Conventional wisdom on English development confers iconic status on the clause of the Act of Settlement (1701) that mandated secure tenure for judges. Because the Act’s effect on tenure was partial, the effect of tenure on judicial decisions can be identified. The paper estimates how the awarding of tenure changed the number of citations to judges’ decisions, a measure of judicial quality. The empirics uses two new databases, one on judges’ biographies and one recording citations in the English Reports to earlier decisions. Several strategies aid identification. A court-year panel permits difference-in-differences. Controls capture judges’ human capital and the importance of litigation. Instrumental-variable estimates use judge life-expectancy and political vicissitudes as instruments. Tenure has a strong, significant, and deleterious effect on the quality of associate-judge decisions. Tenure has no effect for chief judges. The Act of Settlement reduces citations by 20% in the 18th century. The results are interpretable in terms of the incentives provided by a powerful legal profession that could protect vulnerable judges in a politically volatile era.
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