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Lawrence vs. Texas (2003)

Brief the Case: Lawrence vs. Texas

In June 2003, the Supreme Court made the famous ruling on the Lawrence v. Texas case, which overruled the State Court’s statute that prohibited deviate sexual contacts between two individuals of the same sex. Officers of the Harris County Police Department were called to respond to a complaint regarding weapons disturbance. In their patrols, the officers entered the residence of one of the defendants, John Geddes Lawrence. The right of the police to access the premise was not in question. The officers witnessed the two defendants, Lawrence and Tyron Garner, engaging in a deviate sexual act. The two were arrested and duly charged after being held overnight in custody.


The Intent of the Defendant

The defendants were charged under a Texas State Penal Code that deemed it illegal for any individual to engage in a deviate sexual act or activity with another individual of the same sex (Texas Penal Code Ann. §21.06(a) (2003)). The deviate sexual contact that the complainants were filing against in this case was anal sexual intercourse, as witnessed by the officers. The statute further explains the definition of a deviate sexual act as a contact of any manner between genitals of one individual and the anus or mouth of another individual or penetrating a person’s anus or genitals with the use of an object.

Harmful Result of the Defendant’s Actions

The defendants appealed to the Equal Protection Clause that is provided for in the Fourteenth Amendment. They argued that the statute criminalized only deviate sexual contact between members of the same sex but does not criminalize similar acts between heterosexual couples. The defendants regarded this as being in contention with the Equal Protection Clause, which ‘prohibits states from denying any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws’. The clause deems it illegal for a state to discriminate against citizens within its jurisdiction by judging similar cases on different legal bases. Additionally, the defendants appealed the ruling by the state court with regard to the Due Process Clause contained in the Fourteenth Amendment, which protects an individual’s right to liberty and privacy.

Besides, the sexual act was consensual between two adults. In its ruling, the Supreme Court reversed the ruling by the state court and thus consequently overturned the court’s position on a similar case, Bowers v. Hardwick. The Supreme Court took into consideration the Due Process Clause as well as the Equal Protection Clause. The court also regarded previous rulings in cases, such as Griswold v. Connecticut, which also brought about issues of privacy and liberty in terms of limiting access to contraceptive methods. In this and other rulings, statutes were overruled and hence the court applied this same justification for Lawrence v. Texas case.

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Case Application and Reflection

In Lawrence v. Texas case, the first evident ethical dilemma presented is the issue of homosexuality and its legality. Criminalization of homosexuality has brought about a heated debate amongst legislators across the nation with different states having conflicting laws. Additionally, the ethical issue that is homosexuality often gives rise to other ethical issues like privacy, liberty, and equality. All of these issues were put forward in Lawrence v. Texas case.

Cases that bear ethical dilemmas often prove to be complicated because their solutions require an in-depth analysis of the already existing laws that may be conflicting and employing a process to arrive at a fair judgment. A common process that is employed is to first analyze the consequences involved. This step temporarily overrides the legalities of the matter at hand. It only considers the weight of the results of various choices present. Weighing out the consequences of each final decision branch also involves looking at the long-term effects of decisions (Pollock, 2003).

The decision-maker should make a decision that is more inclined to provide long-term solutions and benefits as opposed to the short-term ones. After analyzing the consequences of each decision branch, one should then look at the legal and moral obligations in order to obtain a guideline for making a decision. In another process, the selection of a decision branch should not be the final step in solving an ethical dilemma (Pollock 2003). The solution should then be subjected to a critical analysis before being implemented.

Knowledge from past cases, if available, should be factored in during the decision-making process. This was evident in the case of Lawrence v. Texas, in which the Supreme Court regarded its previous ruling on a similar case, Griswold v. Connecticut. Lack of using previous knowledge often results in a conflicting ruling of similar cases. For example, the two cases mentioned above both presented ethical dilemmas that pertained to privacy, liberty, and equality, all of which are provided for by the Fourteenth Amendment. The Supreme Court, therefore, had to factor this knowledge so as to prevent conflicting rulings in similar cases. The consequences of ignoring previous knowledge and information can be matched with the consequences of misinterpreting it as well.

