Working paper

Covering: Mutable Characteristics and Perceptions of (Masculine) Voice in the U.S. Supreme Court

Daniel L. Chen, Yosh Halberstam, and Alan Yu

Abstract

The emphasis on “fit” as a hiring criterion has raised the spectrum of a new form of subtle discrimination (Yoshino 1998; Bertrand and Duflo 2016). Under complete markets, correlations between employee characteristics and outcomes persist only if there exists animus for the marginal employer (Becker 1957), but who is the marginal employer for mutable characteristics? Using data on 1,901 U.S. Supreme Court oral arguments between 1998 and 2012, we document that voice-based snap judgments based on lawyers’ identical introductory sentences, “Mr. Chief Justice, (and) may it please the Court?”, predict court outcomes. The connection between vocal characteristics and court outcomes is specific only to perceptions of masculinity and not other characteristics, even when judgment is based on less than three seconds of exposure to a lawyer’s speech sample. Consistent with employers irrationally favoring lawyers with masculine voices, perceived masculinity is negatively correlated with winning and the negative correlation is larger in more masculine-sounding industries. The first lawyer to speak is the main driver. Among these petitioners, males below median in masculinity are 7 percentage points more likely to win in the Supreme Court. Justices appointed by Democrats, but not Republicans, vote for lessmasculine men. Female lawyers are also coached to be more masculine and women’s perceived femininity predict court outcomes. Republicans, more than Democrats, vote for more feminine-sounding females. A de-biasing strategy is tested and shown to reduce evaluators’ tendency to perceive masculine voices as more likely to win. Perceived masculinity explains 3-10% additional variance compared to the current best prediction model of Supreme Court votes.

Keywords

Identity; Phonology; Judicial Decision-Making;

JEL codes

  • J15: Economics of Minorities, Races, Indigenous Peoples, and Immigrants • Non-labor Discrimination
  • J78: Public Policy
  • K41: Litigation Process

See also

Published in

IAST working paper, n. 16-38, July 2016, revised August 2016