Judicial politics and sentencing decisions

Alma Cohen, Crystal S. Yang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper investigates whether judge political affiliation contributes to racial and gender disparities in sentencing using data on over 500,000 federal defendants linked to sentencing judge. Exploiting random case assignment, we find that Republican-appointed judges sentence black defendants to 3.0 more months than similar nonblacks and female defendants to 2.0 fewer months than similar males compared to Democratic-appointed judges, 65 percent of the baseline racial sentence gap and 17 percent of the baseline gender sentence gap, respectively. These differences cannot be explained by other judge characteristics and grow substantially larger when judges are granted more discretion.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)160-191
Number of pages32
JournalAmerican Economic Journal: Economic Policy
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2019


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