Lawrence Hardwick (1986) as precedent. The Supreme Court

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lawrence v. Texas

539 U.S. 558 (2003)

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Case Brief

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Melissa
Cary

Introduction to Law

Professor
Urman

February
1st, 2018

Lawrence
v. Texas

U.S. Supreme Court

539 U.S. 558 (2003)

 

Facts:  In
Houston, Texas, police officers entered the residence of John Geddes Lawrence
in response to a reported weapons disturbance. Upon entering, the officers
discovered Mr. Lawrence engaged in a sexual act with Tyron Garner. The two
appellants were arrested for violation of the Texas Penal Code §21.06(a) ,
which prohibits the engagement of deviate sexual intercourse with an individual
of the same sex. The appellants were arrested, held, and eventually charged and
convicted before a Justice of the Peace.

Procedural History: Following the initial conviction,
the appellants utilized their right to a new trial and challenged the statute in the Harris County Criminal Court as a
violation of their rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth
Amendment and a related provision found in the Texas Constitution. With Court
rejection of their contentions and their plea of nolo contendere, the case moved to the Court of Appeals for the
Texas Fourteenth District. Analyzing the appellants’ claims against the Equal
Protection and Due Process of the Fourteenth Amendment, opinion was divided and
ultimately rejected the arguments naming Bowers
v. Hardwick (1986) as precedent. The Supreme Court granted certiorari in 2003.

Issues Presented: The Supreme Court considered the
following issues when reviewing the case:

“1.
Whether 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 laws?”

“2.Whether
Petitioners’ criminal convictions for adult consensual sexual intimacy in the
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?”

Decision: 1. The Court concluded that “the case should be resolved by
determining whether petitioners were free as adults to engage in the private
conduct in the exercise of their liberty under the Due Process,” so the issue
of a possible violation of equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment was
not considered.

2.
Yes, the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Texas Fourteenth District violated the appellants’ vital interests in
liberty and privacy protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth
Amendment through their criminal convictions and as such, the convictions were reversed.

3.Yes,
the ruling in Bowers v. Hardwick
(1986)  was found to be incorrect and was
ultimately overturned.

Holding: This case stands for the
proposition that all individuals’
decisions concerning the intimacies of a physical relationship in the privacy
of their homes are a form of liberty protected by the Due Process Clause of the
Fourteenth Amendment.

Reasoning: Reviewing the possible violation of
the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as well as the
constitutionality of Bowers v. Hardwick, the
justices consulted precedents that expanded the rights of sexual conduct and,
“reaffirmed the substantive force of the Due Process Clause.” Finding that choices closely tied to personal dignity
and autonomy are central to the liberty guaranteed
under the Constitution, they looked to
the worldwide acceptance of homosexuality and the consistent pronouncement that
homosexual adults  have a protected right
to engage in intimate conduct. Within the United States,  states’ adoption of the Moral Penal Code,
which recommended against the criminal
prosecution of homosexuals, furthered their belief that sexual intimacies of
all adult citizens are a liberty under the Constitution.

Analyzing  Bowers
v. Hardwick, the justices criticized the previous Court’s failure to
identify the degree of liberty at risk. Noting
that many states have removed their laws against homosexual sodomy or have
shown a “pattern of nonenforcement with respect to consenting adults in private,”
the justices deemed that the historical context on which the prior decision
relies on is more complex and less substantial in today’s society. Claiming
their “obligation is to define the liberty of all, not to mandate our own moral
code,” the court determined that the initial decision in  Bowers
v. Hardwick was not correct.

Precedents:

-Griswold v. Connecticut (1965): The
right of citizens to make certain decisions regarding sexual conduct extends
beyond married individuals 

-Planned Parenthood of Southeastern PA v.
Casey (1992): Confirmed the substantive force of the liberty protected by
the Due Process Clause

-Romer v. Evans (1996): Class-based
legislation targeting homosexuals is a violation of the Equal Protection Clause

Concurrence: Justice O’Connor sided with the
majority on the unconstitutionality of the Texas Penal Act, but felt  the conclusion should have been based on the
clear violation of the Equal Protection
Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Believing, “moral disapproval cannot
legitimize governmental discrimination,” she argued that a law only penalizing
same-sex couples failed to provide proper equality to all. Recognizing Bowers v. Hardwick as a separate issue
involving Due Process, she declined to comment on the Court’s  decision to overrule the decision.

Dissent: Justice Scalia, joined by the Chief
Justice and Justice Thomas, argued that homosexual sodomy is not listed as a
“fundamental right” under the Due Process Clause. Believing that fundamental rights must be deeply rooted in history and that states have the ability to
deprive liberty as long as due process is preserved, he criticized the other Justices for tarnishing the integrity of stare
decisis and allowing the “Homosexual agenda” to corrupt the Courts’ views.
Justice Thomas agreed with Scalia’s writing, but also expressed his belief that while
the Texas Penal Act is a “silly,” there is no explicit mention of a right to
privacy in the U.S. Constitution.

Policy Discussion:
While focusing on a
specific statute in Texas, the case reflected policy issues regarding equality
and the fundamental rights afforded to those in the LGBTQ community. The
decision to reverse the verdicts in both the case in question and Bowers v. Hardwick, represent the
Court’s support for protecting the
liberty of all citizens regardless of their sexual orientation. It can be
argued that Lawrence v. Texas, initiated the legal movement towards full
equality as Massachusetts went on to become
the first state to legalize gay marriage that same year. Lawrence v. Texas also helped solidify
the role of the Courts as mediators of the law and not implementors of morality.

My Views: I agreed with the majority’s
decision to reverse the criminal convictions on the grounds of a violation of
the Due Proces Clause. I believe that as citizens, we should have the right to
privately conduct matters of intimacy in our own homes without fear of being
criminalized for them. In addition, I also feel that Justice O’Connor makes a valid
point when she highlights the unconstitutionality of a law only targeting
homosexual individuals.  I think morals
and social norms are always shifting, and while the Court has a responsibility
to be aware of them, their role is to ensure equality and fundamental rights for all citizens. I was surpised to see 

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