overruled Bowers v. Hardwick (1986)
Petitioner: John Lawrence
Venue: Supreme Court of the United States
Opinion of the Court: Lawrence v. Texas (2003)
Issue(s) Before the Court:
- 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?
- 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?
- Whether Bowers v. Hardwick, 478 U.S. 186 (1986), should be overruled?"
Plaintiff / Appellant / Petitioner's Claim(s):
Defendant / Appellee / Respondent's Claim(s):
Holding(s) and Disposition:
- Responding to a reported weapons disturbance in a private residence, Houston police entered petitioner Lawrence's apartment and saw him and another adult man, petitioner Garner, engaging in a private, consensual sexual act.
- Petitioners were arrested and convicted of deviate sexual intercourse in violation of a Texas statute forbidding two persons of the same sex to engage in certain intimate sexual conduct.
- A full recounting of the facts is available below
- [Deputy] Quinn charged Lawrence and Garner with "deviate sex" under Chapter 21, Section 21.06 of the Texas Penal Code.
- They pleaded no content to the charges on the advice of their lawyers ....
- Although a three-judge appellate panel initially agreed with the defendants and struck down the law,
- an en banc review reversed the panel without hearing oral arguments and found the law constitutional.
- The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (essentially the state supreme court for criminal matters) declined review.
Kennedy Majority Opinion (Stevens, Souter, Ginsberg, Breyer)
- Liberty protects the person from unwarranted government intrusions into a dwelling or other private places.
- Liberty presumes an autonomy of self that includes freedom of thought, belief, expression, and certain intimate conduct.
- We conclude the case should be resolved by determining whether the petitioners were free as adults to engage in the private conduct in the exercise of their liberty under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.
- In summary, the historical grounds relied upon in Bowers are more complex than the majority opinion and the concurring opinion by Chief Justice Burger indicate.
- Their historical premises are not without doubt and, at the very least, are overstated.
- The issue is whether the majority may use the power of the State to enforce these views on the whole society through operation of the criminal law.
- The holding in Bowers however, has not induced detrimental reliance comparable to some instances where recognized individual rights are involved.
- 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.
- Their right to liberty under the Due Process Clause gives them the full right to engage in their conduct without intervention of the government.
- As the Constitution endures, persons in every generation can invoke its principles in their own search for greater freedom.
- The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Texas Fourteenth District is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.
- A full description of the rationale is available below
O'Connor Concurrance in judgement (??)
- I joined Bowers, and do not join the Court in overruling it.
- Nevertheless, I agree with the Court that Texas' statute banning same-sex sodomy is unconstitutional.
- ... I base my conclusion on the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.
- When a law exhibits such a desire to harm a politically unpopular group, we have applied a more searching form of rational basis review to strike down such laws under the Equal Protection Clause.
- The Texas statute makes homosexuals unequal in the eyes of the law by making particular conduct--and only that conduct--subject to criminal sanction.
- This case raises a different issue than Bowers: whether, under the Equal Protection Clause, moral disapproval is a legitimate state interest to justify by itself a statute that bans homosexual sodomy, but not heterosexual sodomy.
- It is not.
- Moral disapproval of a group cannot be a legitimate governmental interest under the Equal Protection Clause because legal classifications must not be "drawn for the purpose of disadvantaging the group burdened by the law." Department of Agriculture v. Moreno at 633.
- Texas cannot assert any legitimate state interest here, such as national security or preserving the traditional institution of marriage.
Scalia Dissent (Rehnquist, Thomas)
Thomas Dissent (Rehnquist, Thomas)
Full Recounting of Facts
- A list of the material facts is available above
Majority Full Argument
- The core of the rationale is available above