Lawyers are more liberal than general population, study finds; what about judges?

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Law professors and lawyers are more liberal than the general population, while judges are more conservative than the average lawyer, according to a study of campaign contributions.

Study co-author Maya Sen, a Harvard government professor, says the findings suggest that courts are politicized, the New York Times reports. Judges’ ideology would reflect that of lawyers if voters and officials who appoint judges weren’t taking ideology into account, she says.

University of Chicago law professor Eric Posner suggests a different interpretation of the findings. The argument could be made, he tells the Times, that courts are politicized if they don’t track the ideology of the general population.

The study (PDF) by Sen and Stanford professor Adam Bonica compared lawyers listed in the 2012 Martindale-Hubbell legal directory with a database of campaign contributions from 1979 to 2012.

Forty-three percent of the 975,000 lawyers listed in the 2012 directory had made campaign contributions. Though conduct codes bar federal and some state judges by making campaign contributions, many were donors before taking the bench, including nearly 65 percent of federal appeals judges.

Among lawyers, the most liberal leaning are government lawyers, followed by law professors, public defenders, female lawyers, lawyers from the top 14 law schools, lawyers at large law firms, partners at firms and prosecutors, according to a chart of the findings in the New York Times. The least liberal leaning lawyers (though more liberal than judges) are lawyers not from the top 100 law schools, male lawyers, and lawyers from the top 15 to 100 law schools.

Among judges, the most conservative are on federal appeals courts followed by those on state higher courts, federal district courts and state trial courts.

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