Lawrence v. Texas (2003) | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee


Course: Introduction / Criminal Law

Lawrence v. Texas (2003) is a landmark SCOTUS decision that struck down a Texas sodomy law, effectively ruling criminal laws that prohibit homosexual sexual activity unconstitutional.

Lawrence v. Texas (2003) was a landmark decision by the Supreme Court of the United States that had far-reaching implications for LGBT rights in America. The case centered on a Texas sodomy law that made same-sex sexual activity illegal. Lawrence, a gay man, and Garner, his partner, were arrested in 1998 by Houston police for engaging in consensual sexual activity in their own home. They were charged with violating the state’s “homosexual conduct” law and fined $200 each.

The case was initially appealed to the Texas Court of Appeals, which upheld the conviction. However, it was eventually taken to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in a 6-3 decision that the Texas law was unconstitutional. In the Court’s majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that the Texas law violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees certain fundamental rights to all Americans, including the right to privacy.

The Lawrence decision was hailed as a significant victory for the LGBT community, as it effectively struck down all remaining sodomy laws in the United States. The decision also signaled a shift in attitudes toward homosexuality and LGBT rights, with many Americans and legal experts arguing that the government should not be involved in regulating consensual sexual behavior between adults in private.

The ruling was also significant in the context of criminal justice, as it highlighted the potential for government overreach in policing people’s private lives. The case raised questions about the limits of state power and the scope of individual rights, particularly with respect to issues of sexual privacy and autonomy. Some legal experts argued that the case could have implications for other areas of criminal law, such as laws prohibiting prostitution or drug use in the privacy of one’s own home.

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Last Modified: 07/07/2021


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