The Civil Justice Research Initiative recently published two new reports: “Medical Legal Partnerships in Asylum Cases,” authored by Anjali Niyogi, Hiroko Kusuda, and Serena Chaudhry, and “Politics, Identity, and Class Certification on the U.S. Courts of Appeals,” authored by Stephen B. Burbank and Sean Farhang. While the two reports cover considerably different topics, both their findings have important implications for expanding access to justice.
In their research on medical-legal partnerships (MLPs), Niyogi, Kusuda, and Chaudhry examine how integrating healthcare into legal services can improve conditions at the southern border and potentially increase immigrants’ chances of obtaining asylum.
Nationwide, almost 70% of asylum claims are denied, and in Louisiana, where the authors’ research is based, this number is much higher. The authors conduct a case study at the Luke’s House Clinic in New Orleans, where medical and legal professionals evaluate asylum-seekers’ physical and mental health and incorporate their findings into legal claims. They find that MLPs are beneficial in asylum cases because they can “present a more comprehensive picture of an asylum-seeker’s history to the court” while also providing necessary medical care to asylum-seekers.
Many asylum-seekers suffer traumatic events like gang violence and domestic violence in their countries of origin, and these experiences often lead to physical and psychological symptoms including depression, PTSD, and chronic pain. The authors explain that including medical information in asylum claims allows immigration judges to better understand the trauma that asylum-seekers go through.
In addition, the authors find that MLPs can help achieve social justice more broadly by providing law and medical students with interdisciplinary, hands-on experience serving vulnerable communities. Because legal and medical needs outweigh the limited resources that MLPs currently have, the authors recommend that MLPs receive increased attention and funding.
The second report published examines how appellate judges’ ideology, race, and gender influence their decisions to let class action lawsuits proceed.
According to Burbank and Farhang, past research on judicial diversity has overwhelmingly focused on a narrow set of legal topics related to discrimination and inequality, neglecting important procedural issues like class actions. The research presented in the report is the first empirical analysis of the relationship between judicial diversity and class certification decisions.
Burbank and Farhang find that the ideological, racial, and gender composition of three-judge panels impacts panels’ decisions on whether or not to certify a class. Panels with one or more judges appointed by a Democratic president are more likely to reach pro-certification outcomes than all-Republican panels. Similarly, panels with one Black judge have a higher probability of reaching a pro-certification outcome than panels with all white judges.
Their findings related to gender, however, are more complicated. Burbank and Farhang discover that while the presence of one woman on a three-judge panel does not lead to more pro-certification outcomes, panels with two women and one man are more likely to reach a pro-certification outcome. They find this troubling because it suggests that women’s preferences are underrepresented (and men’s preferences are overrepresented) relative to their numbers on the Courts of Appeals, since panels with a majority of women occur at much lower rates than the percentage of female judges.
Burbank and Farhang explain that their findings on the influence of diversity are notable because class actions, as a form of trans-substantive procedural law, impact a wide range of policy areas including product liability, labor and employment, the environment, and more. This is in contrast with previous research suggesting that judicial diversity only has an effect on cases related to issues of gender or race.
“Whether or not as a result of strategic judicial behavior, the impact of gender and racial diversity on certification decisions radiates widely across the legal landscape,” they write. “The consequences of diversity on the federal bench extend far beyond conceptions of ‘women’s issues’ or ‘minority issues.’”