Federal judges appointed by Republicans give tougher sentences on street crime, while Democratic appointees take a stricter view of white-collar offenses, says a new study reported by the Chicago Tribune. In a study of 365,000 sentences between 1992 and 2001, the Republican appointees appeared to give about 10 percent more prison time for violent crimes, drug offenses, and theft. Democrat-appointed judges appeared to view white-collar crimes as more serious, though was unclear whether that translated into longer prison terms. The study by Northwestern School of Law professors Emerson Tiller and Max Schanzenbach will be published in the Journal of Law, Economics & Organization in 2007.
“The political orientation of the judge matters with respect to street crimes,” Tiller and Schanzenbach wrote. “Sentence lengths for street crimes are between 7 and 9 months lower for Democrat-appointed judges.” Democrat-appointed judges tend to assign white-collar criminals higher “offense levels”–scores that reflect the seriousness of the crime. “Schanzenbach and I found that judges can manipulate their interpretation of facts during sentencing hearings,” Tiller said. The study is one of the first to examine party affiliation in federal trial courts. Party affiliation for judges is a “hot area of academic research,” but most studies focus on appeals courts, said Kate Stith said, a Yale Law School professor.