How Judicial Identity Changes the Text of Legal Rulings

34 Pages Posted: 21 Jun 2015

See all articles by Michael Gill

Michael Gill

Harvard University

Andrew Hall

Stanford University

Date Written: June 19, 2015


In the common-law tradition, word-usage in legal documents matters because of the principle of stare decisis, the doctrine that requires judges to read and interpret previous rulings relevant to the case at hand. Yet we understand very little of how legal authorities actually write legal texts. We analyze 22,773 cases from the United States Courts of Appeals, and we show how judicial identity affects the text of the written case rulings. We demonstrate that the random assignment of a female judge or of a non-white judge to U.S. Appellate Court panels causes systematic changes in the frequencies with which specific, legally-important words appear in the final ruling, along with the rates at which constitutional amendments and landmark Supreme Court cases are cited. Panels present different arguments — and thus leave a different legacy for future jurists to interpret — depending on the identity of the judges chosen by lot to preside over the case at hand.

Suggested Citation

Gill, Michael and Hall, Andrew, How Judicial Identity Changes the Text of Legal Rulings (June 19, 2015). Available at SSRN: or

Michael Gill

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Andrew Hall (Contact Author)

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

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