Fact inferences made by the trial judge are the lynchpin of civil litigation. If inferences were a matter of universally held logical deductions, this would not be troubling. Inferences, however, are deeply contestable conclusions that vary from judge to judge. Non-conscious psychological phenomena can lead to flawed reasoning, implicit bias, and culturally influenced perceptions. Inferences differ significantly, and they matter. Given the homogeneous makeup of the judiciary, this is a significant concern.
This Article will demonstrate the ubiquity, importance, and variability of inferences by examining actual cases in which trial and appellate (or majority and dissenting) judges draw quite different inferences from the same record. It will then review the psychological literature to show ways in which judges are affected by unconscious forces. It concludes by suggesting reforms to judicial education, use of decision mechanisms that promote conscious deliberation, and civil procedure rule changes designed to increase information and decrease the impact of individual judges’ inferences.