In light of decreasing trust in courts at all levels of the American justice system, it is more important than ever to understand what affects people's perceptions of the courts as fair, just, and legitimate. The Black Lives Matter protests highlighted a racial element to perceptions of impartiality in the jury system. Existing literature reveals a complex historical relationship between race and the jury, but little research has been done on public perceptions of race in the jury box.
With a novel two-experiment design using a survey instrument and a half White–half Black respondent sample pool fielded using Prolific, I examine the relationships between race, jury impartiality, procedural justice, and court legitimacy. I find that descriptive representation is important in the crafting of impartial juries for Black defendants, with the experimental provision of a Black defendant resulting in a statistically significant increase in the number of Black jurors that respondents select to compose an impartial jury. However, a basic conception of descriptive representation that juries should look like the defendant they are judging does not hold. By employing a conjoint vignette design, I find a significant negative effect on perceived fairness when a jury is composed of mostly one race regardless of defendant race. This negative penalty is stronger for White juries than for Black juries. Mixed race juries are seen as more fair than both mostly one race juries and in cases where juror race is withheld. The effects of perceived fairness generally fail to carry over to support for the courts as legitimate institutions, suggesting a durable diffuse support for the courts.