Statewide Judicial Decision-Making Study Results Announced

The Illinois Supreme Court announced yesterday findings from a judicial decision-making study undertaken by the Supreme Court Committee on Equality. The results found that implicit biases are present and impact outcomes depending on the race, gender, poverty, and legal representation status of hypothetical parties. Factors such as adverse working conditions were also found to have a potential affect on a judge's ability to deliver consistent, unbiased decisions. 

The statewide study, completed by the majority of Illinois judges, was developed and analyzed by the American Bar Foundation with researchers Dr. Andrea Miller and Dr. Robert Nelson. Designed to analyze the approaches to judicial decision-making and the considerations that influence outcomes of those decisions, an online questionnaire involving hypothetical court cases assessing judicial decision-making in different areas of law was first distributed in November 2016 with data collection from all circuit courts concluding in April 2017. In all, 619 of the 901 circuit court judges in Illinois completed the survey.

“The results of the study demonstrate that judges are just like everyone else in that we are susceptible to influences which unconsciously affect our decisions. The [Illinois] Supreme Court is to be applauded for its courage in undertaking this endeavor. There is no shame in admitting that we are all affected by implicit bias to some degree," said Hon. Joseph McGraw, Chair of the Equality Committee. "Correspondingly, we all bear responsibility for engaging in constructive steps to improve our deliberative decision-making and thereby reduce the effects of implicit bias.”

Enlightened with these findings, the Committee on Equality will solicit feedback on the results and will work with the Administrative Office, the Conference of Chief Circuit Judges, the Illinois Judicial College, the Illinois Supreme Court Illinois Judicial Conference Committee on Strategic Planning, and the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice to coordinate ongoing judicial education around the state to help judges incorporate anti-bias ideas and procedures into judicial decision-making.

"Now that we have a better sense of which forms of judicial decision-making are most vulnerable, we can move forward," said to Dr. Miller, who is now at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "The most important phase of this initiative will be the next step: working together to identify implicit biases that potentially affect case outcomes."

While studies show that implicit biases cannot be completely eradicated, implicit biases may be mitigated by promoting self-awareness, understanding the nature of bias and offering trainings and facilitated discussions (especially from socially dissimilar groups) to promote bias literacy.

The full press release is available on the Illinois Supreme Court website. 

Posted on November 7, 2017 by Sara Anderson
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