Tenured public officials such as judges are often thought to be indifferent to theconcerns of the electorate and, as a result, potentially lacking in discipline butunlikely to pander to public opinion. We investigate this proposition empiricallyusing data on promotion decisions taken by senior English judges between 1985 and2005. Throughout this period the popular view was one of ill-disciplined elitism:senior judges were alleged to be favouring candidates from elite backgrounds overtheir equally capable non-elite counterparts. We find no evidence of such illdiscipline;most of the unconditional difference in promotion prospects between thetwo groups can simply be explained by differences in promotion-relevantcharacteristics. However, exploiting an unexpected proposal to remove control overpromotions from the judiciary, we do find evidence of pandering. When faced by theprospect of losing autonomy, senior judges began to favour non-elite candidates, aswell as candidates who were unconnected to members of the promotion committee.Our finding that tenured public officials can display both the upsides and downsidesof electoral accountability has implications for the literature on political agency, aswell as recent constitutional reforms.
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