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Lawrence v. Texas

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Title: Lawrence v. Texas  
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Subject: LGBT rights in the United States, Sodomy laws in the United States, Infobox SCOTUS case, Infobox SCOTUS case/doc, Infobox SCOTUS case/sandbox
Collection: 2003 in Lgbt History, 2003 in Texas, 2003 in United States Case Law, American Civil Liberties Union Litigation, Harris County, Texas, Lgbt in Texas, United States Equal Protection Case Law, United States Lgbt Rights Case Law, United States Privacy Case Law, United States Substantive Due Process Case Law, United States Supreme Court Cases, United States Supreme Court Cases of the Rehnquist Court, United States Supreme Court Decisions That Overrule a Prior Supreme Court Decision
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Lawrence v. Texas

Lawrence v. Texas
Argued March 26, 2003
Decided June 26, 2003
Full case name John Geddes Lawrence and Tyron Garner v Texas
Docket nos. 02-102
Citations 539 U.S. 558 (more)
123 S. Ct. 2472; 156 L. Ed. 2d 508; 2003 U.S. LEXIS 5013; 71 U.S.L.W. 4574; 2003 Cal. Daily Op. Service 5559; 2003 Daily Journal DAR 7036; 16 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 427
Prior history Defendants convicted, Harris County Criminal Court (1999), rev'd, 2000 WL 729417 (Tex. App. 2000) (depublished), aff'd en banc, 41 S.W.3d 349 (Tex. App. 2001), review denied (Tex. App. 2002), cert. granted, 537 U.S. 1044 (2002)
Subsequent history Complaint dismissed, 2003 WL 22453791, 2003 Tex. App. LEXIS 9191 (Tex. App. 2003)
Argument Oral argument
A Texas law classifying consensual, adult homosexual intercourse as illegal sodomy violated the privacy and liberty of adults to engage in private intimate conduct under the 14th Amendment. Texas state courts reversed and charges dismissed.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Kennedy, joined by Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer
Concurrence O'Connor
Dissent Scalia, joined by Rehnquist, Thomas
Dissent Thomas
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. XIV; Tex. Penal Code § 21.06(a) (2003)
This case overturned a previous ruling or rulings
Bowers v. Hardwick (1986)

Lawrence v. Texas, 539 constitutional protection of sexual privacy.

Lawrence explicitly overruled Bowers, holding that it had viewed the liberty interest too narrowly. The Court held that intimate consensual sexual conduct was part of the liberty protected by substantive due process under the 14th Amendment. Lawrence invalidated similar laws throughout the United States that criminalized sodomy between consenting adults acting in private, whatever the sex of the participants.[1]

The case attracted much public attention, and a large number of amici curiae ("friends of the court") briefs were filed. Its outcome was celebrated by gay rights advocates, who hoped that further legal advances might result as a consequence.


  • Background 1
  • History 2
    • Arrest of Lawrence and Garner 2.1
    • Prosecution and appeals 2.2
  • Consideration by the Supreme Court 3
  • Decision 4
    • Majority opinion 4.1
    • O'Connor's concurrence 4.2
    • Scalia's dissent 4.3
    • Thomas's dissent 4.4
  • Reactions 5
  • Subsequent cases 6
    • Sexual Privacy 6.1
    • Same-sex marriage bans 6.2
    • United States Military 6.3
  • The level of scrutiny applied in Lawrence 7
  • Plaintiffs 8
  • See also 9
  • Footnotes 10
  • References 11
  • Further reading 12
  • External links 13


Legal punishments for sodomy often included heavy fines and/or life prison sentences, with some states, beginning with Illinois in 1827, denying other rights, such as suffrage, to anyone convicted of the crime of sodomy.[2] In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, several states imposed various eugenics laws against anyone deemed to be a "sexual pervert". As late as 1970, Connecticut denied a driver's license to a man for being an "admitted homosexual".[3]

As of 1960, every state had an anti-sodomy law.[4] In 1961, the American Law Institute's Model Penal Code advocated repealing sodomy laws as they applied to private, adult, consensual behavior.[5] Two years later the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) took its first major case in opposition to these laws.[6] Most judges were largely unsympathetic to the substantive due process claims raised.

In Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), the Supreme Court struck down a law barring the use of contraceptives by married couples. In Griswold for the first time the Supreme Court recognized, at least for married couples, a right to privacy,[7] drawing on the Fourth Amendment's protection of private homes from searches and seizures without a warrant based on probable cause, the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of due process of law in the states, and the Ninth Amendment's assurance that rights not specified in the Constitution are "retained by the people". Eisenstadt v. Baird (1972) expanded the scope of sexual privacy rights to unmarried persons. In 1973, the choice whether to have an abortion was found to be protected by the Constitution in Roe v. Wade.

In Bowers v. Hardwick (1986), the Supreme Court heard a constitutional challenge to sodomy laws brought by a man who had been arrested, but was not prosecuted, for engaging in oral sex with another man in his home. The Court rejected this challenge in a 5 to 4 decision. Justice Byron White's majority opinion emphasized that Eisenstadt and Roe had only recognized a civil right to engage in procreative sexual activity, and that long-standing moral antipathy toward homosexual sodomy was enough to argue against the notion of a right to sodomy. Justice Blackmun, writing in dissent, argued that Eisenstadt held that the Constitution protects people as individuals, not as family units.[8] He then reasoned that because state intrusions are equally burdensome on an individual's personal life regardless of his marital status or sexual orientation, then there is no reason to treat the rights of citizens in same-sex couples any differently.[9]

By the time of the Lawrence decision, ten states—Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Michigan, Utah and Virginia—still banned consensual sodomy without respect to the sex of those involved, and four—Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri—prohibited same-sex couples from engaging in anal and oral sex.[4]


Arrest of Lawrence and Garner

On September 17, 1998, John Lawrence,[10][11] a gay 55-year-old medical technologist, was hosting two gay acquaintances, Tyron Garner,[12] age 31, and Robert Eubanks,[13] 40, at his apartment on the outskirts of Houston. Lawrence and Eubanks had been friends for more than 20 years. Garner and Eubanks had a tempestuous on-again off-again romantic relationship since 1990. Lacking transportation home, the couple were preparing to spend the night. Eubanks, who had been drinking heavily, left to purchase a soda from a nearby vending machine. Apparently outraged that Lawrence had been flirting with Garner, he called police and reported "a black male going crazy with a gun" at Lawrence's apartment.[14]

Four Harris County sheriff's deputies responded within minutes and Eubanks pointed them to the apartment. They entered the unlocked apartment toward 11 p.m. with their weapons drawn. In accordance with police procedures, the first to arrive, Joseph Quinn, took the lead both in approaching the scene and later in determining what charges to bring. He later reported seeing Lawrence and Garner having anal sex in the bedroom. A second officer reported seeing them engaged in oral sex, and two others did not report seeing the pair having sex. Lawrence did not acquiesce to the police. Instead he repeatedly challenged the police for entering his home. Quinn had discretionary authority to charge them for a variety of offenses and to determine whether to arrest them. When Quinn considered charging them with having sex in violation of state law, he had to get an Assistant District Attorney to check the statutes to be certain they covered sexual activity inside a residence. He was told that Texas's anti-sodomy statute, the "Homosexual Conduct" law, made it a Class C misdemeanor if someone "engages in deviate sexual intercourse with another individual of the same sex".[15] The statute, Chapter 21, Sec. 21.06 of the Texas Penal Code, had been adopted in 1973 when the state revised its criminal code to end its proscription on heterosexual anal and oral intercourse.[16]

Quinn decided to arrest Lawrence and Garner and charge them with having "deviate sex". In the opinion of the author of the most detailed account of the arrests, Quinn's decision was likely driven by Lawrence's verbal assertiveness, along with some combination of Quinn's negative response to homosexuality, the fact that Lawrence was white and Garner was black, and the false gun report.[17] In the separate arrest reports he filed for each, he wrote that he had seen the arrestee "engaged in deviate sexual conduct namely, anal sex, with another man".[17] Lawrence and Garner were held in jail overnight. At a hearing the next day, they pled not guilty to a charge of "homosexual conduct". They were released toward midnight.[18] Eubanks pled no contest to charges of filing a false police report. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail but released early.[19]

