Just as lawyer Lekshmana Chandra Victoria Gowri was being sworn in as an additional judge of the Madras High Court today, the Supreme Court dismissed petitions against her elevation as a judge. The petitioners had cited Ms Gowri's alleged hate speech against Muslims and Christians, arguing it made her unfit to take the oath.
The oath ceremony started while the Supreme Court hearing was still underway.
"We are not entertaining the writ petitions. Reasons will follow," a special bench comprising Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Bhushan Ramkrishna Gavai said.
At the beginning of the hearing, Justice Khanna said there is a difference between eligibility and suitability. "On eligibility, there could be a challenge. But suitability... The courts should not get into suitability, otherwise the whole process will become haywire," the bench observed.
Senior advocate Raju Ramachandran, who had approached the court earlier asking for urgent intervention as the Centre had notified the appointment of Ms Gowri, argued that the decision-making process was stymied as relevant information was not passed to the collegium. The judges said they had read everything placed on record.
On political background, Justice Gavai said he too had a political background, but it has not come in the way of his duties.
"Political background is not the question at all. It is hate speech. Hate speech, which runs completely antithetical to the Constitution. That makes her unfit to take oath. It will only be a paper oath," Mr Ramachandran then argued.
"I don't think we are in a position to say this is a question of eligibility. It is more of a question of suitability. Two, we can't direct the collegium," the bench said, adding that to assume that the collegium has not taken these things into account "may not be appropriate".
21 bar members of the Madras High Court had written to the Supreme Court collegium and the President of India seeking recall of the recommendations made, and to not accept the state high court collegium's recommendation for Ms Gowri's appointment, alleging she made hate speeches against Christians and Muslims. Ms Gowri's proposed elevation has been mired in controversy after reports of her alleged affiliation to the BJP.
After objections by several Madras High Court lawyers, 54 lawyers from Tamil Nadu's Madurai wrote to the Supreme Court collegium, a panel of senior-most judges who decide on appointments to the higher judiciary, endorsing the recommendation to appoint Ms Gowri as a judge in the Madras High Court. Ms Gowri has represented the Centre before the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court.
The lawyers from Madurai call allegations against Victoria Gowri motivated by "political animosity and malafide intent".
Krishnaveni, an advocate who had endorsed Ms Gowri, said, "The alleged speech was made when she was in a political position. That shouldn't be linked now. As a judge, she would only go by law, taking an impartial view".
However, Dr V Suresh, a senior advocate in the Madras High Court, among those who opposed her elevation, said, "It's disappointing the Supreme Court did not want to look at a hate speech material on secularism vis a vis minority rights".