Judicial Reasoning and Judicial Behavior: Studying the Supreme Court of India

Judicial Reasoning and Judicial Behavior: Studying the Supreme Court of India

Colloquium hosted by Center for Public Law and Jurisprudence

Jindal Global Law School

Call for Papers

The role of the Supreme Court of India in shaping the post-colonial nation has been central to its study in the academy. The institution’s assertion of supremacy in a constitutional democracy, and its tense relationship with separation of powers have been focal points of scholarship, and rightly so. However, there have been fewer studies on its structures of reasoning, its role as a policy maker, the impact of its structural organization as well as the role that the individual biographies of judges have played in the shaping of the institution as a whole. With more than six decades of appellate and constitutional adjudication behind it, any analysis of the Supreme Court’s functioning is bound to be challenging. However, this is also makes the institution ripe for study using tools drawn from a gamut of social science disciplines.

Accordingly, we propose to deepen existing scholarship of the Supreme Court with a colloquium that will bring together scholars of the Supreme Court to analyze its methods, reasoning and its institutional organization. We invite papers on any of these aspects of the Court’s body of work from different disciplinary perspectives, and not merely those that come from a doctrinal analysis of judicial decisions. Accepted papers may form part of an edited volume that will center on the imprint of the Indian Supreme Court on the making of constitutional democracy in contemporary India.

The themes/ questions that the papers might address are as follows:

  1. Judges of the Court – Biographies, Ethnographies and Subjective Biases: Aside from George H. Gadbois’ monumental work biographing the judges of the Court, sociological work on the Court has been limited. Further, these works do not adequately consider the manner in which the background of the judges might affect their sympathies and decision-making. In particular, there is a need to investigate the nature of assumptions and biases that inform the decision-making patterns of individual judges, and this would require a combination of theoretical, quantitative and qualitative field research. This work requires combining publicly available data with the imposing informal knowledge of the Court that floats within its corridors and, there are several challenges to doing this form of work. It is however, a promising field for sociological investigation.

 

  1. Structural Questions – Procedures and the rules of the practice, including on appointment of judges and how these shape substantive decision-making? Does the working of the Supreme Court lend itself to certain forms of reasoning, e.g., the use of precedent and departure from earlier decisions? What are some of the structural constraints that affect judicial behaviour like dissent? How do structural aspects affect the nature of cases that are often heard? Do structural factors influence the outcome of cases, and work against the interest of certain classes of litigants? How has the two-judge bench phenomena affected the manner in which law has evolved? Whether the manner in which cases are allotted to benches has influenced the evolution of law? While conclusive research on several such questions may be difficult, it may allow for experimenting with innovative methods.

 

  1. Judicial Reasoning – Is the court largely formalist? Is there a cleavage between its interpretive techniques in constitutional cases and other cases? What might explain the variations in interpretive techniques across types of cases? What forms of ‘normativity’ may be discerned in its decision-making processes? What are some ethical and moral assumptions that form the basis of decisions? How does the court construct gender, caste and religious identities and the manner in which such constructions would influence law? Does a liberal or conservative bias ground the reasoning of the court in certain types of cases? How has the court explored ambiguity, which is inevitable in legal doctrine? What hermeneutic tools do judges employ when discerning doctrine from precedent? What has been the Court’s tryst of with the philosophical notion of legal realism?

 

  1. Policy-making and Doctrine – Beyond the usual dichotomy of a law-making/interpretive function, which has marginal use as an analytical tool, and with the assumption that the Court, as a political institution shapes policy, several interesting questions arise. While evolution of doctrine in itself is studied frequently by practitioners and academics alike, it would be worth examining whether the evolution in a particular direction can be explained by changes in the social, economic or political context in which such cases arose. Whether the activism shown by the Court varies depending on the subject-matter with which the case deals? Whether the policy-making objectives of the Court affect the docket of the Court? Whether patterns in decision-making could point to the socio-economic or political aims of the Court? Whether the Court is capable of certain discernable, coherent objectives, despite its regularly changing composition? Moreover, the ‘dialogic process’ between Courts and law-making bodies has become an important analytical framework to study the role of Courts in shaping policy – how can this be applied to the Indian Supreme Court? How do judges view an ‘audience’ to their pronouncements and how do considerations of reputation affect the Court? How does the court influence the popular discourse on various social, political issues?

These themes are of course, intended to be suggestive and we remain open to all innovative and incisive analysis of the Supreme Court in the making of the modern Indian republic.

The colloquium will be held on 29-30 April 2017 at Jindal Global University’s campus, Sonipat, Haryana, India.

We will be open to abstracts till February 15, 2017. Please email your abstract as an MS-Word (.doc, .docx) file without any identifying references to Sannoy Das [sdas@jgu.edu.in], along with a separate document that contains the title of the proposed paper, your name and designation. 

Abstracts will be selected through a double blind peer-review process and selected authors will be notified by February 25, 2017. Draft papers will be due on April 23, 2017.

For clarifications, please write to sdas@jgu.edu.in.