Prosecution and appeals

The gay rights advocates from Lambda Legal litigating the case convinced Lawrence and Garner not to contest the charges and to plead no contest instead.[20] On November 20, Lawrence and Garner pleaded no contest to the charges and waived their right to a trial. Justice of the Peace Mike Parrott found them guilty and imposed a $100 fine and court costs of $41.25 on each defendant. When the defense attorneys realized that the fine was below the minimum required to permit them to appeal the convictions, they asked the judge to impose a higher penalty. Parrott, well aware that the attorneys intended to use the case to raise a constitutional challenge, increased it to $125 with the agreement of the prosecutor.[21]

To appeal, Lawrence and Garner needed to have their cases tried in Texas Criminal Court. Their attorneys asked the court to dismiss the charges against them on Fourteenth Amendment equal protection grounds, claiming that the law was unconstitutional since it prohibited sodomy between same-sex couples, but not between heterosexual couples. They also asserted a right to privacy and that the Supreme Court's decision in Bowers v. Hardwick that found no privacy protection for consensual sex between homosexuals was "wrongly decided".[22] On December 22, Judge Sherman Ross denied the defense motions to dismiss. The defendants again pled "no contest". Ross fined them $200 each, the amount agreed upon in advance by both sides.[23]

A three-judge panel of the Texas Fourteenth Court of Appeals heard the case on November 3, 1999.[24] Their 2–1 decision issued on June 8, 2000, ruled the Texas law was unconstitutional. Justice John S. Anderson and Chief Justice Paul Murphy found that the law violated the 1972 Equal Rights Amendment to the Texas Constitution, which bars discrimination based on sex, race, color, creed, or national origin. J. Harvey Hudson dissented.[25] The Court of Appeals decided to review the case en banc. On March 15, 2001, without hearing oral arguments, it reversed the three-judge panel's decision and upheld the law's constitutionality 7–2, denying both the substantive due process and equal protection arguments.[26] Attorneys for Lawrence and Garner asked the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the highest appellate court in Texas for criminal matters, to review the case. After a year's delay, on April 17, 2002, that request was denied. Lambda Legal's Harlow called that decision "a major abdication of judicial responsibility". Bill Delmore, the Harris County prosecutor who argued the case, called the judges "big chickens" and said: "They have a history of avoiding the hot potato cases if they can."[27]

Consideration by the Supreme Court

In a petition for certiorari filed in the U.S. Supreme Court on July 16, 2002, Lambda Legal attorneys asked the Court to consider:[28]

  1. Whether the petitioners' criminal convictions under the Texas "Homosexual Conduct" law—which criminalizes sexual intimacy by same-sex couples, but not identical behavior by different-sex couples—violate the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of equal protection of the laws?
  2. Whether the petitioners' criminal convictions for adult consensual sexual intimacy in their home violate their vital interests in liberty and privacy protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?
  3. Whether Bowers v. Hardwick should be overruled?

On December 2, 2002, the Court agreed to hear the case. Lambda Legal coordinated the submission of sixteen Liberty Counsel, depicted homosexuals as self-destructive, disease-prone, and promiscuous. The states of Alabama, South Carolina, and Utah advised the Court that unlike heterosexual sodomy, homosexual sodomy had "severe physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual consequences".[31]

At oral argument on March 26, 2003, Paul M. Smith, an experienced litigator who had argued eight cases before the Supreme Court, spoke on behalf of the plaintiffs.[32] Texas Attorney General John Cornyn, then a candidate for the US Senate, refused to have his office argue the case. Charles A. Rosenthal, District Attorney of Harris County, represented the state.[33] His performance was later described as "the worst oral argument in years", but some believe his lack of preparation reflected his lack of enthusiasm for the statute he was defending.[34][35]


On June 26, 2003, the Supreme Court released its 6–3 decision striking down the Texas statute. Five justices held it violated due process guarantees, and a sixth, Sandra Day O'Connor, held it violated equal protection guarantees. The five-member majority opinion overruled Bowers v. Hardwick and implicitly invalidated similar sodomy statutes in 13 other states.

