On George H. Gadbois, jr

As reported by Vasujith, George H. Gadbois, jr, passed away on Friday night. This post briefly considers what Vasujith rightly terms Professor Gadbois’s magnum opus, Judges of the Supreme Court of India 1950-1989, and provides a personal account of the character of the man based on my limited dealings with him.

Professor Gadbois’s Judges of the Supreme Court of India 1950-1989 (“Gadbois 2011”) is an extraordinary document. The book draws on Gadbois’s interviews (predominantly between 1983 and 1988) with sixty-four serving and former judges of the Supreme Court, as well as the widows, children, close friends and associates of deceased judges (Gadbois 2011, p.3). These interviews, and the essays that resulted, are an exceptional resource of biographical information, tales of political intrigue and historical miscellanea; although most essays can be read in isolation (albeit that their contents are informed by the brief introductions to the tenures of each Chief Justice), together they provide a remarkable account of the changing composition, outlook and character of the Indian Supreme Court. As Gadbois noted without undue modesty in the book’s foreword, ‘[m]uch of the material in this book no one else has, nor ever will’ (Gadbois 2011, p.9). Most strikingly, Gadbois conducted what Chief Justice A. N. Ray claimed was the only interview he ever granted (Gadbois 2011, p.139n10).

I bought my copy of Judges of the Supreme Court of India shortly after coming to India in 2011 (at Landmark Book Shop in The Forum in Koramangala); it had been released only a little while before. I was very lucky to find it and have been very lucky to have it ever since. Six years later, I still consult it regularly, both for research and for enjoyment’s sake; Gadbois’s dedication to comprehensive detail is evident from the four pages devoted to a comprehensive list of all of Justice Krishna Iyer’s publications in English (Gadbois 2011, pp.220-223), while still leaving time for perceptive and often pithy summations – such as his concluding remarks on the career of Justice Baharul Islam: ‘spent mainly in the political arena, interrupted by short stints as a high court and SCI judge’ (Gadbois 2011, p.279). While there are some judges (e.g. Krishna Iyer, Bhagwati, Hidayatullah) of whom we would have relatively complete accounts even if not for Gadbois, his work is one of the only sources of illumination for a great number of judges whose experiences would otherwise be known only in dates and dot points.

‘Part II’ of the book, which examines various demographic characteristics of Supreme Court judges before providing a portrait (drawn from their averages) of ‘The Archetypal Judge’, was what drew me to look further into his quantitative research of earlier decades – which has similarly proven invaluable. (This part of the book draws upon and updates Professor Gadbois’s earlier article ‘Indian Supreme Court Judges – A Portrait’ (1968) 3 Law & Society Review 317, one of his most widely cited works.) The book sets out its intended scope at the outset – Professor Gadbois was honest that ‘[o]nly rarely do decisions of the [Supreme Court] find a place here’, and qualitative judgments of the ‘quality or importance or contributions of a judge’ are rare (Gadbois 2011, p.7) – but it achieves its intended goals admirably.

I emailed Professor Gadbois shortly after devouring the book to express my appreciation. That email began an intermittent chain of correspondence over the next few years. I will always be grateful for the exceptional courtesy and kindness he showed me during these emails; he had no real reason to take much interest in the career of a young Australian lawyer living on the other side of the world, but his emails noting developments in my career and commenting on my work were a source of wonderful encouragement and inspiration to me. He was unfailingly honest in his commentary and criticism – noting, for example, my ‘footnote fetish’, urging me to cut my use of footnotes down by at least half – but that too, of course, was highly valued. (He would, at least, hopefully be encouraged by the fact that there are no footnotes in this post.) Even at this late stage in his career, and even as his health declined, Professor Gadbois remained an incisive academic observer, and his comments on my work were an invariable source of improvement.

Professor Gadbois was a good, kind man who made very substantial contributions to our field. I knew he had been sick for a long time but am still deeply saddened by the news of his passing. He will be greatly missed.

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1 comment
  • Thanks for posting. George was also influential to my own work and although I never got to meet him in person my email correspondences with him were also very enjoyable and I always found him incredibly generous and insightful. He made a significant contribution to scholarship on the Court when too few were paying attention to it academically and he will be sorely missed.