Bench Memos

This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—March 26

1997—After two decades of school-desegregation litigation in Jenkins v. Missouri, federal district judge Russell G. Clark issues his final order in the case. Clark’s desegregation plan for the Kansas City, Missouri, School District has been (according to the description embraced by Chief Justice Rehnquist) the “most ambitious and expensive remedial program in the history of school desegregation.” As this report summarizes it, Clark has ordered the state of Missouri and the school district to spend nearly two billion dollars for “higher teachers’ salaries, 15 new schools, and such amenities as an Olympic-sized swimming pool with an underwater viewing room, television and animation studios, a robotics lab, a 25-acre wildlife sanctuary, a zoo, a model United Nations with simultaneous translation capability, and field trips to Mexico and Senegal.”

The results, however, have proven dismal: “Test scores did not rise; the black-white gap did not diminish; and there was less, not greater, integration.”

2009—In an academic paper titled “Bias and the Bar: Evaluating the ABA Ratings of Federal Judicial Nominees,” political scientists Richard L. Vining, Jr., Amy Steigerwalt, and Susan Navarro Smelcer present their statistical findings that “suggest the presence of some systematic bias towards Democratic nominees in the ABA’s ratings.” Among their findings: “In sum, when we isolate the effect of ideology, we find that, all else being equal, liberal nominees are more likely to receive the highest possible rating than their conservative counterparts.”

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