Majority opinion

Justice Kennedy, the author of the Court's opinion.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion which Justices John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer joined. The Court held that homosexuals had a protected liberty interest to engage in private, sexual activity; that homosexuals' moral and sexual choices were entitled to constitutional protection; and that moral disapproval did not provide a legitimate justification for Texas's law criminalizing sodomy.[36]

Kennedy wrote: "The petitioners [Lawrence and Garner] are entitled to respect for their private lives. The State cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime." Kennedy reviewed the assumption the court made in Bowers, using the words of Chief Justice Burger's concurring opinion in that case, that "Condemnation of [homosexual practices] is firmly rooted in Judeao-Christian moral and ethical standards." He reviewed the history of legislation that criminalized certain sexual practices, but without regard for the gender of those involved. He cited the Model Penal Code's recommendations since 1955, the Wolfenden Report of 1963, and a 1981 decision of the European Court of Human Rights.

He endorsed the views Justice Stevens had outlined in his dissent in Bowers and wrote: "Bowers was not correct when it was decided, and it is not correct today. It ought not to remain binding precedent. Bowers v. Hardwick should be and now is overruled." The majority decision also held that the intimate, adult consensual conduct at issue here was part of the liberty protected by the substantive component of the Fourteenth Amendment's due process protections. Kennedy said that the Constitution protects "personal decisions relating to marriage, procreation, contraception, family relationships, [and] child rearing" and that homosexuals "may seek autonomy for these purposes."[37] Holding that "the Texas statute furthers no legitimate state interest which can justify its intrusion into the personal and private life of the individual", the court struck down the anti-sodomy law as unconstitutional. Kennedy underscored the decision's focus on consensual adult sexual conduct in a private setting:

The present case does not involve minors. It does not involve persons who might be injured or coerced or who are situated in relationships where consent might not easily be refused. It does not involve public conduct or prostitution. It does not involve whether the government must give formal recognition to any relationship that homosexual persons seek to enter.[38]

O'Connor's concurrence

Justice O'Connor, argued the statute was unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause rather than due process and would have kept Bowers intact.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor filed a concurring opinion in which she offered a different rationale for invalidating the Texas sodomy statute. She disagreed with the overturning of Bowers—she had been in the Bowers majority—and disputed the court's invocation of due process guarantees of liberty in this context. Rather than including sexuality under protected liberty, she would strike down the law as violating the equal protection clause because it criminalized male-male but not male-female sodomy. O'Connor maintained that a sodomy law that was neutral both in effect and application might be constitutional, but that there was little to fear because "democratic society" would not tolerate it for long. O'Connor noted that a law limiting marriage to heterosexual couples would pass the rational scrutiny as long as it was designed to "preserv[e] the traditional institution of marriage" and not simply based on the state's dislike of homosexual persons.

Scalia's dissent

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote a dissent, which Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justice Clarence Thomas joined. Scalia objected to the Court's decision to revisit Bowers, pointing out many decisions from lower courts that relied on Bowers that might now need to be reconsidered.[39] He noted that the same rationale used to overturn Bowers[40] could have been used to overturn Roe v. Wade, which some of the Justices in the majority in Lawrence had upheld in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992). Scalia also criticized the majority opinion for failing to give the same respect to stare decisis that three of those in the majority had insisted on in Casey.[41] O'Connor's concurrence noted that Scalia's dissent conceded that if cases such as Romer v. Evans "have stare decisis effect, Texas’ sodomy law would not pass scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause, regardless of the type of rational basis review" applied.

Scalia wrote that if the court was not prepared to validate laws based on moral choices as it had done in Bowers, state laws against bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication, bestiality, and obscenity would not prove sustainable.[42]

He wrote that:

Today's opinion is the product of a Court, which is the product of a law-profession culture, that has largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda, by which I mean the agenda promoted by some homosexual activists directed at eliminating the moral opprobrium that has traditionally attached to homosexual conduct.... [T]he Court has taken sides in the culture war, departing from its role of assuring, as neutral observer, that the democratic rules of engagement are observed.

He cited the majority opinion's concern that the criminalization of sodomy could be the basis for discrimination against homosexuals as evidence that the majority ignored the views of most Americans:

So imbued is the Court with the law profession's anti-anti-homosexual culture, that it is seemingly unaware that the attitudes of that culture are not obviously "mainstream"; that in most States what the Court calls "discrimination" against those who engage in homosexual acts is perfectly legal.

