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American Legal History, Portland State University.


Delegation of the state’s police power to private associations raises important constitutional and political issues. Starting from the premise that law is frequently regarded as a tool or instrument—a public means of attaining essentially private ends—it is possible to identify at least three motives for seeking such power: eliminating competition, expanding the association’s control, over its environment, and elevating its standards to the status of law. This paper represents an attempt to clarify the constitutional and political issues raised by professional self-regulation. It will focus on a fairly narrow instance of the delegation of public power: the typical nineteenth century legislative practice of granting police power to medical societies, enabling them effectively to make public policy, determine practical and ethical standards within a recognized jurisdiction, and enforce these standards on medical practitioners.