Monday, March 07, 2011

On Judicial Activism

I have recently had the chance to collect some thoughts on activism by the Supreme Court in this recent article in the Times of India.

In this article, I argue that there are three key areas in which our SC differs significantly from its counterparts in other constitutional democracies. One of these differences with regard to justiceability of a subject matter clearly points towards greater activism. The second difference, pertaining to the volume of cases, suggests that our SC may appear to be more activist than it really is. Finally, in terms of intensity of review, I argue that our Supreme Court may actually be more deferential than activist.

I also note the special duty that academics have in holding judges to account:
"We must demand [of judges] that their judgments are based on sound reasons, and are unaffected by fear, favour or public opinion. Their accountability, however, is policed not by politicians but by the academy. Barring a few exceptions, our academia in general and legal academia in particular, has not always performed this scrutinizing duty diligently. However, the sheer volume of decisions makes it difficult for judges to write sound judgments and for academics to criticize them."

Three important issues that I did not discuss in this short newspaper piece: first, the important judicial appointments debate and its impact on judicial diversity and activism. Do women, dalit and minority judges decide differently? Do they tend to decide differently? Is the current appointments system less conducive to diversity?

Secondly, it will be interesting to see how many 'remedies' that appear in judicial orders, especially in socio-economic rights cases, were in fact just a judicial insistence that governmental policy (either already in place before the litigation, or crafted during the litigation and in response to it) be implemented. There may be an under-theorised dialogic model of adjudication already taking place in our courts.

Finally, we seem to have a majoritarian rather than a counter-majoritarian court. What else explains its relative success with socio-economic rights but a relatively poor record on civil liberties?

I will be grateful for comments.
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