He continued: "Let me be clear that I have nothing against homosexuals, or any other group, promoting their agenda through normal democratic means." The majority's "invention of a brand-new 'constitutional right'", he wrote, showed it was "impatient of democratic change".

Thomas's dissent

Justice Thomas wrote in a separate dissent that the law the Court struck down was "uncommonly silly", a phrase from Justice Potter Stewart's dissent in Griswold v. Connecticut, but he voted to uphold it as he could find "no general right of privacy" or relevant liberty in the Constitution. He added that if he were a member of the Texas legislature he would vote to repeal the law.


President Bush's press secretary Ari Fleischer refused to comment on the decision, noting only that the administration had not filed a brief in the case. As governor, Bush had opposed repeal of the Texas sodomy provision, which he called a "symbolic gesture of traditional values".[43] After quoting Fleischer calling it "a state matter", Linda Greenhouse, writing in The New York Times, commented: "In fact, the decision today...took what had been a state-by-state matter and pronounced a binding national constitutional principle."[44]

The Lambda Legal's lead attorney in the case, Ruth Harlow, stated in an interview after the ruling that "the court admitted its mistake in 1986, admitted it had been wrong then...and emphasized today that gay Americans, like all Americans, are entitled to full respect and equal claim to [all] constitutional rights."[45]

Prof. Laurence Tribe has written that Lawrence "may well be remembered as the Brown v. Board of Education of gay and lesbian America".[46] Jay Alan Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice has referred to the decision as having "changed the status of homosexual acts and changed a previous ruling of the Supreme Court... this was a drastic rewrite".[47]

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops called the decision "deplorable".[48]

The end result of Lawrence v. Texas was "like the Roe v. Wade of the homosexual issue".,[49][50] according to Peter LaBarbera of the anti-LGBT groups Culture and Family Institute and Americans for Truth about Homosexuality, the latter identified as a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center.[51]

Columbia Law Prof. Katherine M. Franke, in an analysis of Lawrence that appeared in June 2004, criticized its "domesticated" conception of liberty that failed to present "a robust concept of freedom". She contrasted it with the language of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which discussed "the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life". Lawrence's emphasis on geographical privacy, in her view, described a circumscribed form of liberty and failed to develop the court's evolving assertion of the right to autonomy and personal independence. Its assumption, based on nothing in the record, that Lawrence and Garner were in a relationship and had a personal bond leaves open the court's view of their right to express their sexuality or fulfill erotic desires. She noted how a Kansas court in Limon v. Kansas read Lawrence to allow far greater punishment for engaging in same-sex activity with a minor than different-sex activity with a minor. She terms this "the legal enforcement of heteronormative preferences".[52] The decision in Limon was later reversed, in part on the basis of Lawrence.[53]

Subsequent cases

Sexual Privacy

Age of consent laws

Lawrence invalidated age of consent laws that differed based on sexual orientation. The day after the Lawrence decision, the Supreme Court ordered the State of Kansas to review its 1999 "Romeo and Juliet" law that reduces the punishment for a teenager under 18 years of age who has consensual sexual relations with a minor no more than four years their junior, but explicitly excludes same-sex conduct from the sentence reduction.[54] In 2004, the Kansas Appeals Court upheld the law as is, but the Kansas Supreme Court unanimously reversed the lower court's ruling on October 21, 2005,[55] in State v. Limon.[56]

Consensual incest

In Muth v. Frank (2005) following Lawrence' a man convicted of criminal behavior by having an incestuous relationship in Wisconsin appealed his ruling in an attempt to apply the logic of sexual privacy in Lawrence.[57] The Seventh Circuit declined to extend the right of privacy stated in Lawrence to cases of consensual adult incest. The case was distinguished because parties were not similarly situated since there is in the latter case an enhanced possibility of genetic mutation of a possible offspring as suggested by geneticists who were witnesses at the trial.[58]


In Martin v. Ziherl, the Supreme Court of Virginia ruled the state's fornication law unconstitutional relying on Lawrence and the right to privacy.[59]

