Analyzing Racial Bias Trends in the Text of US Legal Opinions, Rohan Jinturkar, UG '23, (3964430)
Racial bias remains pervasive in American society, and there are many instances of such discrimination in the legal system. However, it is unclear if such bias also exists in the text of judge opinions, and if it varies across time periods and regions. We approximate GloVe word embeddings for legal opinions at the federal and state level from 1860 to 2019. Based on a series of randomization tests, we find strong evidence of racial bias across nearly all regions and time periods, as traditionally Black names are more closely associated with negative/unpleasant terms whereas traditionally White names are more closely associated with positive/pleasant terms. We do not find evidence that older opinions exhibit more bias, or that opinions from Northeastern states show greater change in racial bias over time compared to Southern states. These results counter the principle of impartiality in legal contexts and demonstrate the need for further research into implicit racial bias.