Political and Sex Bias in Judicial Decisions: A Natural Experiment

Joan-Josep Vallbé (UB)

14th of February, 13:00h, Sala Anexa de la Facultat de Ciències Polítiques i Sociologia de la UAB.
The aim of this paper is to provide an explanation of the variation in lower trial court judicial decisions over gender-related and unrelated cases, under a civil-law system. Despite the typical anonymity of lower-court judges in such legal systems, we are able to exploit a natural experiment in Spain that allows us to estimate the effect of judges’ policy preferences and sex on decisions regarding the protection of victims of domestic violence (gender-related) and preremoval detention of non-citizens (gender-unrelated). To do so, we combine the attitudinal and strategic models of judicial behavior, arguing that the effect of policy preferences on such decisions is moderated by sex only in gender-related cases. We find, first, that the probability to approve a restraining order to a victim is significantly higher among female judges than male judges, while this is not the case in preremoval detention cases. Secondly, in gender-related cases policy preferences affect only male judges. These findings are a relevant contribution to the understanding of the mechanisms behind judicial inequality under civil-law systems, where judges’ policy preferences tend to be unobservable by institutional design.