In 1987, the Supreme Court outlawed racial discrimination in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke. It was considered to be the landmark ruling that provided the base for the creation and implementation of affirmative and non-discriminative policies by institutions, more so, learning institutions. However, in 2001, the U.S. District Judge, Bernard Friedman, made a contradictory ruling, as compared to another U.S. District Judge, Patrick Duggan. Both of the cases touched on the racial implication of institutions’ policies. Judge Friedman agreed with Judge Duggan and the Supreme Court ruling that racial diversity is crucial in a learning institution in order to enrich the experiences of its members as well as eliminate discrimination.

Friedman, however, speaking of his opinion, said that diversity could only be obtained through registration, which was neutral in terms of race. Duggan, on the contrary, was of the opinion that race should be considered as one of the factors in admitting individuals. While both of them were looking to implement the Supreme Court ruling that advocates for racial diversity in learning institutions, Friedman felt that racial diversity should be a natural occurrence and should not be enforced; an opinion that was disputed by Duggan’s ruling. This example shows how the misinterpretation of knowledge from previous cases can result in wrong decisions or conflicting decisions in similar cases.

Ethical dilemmas that have been presented by various cases throughout history have often hinged on multiculturalism. They have, in one way or another, incorporated issues of gender, sexual identity/orientation, racial discrimination, ethnicity as well as religious issues. This just goes to emphasize the effect of multiculturalism on the criminal justice system. The evolution of the modern-day society into one that is more culturally accepting has presented challenges in the criminal justice system. Acts that were once considered criminal are now being overruled and others that were once legal are now being declared illegal. A case in point is the Racial Hatred Act (1995), which was implemented as a replacement for the Racial Discrimination Act (1975).

The Racial Hatred Act 1995

According to the Racial Hatred Act, offensive behavior on the basis of an individual’s race, nationality or ethnicity is illegal. The Racial Hatred Act was landmark legislation in ensuring equality and non-discrimination. Another famous legislation that embraces multiculturalism is the Civil Rights Act (1964). This act outlaws the discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion or nationality of origin when it comes to employment opportunities (Xanthaki, 2013). Homosexuality can also be viewed as a multicultural issue on the basis of sexual identity/orientation. Several laws have been passed legalizing homosexuality and protecting the rights of homosexuals against discrimination.

On May 17, 2004, for instance, same-sex marriages were legalized in Massachusetts. In February 2008, the state of Oregon deems it legal for same-sex couples to register as partners. In so doing, same-sex couples in Oregon are entitled to some of the spousal rights that married couples are entitled to. These examples go to show the effect that multicultural aspects of our society have on legislation and judgments in the criminal justice system. As our society evolves to become more accommodating to various multicultural aspects, so should our laws.

The criminal justice system consists of a set of agencies established by the government, whose function is to minimize criminal activities and bring to book those involved in these criminal activities. Decisions and policies implemented in the criminal justice system have a direct impact on society. Take, for example, the Regents of the University of California v. Bakke case, as judged by the Supreme Court. This ruling ensured that there is no racial discrimination in terms of race when it comes to learning institutions. Racism is an issue that has plagued Americans with its roots entrenched in history. Such a ruling seeks to change the societal approach on matters to do with racism, more so, in learning institutions. By fostering diversity at an early age in our children we are able to strive towards a racially tolerant society void of discrimination (Xanthaki 2013).

Legal Case Brief Summary

Lawrence v. Texas case brought about some serious discrimination, privacy, and liberty issues. The ruling of the Supreme Court in reversing the previous ruling was crucial for future cases with regard to homosexuality. The ruling also called for a change in traditional societal views on homosexuality, as evident in the Texas Statute. This ruling alongside other rulings and passed legislation indicates a society that is more accepting and less discriminative towards homosexuals or any other forms of sexual orientation in general. This is the right course for a society that seeks to be a multicultural society. More legislation needs to be passed in order to ensure nationwide acceptance of homosexuals. The passing of legislation should be coupled with the sensitization of the public on the rights of homosexuals.

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