Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (BA)



First Advisor

Dr. Elizabeth Burmester


Judges strive to achieve both balance and fairness in their rulings and courtrooms. When either of these is compromised, or when judicial discretion appears to be handed down or enforced in random or capricious ways, then bias is present. Bias is unavoidable, because judges are human, they have certain preferences, and lawyers do not always know how to get familiar with judges' style and previous rulings. Lawyers strive to win their cases by persuading judges that their argument is better than opposing counsel, and deserves merit. Understanding rhetoric, the history and art of persuasion that goes back to Ancient Greece and Rome, gives lawyers the strategies they need to communicate effectively with judges and win cases, but rhetoric is not taught in law schools. My thesis explores the history and magnitude of the problem of bias in bench trials, and offers discussion of how rhetoric can be used ethically by both judges and lawyers. I examine how the judicial system works and conclude with ideas for dealing with bias. In studying bias, I have drawn on textual sources including legal journals, books written by lawyers and judges, accounts of legal and judicial history, materials from political science, rhetoric and communication, current events and news reports, and observed judges on popular reality television programs and in municipal courtrooms.