Thursday, February 3, 2022
Study Shows that Women and Non-White Judges are Substantially More Likely to Rule in Favor of Plaintiff Reaching Discovery
Stephen Burbank & Sean Farhang, Politics, Identity, and Pleadings Decisions on the U.S. Courts of Appeals, U Penn. L. Rev. (forthcoming
We report the results of an empirical study of appeals from rulings on motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) after the Supreme Court’s decisions in Twombly and Iqbal. ***
In our random sample of cases, we find that panels with women and non-white judges are substantially more likely to rule in favor of a plaintiff reaching discovery in other civil rights claims, an important and cross-cutting civil rights category amounting to a quarter of 12(b)(6) appeals in our data, but that race and gender are insignificant outside that substantive area. Party is insignificant across the board in the random sample.
The results are different when the panel is making law. In precedential cases, we find that Democratic panels were significantly more likely to decide in favor of plaintiffs in non-civil rights claims. We also find that panels with one woman were more likely to decide precedential other civil rights claims in favor of plaintiffs, and that panels with two women (but not one) were more likely to do so in non-civil rights claims.
Our results for gender contradict conventional wisdom in the literature that women judges’ preferences differ from men’s only in cases implicating discrimination. They add to evidence suggesting the possibility that procedural law affecting access to justice may itself be a policy domain in which women have different (more pro-access) preferences that extend beyond discrimination claims. Gender, alone among the judge characteristics we study, is significant in both random sample and precedential-only models, and in both civil rights and non-civil rights models, revealing a distinctive propensity among women on the Courts of Appeal to support plaintiffs’ access to discovery.
Finally, significant variation in our results across the random sample and precedential cases highlights the risk of error in drawing general inferences from either significant or null results in precedential cases—general inferences that are widespread in the literature on the Courts of Appeals.