India's Supreme Court cites article by Michigan Grotius Fellow

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By Meaghan Kelly
Michigan Law

It’s not very often that a junior scholar gets published in an esteemed peer-reviewed law journal. It’s even less common for that junior scholar to have their article cited favorably by a country’s highest court. Ajitesh Kir, a Michigan Grotius Fellow, has managed to accomplish both career milestones before completing his SJD. 

Kir’s article “India’s Goods and Services Tax: A Unique Experiment in Cooperative Federalism and a Constitutional Crisis in Waiting” was published in the Canadian Tax Journal in 2021. This article is a portion of his dissertation, which in sum, focuses on India’s recent Goods and Services Tax (GST)—one of the most significant reforms since India gained its independence in 1947—and its impacts on economic developments and issues. Kir’s doctoral committee includes Professor Vikramaditya Khanna, the William W. Cook Professor of Law (chair); Professor Reuven Avi-Yonah, the Irwin I. Cohn Professor of Law; and Professor Edward Fox. 

Kir did not expect to hear the news that his article had been cited by the Supreme Court of India earlier this year. As he read through the 153 pages of the Court’s decision, seeing his name in the footnotes felt “surreal.” 

“As a legal academic, to get published is the biggest boost to your career, but to get cited by the highest court in your country—and a favorable citation—it took some time to sink in,” Kir said. 

It is highly unusual for a Supreme Court to cite a student’s paper in a decision. The role of academic literature in judicial decisions is typically more of an informational one rather than an impactful one. However, in this recent Indian Supreme Court case, its decision has constitutional implications. 

India introduced the GST in 2017 to unify tax markets across states and create a national market that would end overtaxing and tax evasion, along with a unique ruling body, the GST Council, made up of finance ministers from both state and central governments. The idea behind the council is that they determine the tax rates, exemptions, and general tax guidelines under the GST, but what’s being decided at the Supreme Court is whether these decisions are binding or just general recommendations—and this is where Kir’s article makes an impact.

Kir’s article takes a closer look at the structure of the GST and the council, as well as their successes and drawbacks, and argues that there are three possible solutions to make the council’s decisions binding. In theory, the council is meant to function on principles of cooperative federalism, where state and national governments are expected to work collaboratively and supplement one another. But what happens when a state opts out of this agreement? And if the council’s decisions are not binding, then what exactly is the purpose of the council? These are just some of the questions Kir tackles in his article. 

Kir said that when he sat down to write this paper, he had no idea that it would have real-life, practical implications. As an LLM student at Michigan Law, he took a course on international transactions with Professor Timothy Dickinson. The two met to discuss a paper topic, and out of that conversation came the idea to write about India’s new tax reform, the GST. Kir then met with Avi-Yonah and Khanna, who encouraged Kir to delve deeper into this idea.

“We saw that he had raised some questions and ideas that were completely untouched in the literature, and we recognized that the GST would make for a great SJD topic,” Khanna said. 

Kir expects to complete his SJD by the end of 2022. He currently is working full time with Ernst & Young in their international tax department to gain valuable practical experience before returning to academia in the future.  

Although Kir is grateful for the positive response his article has received, the media attention is secondary to the real-world impact of his work. 

“I don’t need an award,” he said, “but as a legal scholar, [the impact] is the only affirmation I need.”


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