Jim Dey: Illinois Supreme Court's confession short on key details

Jim Dey: Illinois Supreme Court's confession short on key details

So the 901 trial judges in Illinois are nothing but a bunch of sniveling bigots, is that it?

No, it's not that bad.

OK, if they're not sniveling bigots, are they craven Neanderthals whose decisions are guided by base instincts?

No, it's not that either.

Well, then, what are they?

It's hard to say. The Illinois Supreme Court issued a curious press release this week that purported to announce "findings from a judicial decision-making study undertaken by the Supreme Court Committee on Equality."

But the high court failed to elaborate on the findings other than to acknowledge that trial judges have "implicit biases" — not overt biases — that affect the decisions they make and that they will undergo training to address what it suggested is a problem.

So what kind of biases do our judges have?

"The study itself is confidential," court spokesman Christopher Bonjean said.

Is there anything to discuss beyond the court's two-page, single-spaced statement?

"That's all I have to say on it," he said.

Is it possible to see the online questionnaire judges filled out that provides the basis for the conclusions the court announced?

"The information is pretty much all in the press release," Bonjean said.

In other words, the court has no more to say to no one, no how — other than issue some self-congratulatory quotes acknowledging the judiciary's desire to address some kind of "implicit bias" problem.

"This ground-breaking study provides critical insights into these issues. Recognizing that implicit biases influence everyday life decisions by the general population helps us to see our own," Chief Justice Lloyd Karmeier said.

The secret study is the product of the court's Committee on Equality. Designed by American Bar Association researchers, the study analyzes "various approaches to judicial decision-making and the considerations that influence outcomes of those decisions, including race, gender, poverty" in criminal and civil cases.

The court said that 619 circuit court judges completed the survey, which involved hypothetical court cases.

With the survey questions undisclosed, it's impossible to make judgments about them. But in that vein, the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin cited a 2012 study of implicit biases that "suggested white federal judges dismissed racial discrimination cases for summary judgment at a significantly higher clip than minority judges."

However, without examining the underlying legal issues on which the white and minority judges based their decisions, it's hard to draw any conclusion about whether the decisions were motivated by sound judgments on the law or something else. The best one could conclude is that white judges, to a small degree, are skeptical of discrimination claims while minority judges, to a small degree, embrace them.

The study also found that "factors such as adverse working conditions" have a "potential effect on judges' ability to deliver consistent, unbiased decisions."

The court said the next step in the process will include "ongoing judicial education around the state to help judges incorporate anti-bias ideas and procedures into judicial decision-making." In other words, they can look forward to a trip to re-education camp on the bias issues, just like the one they had on sexual harassment issues.

Everyone — judge or not — has their own perspective on the world and responds to different circumstances in different ways.

The Law Bulletin stated that the "impact of unseen or seemingly benign forces on decision-making is well-documented."

"Some studies have found parole decisions could be influenced by whether judges had recently eaten; others have found sentencing length could be anchored to unrelated numbers, such as rolls of the dice," it reported.

These assertions are all so vague they're difficult to assess. But the Illinois Supreme Court has confessed to a problem that it intends to diminish but won't discuss.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at jdey@news-gazette.com or by phone at 217-351-5369.

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rsp wrote on November 09, 2017 at 9:11 am

In a report put out last year by the EEOC, sexual harassment training doesn't work. There is no motivation for the individual, it's just legal cover for the company. So what is the motivation for the judges to learn and "expand" their minds? Do they even see themselves as having a problem?

What if while they were in law school they were required to take classes that exposed them to other cultures and other people? And for doctors and engineers too.