We find field evidence for what experimental studies have documented regarding the contexts and characteristics that make individuals more susceptible to priming. Just before U.S. Presidential elections, judges on the U.S. Courts of Appeals double the rate at which they dissent and vote along partisan lines. Increases are accentuated for judges with less experience and in ideologically polarized environments. During periods of national reconciliation—wartime, for example—judges suppress dissents, again, especially by judges with less experience and in ideologically polarized environments. We show the dissent rate increases gradually from 6% to nearly 12% in the quarter before an election and returns immediately to 6% after the election. That highly experienced professionals making common law precedent can be politically primed raises questions about the perceived impartiality of the judiciary. We cannot rule out the possibility that judges—who profess to be unbiased—are intentionally biased, which also raises the question of intentional bias of professionals who claim to be unbiased.
Carlos Berdejo, and Daniel L. Chen, “Electoral Cycles Among U.S. Courts of Appeals Judges”, IAST working paper, n. 16-53, 2016.
The Journal of Law and Economics, vol. 60, n. 3, August 2017, pp. 479–496