Ascriptive Characteristics and Perceptions of Impropriety in the Rule of Law: Race, Gender, and Public Assessments of Whether Judges Can Be Impartial

Yoshikuni Ono, Michael A. Zilis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Perceptions of procedural fairness influence the legitimacy of the law and because procedures are mutable, reforming them can buttress support for the rule of law. Yet legal authorities have recently faced a distinct challenge: accusations of impropriety based on their ascriptive characteristics (e.g., gender, ethnicity). We study the effect of these traits in the context of the U.S. legal system, focusing on the conditions under which citizens perceive female and minority judges as exhibiting impropriety and how this compares with perceptions of their white and male counterparts. We find that Americans use a judge's race and gender to make inferences about which groups the judge favors, whether she is inherently biased, and whether she should recuse. Notably, we find drastically different evaluations of female and Hispanic judges among the political right and left.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-58
Number of pages16
JournalAmerican Journal of Political Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank Corey Barwick, Barry Burden, Charles Crabtree, Amanda Driscoll, Matthew Hall, Kjersten Nelson, Mark Peffley, Susanne Schorpp, Justin Wedeking, and participants in the 2018 Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association and the 2018 Conference on Empirical Legal Studies for their helpful comments, and Yuya Endo for research assistance. For financial support, Yoshikuni Ono thanks the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (Grants‐in‐Aid for Scientific Research: 16H03564, 17K03523, 18H00813, 19H01449, 19H00584, and 20H00059) and the Frontier Research Institute for Interdisciplinary Sciences at Tohoku University. This study is part of the project “Research on Political Behavior and Decision Making: Searching for Evidence‐based Solutions to Political Challenges in the Economy and Industry” at the Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry (RIETI).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors. American Journal of Political Science published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of Midwest Political Science Association

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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