Lawyers more likely to Lean Liberal; Judges more likely to Lean Conservative

Saturday, February 14, 2015
(photo illustration: Steve Straehley, AllGov)

In the legal world, the difference between liberals and conservatives is often a matter of profession.


A new study (pdf) shows on average, lawyers in the U.S. tend to lean to the left. Public defenders, law professors and women attorneys tend to be the most liberal, according to Stanford University’s Adam Bonica and Harvard’s Maya Sen.


But among judges, the ideological bent swings to the right, and the higher the court is, the more conservative the judges, on average. Bonica and Sen found the most conservative courts were the federal appellate courts, state high courts, federal trial courts and state trial courts.


The researchers offered some reasons why the benches tend to be populated with conservatives. Beginning in the early 1980s, the Federalist Society—a right-wing legal organization—started setting up on the campuses of American law schools. That effort, Joanna Penn wrote at the Journalist’s Resource, “may be paying off: Graduates of elite law schools who went on to become judges are far more likely to be conservative than their peers.”


The concentration of conservatives higher on the judicial ladder could be because Republicans have prioritized the appointment of conservatives to those posts to further their political aims, according to the study.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

The Politics of Selecting the Bench from the Bar: The Legal Profession and Partisan Incentives to Politicize the Judiciary (by Adam Bonica and Maya Sen) (pdf)

Politicized Courts and the Partisan Leanings of U.S. Judges and Attorneys: Data Analysis of the 50 States (by Joanna Penn, Journalist’s Resource)


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