William H. J. Hubbard, “Empirical Study of the Supreme Court of India”

“A Different Kind of Supreme Court? Empirical Study of the Supreme Court of India”

Part of Chicago’s intellectual tradition is a willingness to take nothing for granted. Comparative study of legal institutions often reveals to us exactly how much we take for granted in the design of our legal institutions. Take the US Supreme Court: Why nine justices? Why does the president, and not the current justices, appoint new justices? Why do they sit en banc in every case, rather than sitting in panels of, say, two justices? Why do they decide 80 cases per year–why not 800, or 8,000? Why do the justices wait for cases raising important issues, rather than just filing their own cases?

In this talk, I’ll describe current empirical work on the Supreme Court of India, considered by many to be the most powerful court in the world. I’ll present data on how the Court operates, which cases it decides, and how it decides them. This leads to two lines of inquiry: First, what does an apex court so radically unlike our own teach us about the possibilities for institutional design for courts? And second, how can empirical study of one court (such as the Supreme Court of India) inform our understanding of judicial behavior in very different courts (such as our own)?

William H. J. Hubbard is Professor of Law and Ronald H. Coase Teaching Scholar. This Chicago’s Best Ideas talk was presented on January 17, 2017.