Heading into the Storm

Implicit association tests (IATs) suggest a bias in America favoring Whites over people of color

With the Election next Tuesday, America is about to see how well the “glue” holds. Can our courts and police forces provide a sense of justice being impartially served? Or will we descend into bleak partisan chaos if the voting is close?

My concerns focus on the political divide between Democrats and Republicans with regard to the Supreme Court. A majority of the current Supreme Court Justices were appointed by presidents George W. Bush, Jr. and Donald Trump, who both lost the popular vote. Chief Justice John Roberts, Brett Kavanagh and Amy Coney Barrett were all part of the legal team that aided Bush in the fight to count or not count votes in Florida. The Supreme Court eventually ruled in Bush’s favor and the Florida recount ceased, giving the Presidential victory to Bush.

Recently the Washington Post reported that white nationalists were attempting to infiltrate law enforcement . Since wide-spread racial bias seems to exist across our society, aided by stereotypes, what are the odds these extremists could find fertile soil, at times, in trying to recruit allies that give them elbowroom? 

Let’s hope for the best. But if legal maneuvering delivers an Electoral College victory to Trump, despite Joe Biden winning the popular vote, protests could erupt that will make the Black Lives Matter marches seem tame by comparison. Then how will the police respond?  Will fears of racial strife, lost lives and looting make the perversion of democracy seem like the lesser “evil”? Over the next days and weeks leading up to Inauguration Day in January, we’re about to find out.

How to Promote Peace in the Streets

Released today: episode #26 of “Dan Hill’s EQ Spotlight,” featuring Thomas Abt, the author of Bleeding Out: The Devastating Consequences of Urban Violence – and a Bold New Plan for Peace in the StreetsListen to the clip below and click on the image to get to the new episode.

Abt is widely considered to be America’s foremost expert on the use of evidence-informed approaches to reduce urban violence. He is a Senior Fellow with the Council on Criminal Justice in Washington, DC. Prior to the Council, he held posts at Harvard University and in the U.S. Department of Justice.  Other media outlets that have covered Abt’s work include the Atlantic, the Economist, Foreign Affairs, the New Yorker, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, CNN, MSNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio.

In this episode, the topics range from the human and economic costs of violence, to how a focus on a limited number of bad people, bad places and bad behaviors can improve situations that may otherwise look hopeless. The interview’s final question raises the specter of whether police bias in favor of gun-toting white vigilantes could ever become a serious issue or not.

Dan Hill, PhD, is the president of Sensory Logic, Inc.

How Might Kavanaugh Change the Supreme Court?

Besides death and taxes, the other surety since the Robert Bork nomination fight is that Supreme Court nominees are unlikely to reveal very much in answering U.S. Senators’ questions during the confirmation process. Insisting that they can’t comment on matters they might have to rule on has become the stock reply. So besides their life stories, their allies, and the various prior cases they’ve ruled on, how else can judicial candidates be evaluated for their likely voting records?

One intriguing possibility is to look at judges’ emotional tendencies. After all, a study by Sam Gosling at the University of Texas concluded that liberals tend to be more emotionally positive and extroverted than more negative and detached conservatives. In my facial coding of various high-court justices, past, present, and perhaps future (Brett Kavanaugh), what emerged?

The chart takes into account two measures: appeal (how positive or negative the justices’ emoting is based on taking into account the “flavor” of smiles, scowls and other negative emoting) and the intensity or strength of their emoting. Somebody given to joyful smiles will emerge as more positive and intense than somebody mostly prone to tepid smiles; and somebody whose scowls aren’t softened by instances of mildly amused smiles will emerge as more negative and intense.

071018-02 Supreme Court Cartesian

What do the facial coding results show? In general, Gosling’s theory has merit but isn’t a slam dunk. For the Supreme Court as constituted before Anthony Kennedy’s retirement, The New York Times reported the following share of votes that were liberal:

  • Ruth Ginsburg (84%)
  • Elena Kagan (83%)
  • Stephen Breyer (81%)
  • Sonia Sotomayor (81%)
  • John Roberts (49%)
  • Anthony Kennedy (46%)
  • Neil Gorsuch (44%)
  • Clarence Thomas (22%)
  • Samuel Alito (16%)

Of the four, current Supreme Court justices with a positive appeal result, their liberal voting records mostly match up well: Sotomayor (81%), Kagan (83%), Roberts (49%) and Ginsberg (84%). In other words, three out of four times, Gosling’s theory seems to have some merit—even if Ginsberg is barely upbeat. Meanwhile, the inverse is true for the conservatives: in three of four cases, those justices land in negative appeal territory. Only Breyer (81%) has a liberal voting record to go along with a slightly negative emotional tilt. Add to the track record the conservative-turned-often-moderate Sandra O’Connor (positive emoting) and the rock-ribbed conservative Antonin Scalia (negative emoting) and Gosling’s theory looks to be on even firmer though not rock-solid ground.

So . . . what to expect of Kavanaugh if confirmed? These results suggest that he might prove to be the less reliably conservative vote that some right-wing Republicans fear. Emotionally, he might be a little less conservative than Gorsuch, who is also the most reserved justice based on his low intensity level. If anything, I might predict that a natural affinity may emerge between an affable Roberts and a mild Kavanaugh, with the Chief Justice finding in Kavanaugh a kindred spirit: a relatively speaking middle-of-the-road, circumspect evaluator of cases on a court dominated by conservatives.