Lawrence v. Texas

Following is the case brief for Lawrence v. Texas, United States Supreme Court, (2003)

Case Summary for Lawrence v. Texas:

  • Lawrence and Garner were arrested for engaging in homosexual conduct at the home of John Geddes. Both men were convicted under the statute making it a crime to engage in sexual intercourse with another individual of the same sex.
  • Lawrence petitioned the United States Supreme Court, claiming that statute was unconstitutional and violated his 14th Amendment rights.
  • The Supreme Court held that intimate sexual conduct between consenting adults is a liberty interest protected under the 14th Amendment’s Due Process Clause.

Lawrence v. Texas Case Brief

Statement of the facts:

Lawrence and Garner were engaging in sexual activity when an officer entered the home of Lawrence in response to a reported weapons disturbance. The officer arrested both Lawrence and Garner and held each in overnight custody.  The two men were later charged in Texas by a Justice of the Peace.

Procedural History:

Lawrence was convicted and exercised his right to a new trial. His convictions were affirmed. Lawrence then appealed to the Texas court of appeals. The court of appeals affirmed the decision and after petitioning the Supreme Court, certiorari was granted.

Issue and Holding:

Is the right of consenting adults to engage in private sexual conduct, including homosexual activities, protected under the constitution? Yes.

Rule of Law or Legal Principle Applied:

The right of consenting adults to engage in sexual conduct in the privacy of their homes is protected by the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment’s liberty interest. This right encompasses homosexual activities.


Overruled, two consenting adults may engage in sexual activity in the privacy of their own home.


The Court in Bowers v. Hardwick, 478 U.S. 168 (1986), upheld a statute in Georgia which prohibited consensual, private, sodomy amongst both hetero and homosexuals. The Bower’s Court incorrectly framed the issue as whether homosexuals have a right to engage in sexual activity under the Constitution. This Court held that a ruling stating the right is not protected, would essentially have the same consequence as determining whether or not homosexual relationships, in general, are lawful. This determination would intrude on the fundamental right of homosexuals to participate in familial relationships as well as intimate and personal relationships.

This Court held there is no historical precedent in America of laws directed at prohibiting distinct homosexual conduct.  In addition, enforcing legal punish for consensual conduct would be very difficult.

The Bower’s Court was largely overstated when it relied on historical traditions in prohibiting homosexual activity and was likely based on religious and moral preferences of each Justice.

This Court noted that many states that have laws in place prohibiting homosexual conduct do not prosecute those who engage. The result is likely a reflection of the increasing social and legal acceptance of the right to privacy of consenting adults and homosexuals. The Court cites Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992) as authority stating evidence of this tendency.

The Court held that the rights of consenting adults to engage in homosexual activity is protected under the liberty interest of the substantive due process clause. Here, the sexual activity in question is protected by the Due Process Clause and Bowers is unconstitutional and overturned.

Concurring/Dissenting opinion:

Concurring (O’Connor)

The Majority’s basis for invalidating the Texas statute is improper.  The law only punishes homosexual conduct and should be held unconstitutional as a violation of Equal Protection.  The state of Texas’ only goal is a … “desire to harm a politically unpopular group.”

Dissenting (Scalia):

Bowers should be accorded respect in regards to the principals of stare decisis. In addition, the court should not take into consideration public opinion or foreign laws when making such a ruling.

Dissent (Thomas):

Although the state statute is “uncommonly silly” and should be repealed, there is nothing in the Constitution or its Bill of Rights that prevents the state from enacting the law in question.


Lawrence v. Texas was the landmark case that decriminalized homosexual conduct and “keeps the government out of our bedrooms” so to speak. The right of consenting adults both homo and heterosexual to engage in sexual conduct was recognized as a constitutional right protected under the right to privacy.

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