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Keren Weinshall, Hebrew University Courts and Diversity: Normative Justifications and their Empirical Implications

The study distinguishes between three normative approaches that view diversity in the judiciary as a desirable ideal, outlines their expected empirical implications on judicial decision-making, and tests them against data from the Israeli Supreme Court. The “reflecting” approach suggests that diversifying the courts is important mainly as a means of strengthening the public’s confidence in them and does not impact judicial decisions. The “representing” approach asserts that judges serve as representatives of their social sectors. Thus, they tend to rule in favor of their group’s interest only in cases that are relevant to their in-group. The “social background theory” is based on the premise that people of different backgrounds develop distinct worldviews. Hence, we can expect social attributes to influence judicial decisions across a wide range of socio-legal issues. The empirical investigation centers on the role of gender and religiosity in judging on five carefully selected socio-legal issues: petitions against the Great Rabbinical Court’s rulings, constitutional disputes in all legal procedures, social welfare cases, and criminal appeals in sex offenses and in drug offenses. Results lend support to the social background theory with regard to gender and are consistent with the representing approach in respect to religiosity. We further discuss the limitations and policy implications of the findings.

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