Judges with daughters tend to vote liberally on women’s issues, study finds

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Judges with daughters tend to vote favoring women’s rights than those with only sons, according to a new study reported by the New York Times.

In addition, among male judges — particularly those appointed by Republican presidents, such as U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Rehnquist — the effect is more prominent.

“Our basic finding is quite startling,” said University of Rochester political scientist Maya Sen, who conducted the research along with Harvard government professor Adam Glynn.

Conventional wisdom about the manner judges decides cases often centers on two specific factors: law and ideology.

Sen said she found evidence of a third factor: personal experiences.

“Things like having daughters,” she told Times reporter Adam Liptak, “can actually fundamentally change how people view the world.”

“This, in turn, affects how they decide cases.”

The study examined 224 federal appeals court judges and nearly 2,500 votes, concluding that having “at least one daughter” can have a 7 percent increase in the ratio of cases where a judge votes in a “feminist direction.”

The number of daughters does not have any bearing, but comparing judges with an only child, having a daughter amplifies the result.

“Having one daughter as opposed to one son is linked to an even higher 16 percent increase in the proportion of gender-related cases decided in a feminist direction,” the study points out.

Authors of the study examined the same judges’ votes by randomly choosing 3,000 cases. They found no correlation between having daughters and voting liberally in general. Daughters make the difference in civil cases with only “a gendered dimension.”

Liptak writes that Researchers also found the “daughter effect” in other political areas. One study found members of Congress with daughters tend to cast liberal votes, predominantly on abortion rights. Another study of British parents with daughters discovered they were more likely to vote for left-wing parties; those with sons are more likely to vote right wing.

The new study considered several explanations. Perhaps judges sought to shield daughters from harm. However, the voting trends were only in civil cases, such as suits involving employment discrimination claims, not criminal ones of rape and sexual assault.

Perhaps daughters are more liberal overall, and better at lobbying parents to vote liberally, but judicial voting trends were only limited to civil cases where gender played a role.

One possibility, albeit weakly stated, was the possibility judges acted in an economic self-interest, avoiding the possibility of unemployed daughters, for example.

A likely explanation, Sen said, was one offered by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in celebrating a 2003 SCOTUS opinion by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, where he suddenly denounced “stereotypes about women’s domestic roles.”

“By having at least one daughter,” Sen said, “judges learn about what it’s like to be a woman, perhaps a young woman, who might have to deal with issues like equity in terms of pay, university admissions or taking care of children.”

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.