In a letter to the Chief Justice that was made public, the four judges underlined that an independent judiciary is essential for a functioning democracy. "We don't want wise men saying 20 years from now that Justice Chelameswar, Gogoi, Lokur and Kurian Joseph sold their souls and didn't do the right thing by our Constitution," Justice Chelameswar said, explaining why they decided to go public with their views at what he conceded was an extraordinary event. This isn't the first time when members of the higher judiciary have expressed a strong opinion but in the past, they had always spoken through their judgements.
Here are five standout instances in the Indian judiciary:
1. In a landmark judgment in 1975, Justice Jagmohan Lal Sinha of the Allahabad High Court, cancelled the election of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to the Lok Sabha. An Emergency was imposed in the country on June 27 the same year. Justice Jagmohan Lal Sinha, despite threats and political pressure announced, "...the petition is allowed and the election of Smt. Indira Nehru Gandhi, respondent No. 1, to the Lok Sabha is declared void".
2. In 1976, Justice Hans Raj Khanna, the lone dissenter in a five-member bench went against the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in a case involving civil liberties. "What is at stake is the rule of law... the question is whether the law speaking through the authority of the Court shall be absolutely silenced and rendered mute..." Justice Hans Raj Khanna said, observations that were seen to have cost him his promotion as Chief Justice of India. He was superseded and Justice Beg, who was next in seniority, appointed the Chief Justice of India in January 1977.
3. In 1980, the Supreme Court of India strengthened the doctrine of the basic structure of the Constitution and ruled that the power of the parliament to amend the Constitution is limited by the Constitution. Parliament cannot exercise this limited power to grant itself an unlimited power, the court ruled after the 42nd amendment to the Constitution attempted to reduce the powers of the Supreme Court and High Courts to decide the constitutional validity of laws enacted by the legislature.
4. In 1994, the Supreme Court attempted to deal with complaints that the Centre had been dismissing state governments and laid down ground rules for invoking powers under Article 356 of the Constitution.
5. In 1993, the Supreme Court interpreted the principle of judicial independence to mean that no other branch of the state - including the legislature and the executive - could have any say in the appointment of judges. The court then created the collegium system that continues to make recommendations for appointment and transfer of judges. Parliament created a National Judicial Appointments Commission through a constitutional amendment in 2014 to reverse the 1993 verdict.
But the Supreme Court called this change unconstitutional and struck down the changes in 2015. Justice J Chelameswar was a member of this bench but gave a dissenting note. He has, since then, sought changes in the selection and appointment process on more than one occasion within the Supreme Court.