Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



State and local governments have long struggled to design optimal mechanisms for selecting public officials. Centuries of experimentation have left us with several techniques: election (partisan or otherwise), political appointment, or selection by some kind of technocratic commission. Despite our extensive experience with these systems, no consensus has emerged as to which system is best under what circumstances. Several questions remain unclear: What effect does selection method have on the quality of services that public officials provide? Does selection method systematically affect the ideological composition of officials? If so, does that effect matter? And what determines whether a jurisdiction adopts a particular method of judicial selection in the first instance? The articles that follow make important contributions to our understanding of each of these issues. In Adjudicating Death: Professionals or Politicians?, Professors Stephen Choi and Mitu Gulati investigate whether professional medical examiners or elected coroners provide better autopsy services. Their study parallels the long running debate in the legal literature (which includes Professor Brian Fitzpatrick's piece in this Symposium) about whether appointed or elected judges better serve the public. Choi and Gulati hypothesize that professional medical examiners will make fewer errors and be more independent than their elected counterparts but may be driven more by self-interest than elected officials. To determine whether a quality differential exists, the authors compare autopsy quantities, accreditation by the National Association of Medical Examiners, and litigation in states that have professional examiners to states that have elected coroners. The results are striking-elected coroners perform fewer autopsies, are less likely to be accredited, and are more likely to be sued. Their results bolster claims across the legal literature that professionals implement better policy than their elected counterparts.