The Supreme Court of India: An Empirical Overview
Forthcoming in Rosenberg, Gerald N., Sudhir Krishnaswamy, and Shishir Bail, eds., The Indian Supreme Court and Progressive Social Change (Cambridge, 2019).”
34 Pages Posted: 3 Apr 2018
Date Written: March 28, 2018
The Indian Supreme Court has been called “the most powerful court in the world” for its wide jurisdiction, its expansive understanding of its own powers, and the billion plus people under its authority. Yet no up-to-date, empirical account exists of who is being heard by the Court, for what purposes, and with what levels of success. Both due to its fragmented bench structure (where cases are usually decided by only two or three out of thirty-one judges) as well as the large volume of cases (nearly 1000 merits judgments per year), scholars and policy makers have a very uneven picture of the court’s functioning: deep knowledge about the more visible, “high-profile” cases, and near-absolute silence about more mundane, but potentially equally important, decisions. This paper aims to fill this gap with a rigorous, empirical account of the functioning of the Court. We have collected, hand-coded, and analyzed data on over 5000 Indian Supreme Court opinions rendered from 2010 to 2015. This is the most extensive original dataset on the Indian Supreme Court yet created. In this paper, we use this data to provide a broad, quantitative overview of the social identity of the litigants that approach the court, the types of matters they bring to the court, the levels of success that different groups of litigants have before the Court, and the opinion-writing patterns of the various judges of the Supreme Court. This analysis provides foundational facts about the Court for future studies on the role of the Court in the Indian polity.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation