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Are tenured judges insulated from political pressure?

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  • Blanes i Vidal, Jordi
  • Leaver, Clare

Abstract

Tenured public officials such as judges are often thought to be insulated from political pressure and, as a result, indifferent to the concerns of the electorate. We investigate this proposition empirically using data on promotion decisions taken by senior English judges between 1985 and 2005. Throughout this period the popular view was one of ill-disciplined elitism: senior judges were alleged to be favouring candidates from elite backgrounds over their equally capable non-elite counterparts. We find evidence in support of this view to be surprisingly weak; most of the unconditional difference in promotion prospects between the two groups can simply be explained by differences in promotion-relevant characteristics. We then exploit an unexpected proposal to remove control over promotions from the judiciary and find that judges' behaviour dramatically changed. When faced by the prospect of losing autonomy, senior judges began to favour non-elite candidates, as well as candidates who were unconnected to members of the promotion committee.

Suggested Citation

  • Blanes i Vidal, Jordi & Leaver, Clare, 2011. "Are tenured judges insulated from political pressure?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 95(7), pages 570-586.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:pubeco:v:95:y:2011:i:7:p:570-586
    DOI: 10.1016/j.jpubeco.2010.11.004
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Amaral-Garcia Sofia & Garoupa Nuno, 2017. "Judicial Behavior and Devolution at the Privy Council," Review of Law & Economics, De Gruyter, vol. 13(3), pages 1-40, November.
    2. Goerke, Laszlo & Neugart, Michael, 2015. "Lobbying and dismissal dispute resolution systems," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 41(C), pages 50-62.
    3. Binswanger, Johannes & Prüfer, Jens, 2012. "Democracy, populism, and (un)bounded rationality," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 28(3), pages 358-372.
    4. David Abrams & Roberto Galbiati & Emeric Henry & Arnaud Philippe, 2019. "When in Rome... on local norms and sentencing decisions," Sciences Po publications 2019-04, Sciences Po.
    5. Ujhelyi, Gergely, 2014. "Civil service reform," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 118(C), pages 15-25.
    6. David Abrams & Roberto Galbiati & Emeric Henry & Arnaud Philippe, 2019. "When in Rome… on local norms and sentencing decisions," Sciences Po publications 88, Sciences Po.
    7. Raphaël Franck, 2018. "Judicial impartiality in politically charged cases," Constitutional Political Economy, Springer, vol. 29(2), pages 193-229, June.
    8. Matej Avbelj & Janez Šušteršič, 2019. "Conceptual Framework and Empirical Methodology for Measuring Multidimensional Judicial Ideology," DANUBE: Law and Economics Review, European Association Comenius - EACO, issue 2, pages 129-159, June.

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