Published online by Cambridge University Press: 17 April 2020
What happens when courts reach “good” outcomes through “bad” reasoning? Are there limits to consequentialist jurisprudence? The Indian Supreme Court’s recent decision in IYLA v. State of Kerala offers important insights on both issues. IYLA, decided in September 2018, held that the Hindu temple at Sabarimala may not ban women aged ten to fifty from its premises even though devotees argue the exclusion is religiously mandated. Reactions to IYLA have been vehement and violent, and so far only two women in the prohibited age range have managed to visit the temple. Perhaps any outcome impinging on religious practice would have elicited such responses. Nevertheless, the Court’s analysis, which disregarded devotee perspectives in its eagerness to acknowledge the previously overlooked perspectives of women, is problematic insofar as it superficially upholds the Court’s reputation as a progressive institution while creating bad precedent by further damaging the “essential practices” doctrine. This article draws on case law and legal analysis to demonstrate how the Court’s reasoning paid short shrift to its own doctrines and to conflicting imperatives in the Indian Constitution. The Court’s (and ruling’s) failures underscore the extent to which winning good outcomes through bad reasoning should be sobering rather than satisfying.