Court Data

How regionally diverse is the Supreme Court (2020)

This post discusses regional diversity in the Supreme Court.

For comparison, find last year’s post on regional diversity here.

With Justice Deepak Gupta retiring yesterday (6 May 2020), the Supreme Court is now two judges short of its sanctioned strength. The Court only has 32 out of a possible 34 judges (including the Chief Justice). This is set to reduce down to 30 judges by September 2020, with Justices Arun Mishra and R. Banumathi expected to retire on 19 July and 2 September respectively.

To fill these vacancies, the Supreme Court Collegium will soon decide whom to elevate. They will primarily select High Court judges. Various factors will come into play, such as merit and seniority. In this post however, we’ll take a look at regional diversity. Historically, several High Courts have lacked representation in the Supreme Court.

Regional diversity is generally measured by determining each Justice’s parent High Court. A judge’s parent High Court is the first High Court they were appointed to. Not all Supreme Court Justices have served as judges in a High Court. Some have been elevated from the Supreme Court Bar (i.e. practising advocates).

With Justice Deepak Gupta’s retirement, there are no longer any judges from the Himachal Pradesh High Court (HC) on the Supreme Court. The Himachal Pradesh HC joins 10 other HCs in lacking any representation. There are currently no judges from the HCs of Chhattisgarh, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Manipur, Meghalaya, Orissa, Sikkim, Telangana, Tripura and Uttarakhand either. As scholar Abhinav Chandrachud has shown, judges from these HCs have rarely been elevated to the Supreme Court, with the exception of judges from the HC of Orissa.

Currently, the HCs of Allahabad, Bombay, Delhi and Karnataka are the most represented in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court Bar joins them. Notably, it ties with the HC of Bombay for first place – both have four judges on the Supreme Court.

This somewhat mirrors historical trends. As Chandrachud’s data shows, a high number of past Supreme Court judges have hailed from the HCs of Allahabad and Bombay. Since the 1980s, judges from the Delhi HC have joined their ranks. On the other hand, Karnataka HC judges have historically seen less representation.

What can these figures tell us about the Collegium’s upcoming recommendations? On the one hand, one might predict that the Collegium is unlikely to recommend a judge from the Bombay HC or the Supreme Court Bar, as they are currently overrepresented. If the Collegium places heavy weight on regional representation, then judges from the High Courts of Allahabad, Delhi and Karnataka will face a similar disadvantage. On the other hand, however, the historical data predicts that the Collegium is likely to pick judges from HCs that have seen a lot of representation in the past, such as the HCs of Bombay, Allahabad and Delhi.

We’ll have to wait and see. Perhaps, we will see the Collegium select a judge from a High Court that has historically seen a lot of representation, but currently has less representation. The HC of Patna comes to mind.