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Political Correlates of the Behavior of Federal District Judges - A 'Best Case' Analysis

NCJ Number
Journal of Politics Volume: 40 Issue: 1 Dated: (February 1978) Pages: 25-58
H M Kritzer
Date Published
34 pages
This study focused on the role played by political factors in the exercise of judicial discretion using on analysis of Federal judicial decisions in selected cases.
It is hypothesized that political factors may play a large role in the exercise of judicial discretion, but that the cues provided by political factors are highly ambiguous. The research began by identifying a large body of cases for which the political cues are relatively unambiguous; selected cases showed a priori links between the issues raised by the cases and political variables that are independent of the judicial system. A total of 534 cases in which draft resisters were sentenced by Federal district judges during the Vietnam War were analyzed. Analysis focused on five sets of variables: three dealing with the political environment, one dealing with individual judges, and one dealing with case-specific variables, many of which considered major factors in sentencing. Case information included name, location of sentencing, date of sentencing, specific violation, sentence, and judge. Information on the sentencing judges was obtained from such sources as State 'blue books' and personal inquiries. Three different indicators of the dependent variable, sentence, were used in the standardized regression analysis; these included the decision on imprisonment, sentence length, and jail term. Among the local political cultural variables, the innovation index was the best predictor of sentences, Judges in more progressive States gave out more lenient sentences. The longer the tenure of the judge, the more lenient the sentence. Those who awaited trial in jail tended to receive longer sentences. Findings indicated that, in general, environmental variables were the most important correlates of the actions of Federal judges in draft resistance cases. This finding supports the hypothesized significant role of political factors in judicial decisionmaking. Tables and footnotes are included.


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