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Political Science
Project Proposal

Oyez/Here Ye!: Interviewing and Engaging with 21st Century State Court Judges

Taneisha Means (Political Science)

Project Description

In 2018, I received a grant from the National Science Foundation’s Law and Social Sciences program to collect data on political representation in state courts. My grant project goals include surveying all Black state court judges, surveying an equal number of White state court judges, and interviewing about 100 Black and White state court judges.

Over the last few years, with the help of my research assistants, I have been able to survey Black and White state court judges. In the surveys, I asked judges questions about their upbringings, childhood and young adult life experiences, pre-bench lives, identities, judgeships, judicial behavior, perspectives, and opinions. While surveying judges enables us to begin to describe the interests of the broader population of judges, in-depth interviewing will reap the data necessary to understand the nuances of what judges mention in the survey. For this reason, I would like to interview state court judges.

Specifically, this summer (summer 2021), I would like to focus on interviewing about 100 Black and White state court judges. Unfortunately, the topics covered in the survey and interview are understudied empirically, and this is true even when judges reside at the center of our legal and justice systems. This summer, I intend to gather the data that will help us (i.e., academics and concerned citizens) better understand who judges are and what they do. I will use this data in several journal manuscripts related to representation in the judiciary.

This summer, I want to work with ford scholar(s) to interview Black and White judges. I would like the Ford Scholar(s) to help with creating/refining the questionnaires that will be used in the interviews, recruiting judges to participate in the study and be interviewed, conducting the interviews, analyzing the interview data, writing up the results, and disseminating the results of the data via professional presentations and publications.

Anticipated Project Activities

The summer Ford Scholar(s) will engage in the following activities with Professor Means:

  1. Plan; read and discuss some of the relevant judicial politics research to develop an understanding of the research topics we will focus on during the summer; create/refine the interview questionnaires to be used in the study; participate in a workshop on qualitative research methods; recruit judges to be interviewed (1st and 2nd weeks).
  2. Interview judges; recruit additional judges to be interviewed; transcribe interviews (3rd, 4th, and 5th weeks)
  3. Participate in a workshop on qualitative data analysis; organize and analyze interview data, and write-up results (6th & 7th weeks)
  4. Discuss presentations (classroom and Ford Scholars conference) based on data analysis and research experience (8th week)

Preferred Student Qualifications and Skills

  • Strong interest in judicial politics, the project, and social science research generally.
  • High professional and personal motivation, self-management, and attention-to-detail
  • Strong ability to take responsibility in meeting deadlines and making progress with and without direct supervision
  • Willingness to learn new software (e.g., NVivo) and research methods (e.g., collecting, studying, and evaluating qualitative data)
  • Strong existing computer skills with Microsoft Office
  • Interest in mentorship and professional development

Anticipated Follow-up Teaching/Professional Activity for Student

To demonstrate the synergy that can exist between teaching and research, the Ford Scholar(s) and Professor Means will work together to create a presentation using the qualitative data for the Fall 2021 POLI 346 course, “Race and Gender in Judicial Politics,” and Fall 2021 POLI 140 course, “Introduction to American Politics.” The Ford scholar(s) will be invited as a guest speaker(s) to the classes to present some of the research findings and to share their research experience. If interested, the scholar(s) will also be asked to attend and present at a professional conference with Professor Means during the 2021–2022 academic year and coauthor at least one paper that draws on the data collected this summer.

Project Location

Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY—In-person. Aspects of this work require the scholar to be on campus. For instance, the scholar will help recruit additional judges to participate in the study by sending letters. To assist with paper writing, the scholar will also need access to the library’s collection.

Project Duration

Eight weeks

Project Start Date

June 6, 2021

Project End Date

July 31, 2021