Other Sexual Activity

The Connecticut Supreme Court rejected an argument based on Lawrence that a teacher had a constitutional right to engage in sexual activity with his female students.[60][61]

Adult entertainment

Upon rehearing Williams v. Pryor after Lawrence, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Alabama's ban on the sale of sex toys.[62] Facing comparable facts, the Fifth Circuit struck down Texas's sex toy ban holding that "morality is an insufficient justification for a statute" and "interests in 'public morality' cannot constitutionally sustain the statute after Lawrence".[63]

Same-sex marriage bans

A few months later, on November 18, 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that same-sex couples have a right to marry. Though deciding the case on the basis of the state constitution, Chief Justice Margaret Marshall quoted Lawrence in its second paragraph: "Our obligation is to define the liberty of all, not to mandate our own moral code."[64]

Aside from Massachusetts, other state case law had been quite explicit in limiting the scope of Lawrence and upholding state bans on same-sex marriage regulations. (See Standhardt v. Superior Court ex rel County of Maricopa, 77 P.3d 451 (Ariz. App. 2003); Morrison v. Sadler, 821 N.E.2d 15 (Ind. App. 2005); Hernandez v Robles (7 NY3d 338 2005).)

In the first successful federal court challenge to a state same-sex marriage ban, Judge Vaughn Walker cited Scalia's dissent in his decision in Perry v. Schwarzenegger that found California's Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage unconstitutional.[65]

It is due to note that in Obergefell v. Hodges, decided on June 26, 2015, the Court held in a 5–4 decision that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples by both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.Deciding Obergefell the Court overturned Baker and requires all states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and to recognize same-sex marriages validly performed in other jurisdictions.[4] This legalized same-sex marriage throughout the United States, and its possessions and territories.

Citing its prior decision in Lawrence v. Texas, the Court framed the issue accordingly in Obergefell. In writing the majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy used the following rationality:

As this Court held in Lawrence, same-sex couples have the same right as opposite-sex couples to enjoy intimate association. Lawrence invalidated laws that made same sex intimacy a criminal act. And it acknowledged that “[w]hen sexuality finds overt expression in intimate conduct with another person, the conduct can be but one element in a personal bond that is more enduring.” 539U. S., at 567. But while Lawrence confirmed a dimension of freedom that allows individuals to engage in intimate association without criminal liability, it does not follow that freedom stops there.[66]

United States Military

The United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, the last court of appeals for Courts-Martial before the Supreme Court, has ruled that Lawrence applies to Article 125 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the article banning sodomy. It has also twice upheld prosecutions under Article 125 when applied as necessary to preserve good order and discipline in the armed forces.[67][68]

The level of scrutiny applied in Lawrence

Justice Scalia and others have noted that the majority did not appear to apply the strict scrutiny standard of review that would be appropriate if the Lawrence majority had recognized a full-fledged "fundamental right". He wrote the majority, instead, applied "an unheard-of form of rational basis review that will have far-reaching implications beyond this case".[69]

Nan D. Hunter has argued that Lawrence used a new method of substantive due process analysis, and that the Court intended to abandon its old method of categorizing due process rights as either "fundamental" or "not fundamental" as too restrictive.[70] Justice Souter, for example, argued in Washington v. Glucksberg that the role of the Court in all cases, including unenumerated rights cases, is to ensure that the government's action has not been arbitrary.[71] Justice Stevens has repeatedly criticized tiered scrutiny and prefers a more active judicial balancing test based on reasonability.[72]

Lower courts have read Lawrence differently on the question of scrutiny. In Lofton v. Secretary of the Department of Children and Family Services the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld a state law barring adoption of children by homosexuals, holding explicitly that Lawrence did not apply strict scrutiny.[73] In Witt v. Department of the Air Force, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that Lawrence applied intermediate scrutiny.[74]


John Lawrence died of complications from a heart ailment in 2011, aged 68.[75] Tyron Garner died of meningitis in 2006, aged 39, and Robert Eubanks was beaten to death in 2000, in a case that was never solved.[76]

