Assessing judicial outcomes and judicial decisionmaking not surprisingly endure as attractive topics for researchers. Indeed, the experimental literature is festooned with judicial "vignettes" that experimentally isolate critical variables. Of course, to really learn about judicial decisionmaking the "gold standard" sample remains actual judges (though, even when submitting real judges to experiments external validity concerns persist). On this front (and in this sub-field), my Cornell colleague, Jeff Rachlinski, remains a leading scholar. In a recent paper, Judging the Judiciary by the Numbers: Empirical Research on Judges, Rachlinski (Cornell) & Andrew Wistrich (CA Central Dist. Ct.) report results, consistent with past their efforts, that document how, just like most humans, judges succumb to various "mental shortcuts" that can lead them to mistakes. The paper's abstract follows.
“Do judges make decisions that are truly impartial? A wide range of experimental and field studies reveal that several extra-legal factors influence judicial decision making. Demographic characteristics of judges and litigants affect judges’ decisions. Judges also rely heavily on intuitive reasoning in deciding cases, making them vulnerable to the use of mental shortcuts that can lead to mistakes. Furthermore, judges sometimes rely on facts outside the record and rule more favorably towards litigants who are more sympathetic or with whom they share demographic characteristics. On the whole, judges are excellent decision makers, and sometimes resist common errors of judgment that influence ordinary adults. The weight of the evidence, however, suggests that judges are vulnerable to systematic deviations from the ideal of judicial impartiality.”