Race and Gender Bias in Three Administrative Contexts: Impact on Work Assignments in State Supreme Courts

Source: Robert K. Christensen, John Szmer and Justin M. Stritch, Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, Vol. 22, No. 4, October 2012
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From the abstract:
Do certain types of administrative processes better inhibit race and gender prejudices that may surface in the public workplace? We compare the effects of three distinct administrative settings on race, gender, and other biases in the workload assignments of state supreme court justices–important public policy making settings that have been understudied in public administration. In particular, we model the extent to which majority opinion-writing assignment processes exhibit prejudice in states that use randomized assignments, rotated assignments, or fully discretionary assignments, respectively. Our findings confirm that administrative process matters. We use theories of status characteristics and administrative oversight to explain the relationship between administrative context and workload assignment patterns. Based on data from all 50 states, we discover that prejudice exists but that certain administrative processes serve better than others to suppress race and gender biases.

Our study explores whether certain types of administrative processes in the public workplace can inhibit managers from acting on personal race- and gender-based prejudices. Public administrators routinely face competing value priorities, and these can include personal biases and self-interests. Scholars and practitioners therefore have an abiding interest in public servants’ discretion and factors that influence the exercise thereof.

Research on street-level bureaucrats suggests that public administrators exercise discretion in a variety of ways.1 Public servants make choices that are other-serving, often assuming the role of citizen advocates, even if it means acting beyond the rules. Extending representative bureaucracy theory, researchers also demonstrate that public servants can use discretion to actively improve services and outcomes for citizens …

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