See also


  1. ^ 15 Geo. Mason U. C.R. L.J. 105 2004–2005; 102 Mich. L. Rev. 1555 2003–2004
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b The New York Times: Supreme Court Strikes Down Texas Law Banning Sodomy", June 26, 2003, accessed July 16, 2012
  5. ^ Illinois in 1961 became the first state to repeal its sodomy law. Laws of Illinois 1961, page 1983, enacted July 28, 1961, effective Jan. 1, 1962. The History of Sodomy Laws in the United States: Illinois.
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ Eisenstadt v. Baird, 405 U.S. at 453.
  9. ^ Bowers v. Hardwick, 478 U. S. at 219.
  10. ^ John Geddes Lawrence, August 2, 1943 – November 20, 2011. MetroWeekly: Chris Geidner, "John Geddes Lawrence, of Lawrence v. Texas, Has Died at 68", December 23, 2011, accessed May 9, 2012
  11. ^
  12. ^ July 10, 1967 – September 11, 2006. New York Times: "Tyron Garner, 39, Plaintiff in Pivotal Sodomy Case, Dies", September 14, 2006, accessed September 14, 2006
  13. ^ Robert Royce Eubanks, July 22, 1958 – October 14, 2000. Social Security Death Index
  14. ^ Though Eubanks' report was false, it gave the police probable cause to enter Lawrence's home.
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^ a b Carpenter, Flagrant Conduct, 83
  18. ^ Carpenter, Flagrant Conduct, 113–4
  19. ^ Carpenter, Flagrant Conduct, 131
  20. ^
  21. ^ Carpenter, Flagrant Conduct, 19–40
  22. ^ Carpenter, Flagrant Conduct, 144–9
  23. ^ Carpenter, Flagrant Conduct, 150–2
  24. ^ Carpenter, Flagrant Conduct, 162–6
  25. ^ Carpenter, Flagrant Conduct, 167–70
  26. ^ Carpenter, Flagrant Conduct, 173, 175
  27. ^ Carpenter, Flagrant Conduct, 177–9
  28. ^ Carpenter, Flagrant Conduct, 184–5
  29. ^ Carpenter, Flagrant Conduct, 198–200
  30. ^ Carpenter, Flagrant Conduct, 200
  31. ^ Carpenter, Flagrant Conduct, 203–6
  32. ^ Carpenter, Flagrant Conduct, 211 ff.
  33. ^ Carpenter, Flagrant Conduct, 214–6
  34. ^ Mark Tushnet, A Court Divided: The Rehnquist Court and the Future of Constitutional Law (NY: W.W. Norton, 2005), 169–70
  35. ^ Carpenter, Flagrant Conduct, 189–91, 214–6, 234–47
  36. ^ Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003), at 564, 571.
  37. ^ Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003), at 574.
  38. ^ Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 578 (2003). Page 21 of the decision.
  39. ^ Williams v. Pryor, which upheld Alabama's prohibition on the sale of sex toys; Milner v. Apfel, which asserted that "legislatures are permitted to legislate with regard to morality...rather than confined to preventing demonstrable harms"; Holmes v. California Army National Guard, which upheld the federal statute and regulations banning from military service those who engage in homosexual conduct; Owens v. State, 352 Md. 663, which held that "a person has no constitutional right to engage in sexual intercourse, at least outside of marriage."
  40. ^ He summarized the majority's criteria as: looking to (1) "whether its foundations have been 'eroded' by subsequent decisions; (2) it has been subject to 'substantial and continuing' criticism; (3) it has not induced 'individual or societal reliance'".
  41. ^ Scalia noted that in Casey stare decisis was of the utmost importance because of the divisive nature of the case. The majority in Lawrence, he wrote, "do[es] not bother to distinguish—or indeed, even bother to mention—the paean to stare decisis coauthored by three Members of today's majority in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. There, when stare decisis meant preservation of judicially invented abortion rights, the widespread criticism of Roe was strong reason to reaffirm it." He continued: "Today, however, the widespread opposition to Bowers, a decision resolving an issue as 'intensely divisive' as the issue in Roe, is offered as a reason in favor of overruling it."
