports. Those who scored poorly in this evaluation were directed to undergo extra mentoring or to take courses, suggesting they were in need of particular guidance that other non-black colleagues could provide.

The researchers also convened several focus groups of lawyers and judges to gauge their attitudes, concluding, “The general theme that emerged was the idea that persons of color do not match the expectations of what a judge should look like, and therefore confront more doubt, mistrust, and interpersonal tensions than do non-minority judges.”

Superior Court Judge Shannon Frison, president of the Massachusetts Black Judges Association, said the findings in many ways just validated what she and her fellow African American colleagues already knew anecdotally.

“No one is surprised,” she said. “People are just . . . mad.”

“We are minority judges, so I’m dealing with the way people feel about me every day, whether it’s written or unwritten, stated or unstated,” Frison told the Boston Globe. “This is a pretty big black eye on the bench in Massachusetts.”

The study adds to previous findings that subjective evaluations of judicial candidates may disadvantage minority nominees. Last year, an analysis of American Bar Association ratings that weigh heavily in selecting federal judicial nominees found that the ABA gave consistently lower ratings to anyone who wasn’t a white male — likely on account of bias.

Despite the Massachusetts findings, Chief Justice Paula Carey said the court plans to continue using the questionnaire, albeit with revised questions. She said the court will monitor for continued bias.