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Pandering Judges


  • Clare Leaver
  • Jordi Blanes i Vidal


Tenured public officials such as judges are often thought to be indifferent to the concerns of the elctorate and, as a result, potentially lacking in discipline but unlikely to pander to public opinion. 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 no evidence of such ill-discipline; most of the unconditional difference in promotion prospects between the two groups can simply be explained by differences in promotion-relevant characteristics. However, exploiting an unexpected proposal to remove control over promotions from the judiciary, we do find evidence of pandering. 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. Our finding that tenured public officials can display both the upsides and downsides of electoral accountability has implications for the literature on political agency, as well as recent constitutional reforms.

Suggested Citation

  • Clare Leaver & Jordi Blanes i Vidal, 2008. "Pandering Judges," Economics Series Working Papers 390, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:oxf:wpaper:390

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Alberto Alesina & Guido Tabellini, 2007. "Bureaucrats or Politicians? Part I: A Single Policy Task," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 97(1), pages 169-179, March.
    2. Eric Le Borgne & Gauti B. Eggertsson, 2007. "Dynamic Incentives and the Optimal Delegation of Political Power," IMF Working Papers 07/91, International Monetary Fund.
    3. Ignacio Palacios-Huerta & Oscar Volij, 2004. "The Measurement of Intellectual Influence," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 72(3), pages 963-977, May.
    4. John Ferejohn, 1986. "Incumbent performance and electoral control," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 50(1), pages 5-25, January.
    5. Eric Maskin & Jean Tirole, 2004. "The Politician and the Judge: Accountability in Government," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(4), pages 1034-1054, September.
    6. Christian Schultz, 2003. "Information, Polarization and Delegation in Democracy," EPRU Working Paper Series 03-16, Economic Policy Research Unit (EPRU), University of Copenhagen. Department of Economics.
    7. Train,Kenneth E., 2009. "Discrete Choice Methods with Simulation," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521747387, May.
    8. Lazear, Edward P & Rosen, Sherwin, 1990. "Male-Female Wage Differentials in Job Ladders," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 8(1), pages 106-123, January.
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    More about this item


    Electoral Accountability; Judges; Promotion Decisions;

    JEL classification:

    • H11 - Public Economics - - Structure and Scope of Government - - - Structure and Scope of Government
    • J44 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Particular Labor Markets - - - Professional Labor Markets and Occupations
    • J45 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Particular Labor Markets - - - Public Sector Labor Markets
    • J70 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor Discrimination - - - General

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