  42. ^ For a critique of this argument, see Ruth E. Sternglantz, "Raining on the Parade of Horribles: Of Slippery Slopes, Faux Slopes, and Justice Scalia's Dissent in Lawrence V. Texas", University of Pennsylvania Law Review, vol. 153, no. 3 (January 2005), esp. 1118–20.
  43. ^ Carpenter, Flagrant Conduct, 269
  44. ^ The New York Times: Linda Greenhouse, "Justices, 6-3, Legalize Gay Sexual Conduct in Sweeping Reversal of Court's '86 Ruling", June 27, 2003, accessed July 16, 2012
  45. ^
  46. ^ Tribe, Laurence H. (2004). "Lawrence v. Texas: The 'Fundamental Right' That Dare Not Speak Its Name". Harvard Law Review. 117:1894–95.
  47. ^
  48. ^ Carpenter, Flagrant Conduct, 268
  49. ^ Robertson, Tatsha (June 27, 2003). "Gays, Lesbians Praise Decision Others Compare It to Roe v. Wade". The Boston Globe. National/Foreign p. A28. Retrieved February 16, 2011.
  50. ^ Shapiro, Ari. (October 13, 2006). "Gay Republicans Feel Heat from the Foley Scandal". All Things Considered. National Public Radio. Retrieved February 16, 2011.
  51. ^
  52. ^ Katherine M. Franke, "The Domesticated Liberty of Lawrence v. Texas", Columbia Law Review, vol. 104, no. 5 (June 2004), esp. 1401–4, 1408–9, 1411–3. For a related discussion of the jurisprudence of sexual freedom and same-sex marriage, see Ariela R. Dubler, "From McLaughlin v. Florida to Lawrence v. Texas: Sexual Freedom and the Road to Marriage", Columbia Law Review, vol. 106, no. 5 (June 2006), 1165–87.
  53. ^ Kansas Courts: , October 21, 2005State v. Limon, accessed July 16, 2012: "we are directed in our equal protection analysis by the United States Supreme Court's holding in Lawrence that moral disapproval of a group cannot be a legitimate governmental interest".
  54. ^
  55. ^ American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Western Missouri
  56. ^ 280 Kan. 275, 122 P.3d 22 (2005)
  57. ^
  58. ^
  59. ^ Grossmann, Johanna (January 25, 2005). "Virginia Strikes Down State Fornication Law". CNN. Retrieved May 9, 2012.
  60. ^
  61. ^
  62. ^ Williams v. Attorney General of Alabama, 378 F.3d 1232 (11th Cir. 2004)
  63. ^ Reliable Consultants, Inc., v. Earle, 517 F.3d 738 (5th Cir. 2008)
  64. ^ The New York Times: Linda Greenhouse, "Supreme Court Paved Way for Marriage Ruling With Sodomy Law Decision", November 19, 2003, accessed July 16, 2012
  65. ^ Perry v. Schwarzenegger Page 63 item 21 c [1]
  66. ^
  67. ^
  68. ^
  69. ^ Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. at 586.
  70. ^ Hunter, Nan D. (2004). "Living with Lawrence". Minnesota Law Review. 88:1104. This interpretation is more consistent with the open-ended balancing style that the more liberal justices have consistently advocated. San Antonio Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Rodriquez, 411 U.S. 1, 98 (Marshall, J., dissenting) (showing "disagreement with the Court's rigidified approach to equal protection analysis").
  71. ^ Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702 (1997) (Souter, J., concurring).
  72. ^ City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Ctr., 473 U.S. 432, 451 (1985) (Stevens, J., concurring): "I have never been persuaded that these so-called 'standards' adequately explain the decisional process."
  73. ^ Lofton v. Secretary of the Department of Children & Family Services, 358 F.3d 804 (United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit 2004).
  74. ^ Witt v. Department of the Air Force, No. 06-35644.
  75. ^
  76. ^


  • Official oral arguments (Transcript)
  • Reading of opinion (Transcript)
  • Oral arguments (MP3 file)
  • Reading of opinion (MP3 file)
  • , 539 U.S. 558 (2003)Lawrence v. Texas
  • Text file of Supreme Court opinion at
  • Works related to Lawrence v. Texas at Wikisource

Further reading

  • A lengthy review of Carpenter, Flagrant Conduct.
  • Wilkes Jr., Donald E. (2003). Lawrence v. Texas: An Historic Human Rights Victory.

External links

  • Text of Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003) is available from:  Findlaw  Justia  OpenJurist 
  • The Invasion of Sexual Privacy
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