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In 2003, the United States Supreme Court making its ruling regarding the Lawrence v. Texas case, abandoned the rule of stare decisis and found the Texas anti-sodomy laws unconstitutional. In this regard, the Court overturned its previous ruling that upheld the constitutionality of a sodomy law in Gorgia in the famous Bowers v. Hardwick case. There were various societal factors that influenced the Supreme Court’s decision. Considering the gay practice among the American population, the court deemed it appropriate to eliminate the hurdles that forced homosexuals to undertake their acts in ultimate privacy. This would also help change the notion and prejudice present among the conservative members of the society. Since the gay and the lesbian communities were a minority group, the ruling would promote the acceptance of this group in the society. Although the ruling would interfere with the sanctity of the marriage institution that traditionally recognized solely the marriage between individuals of opposite sex, the court will have considered other forms of relationships that were cropping up in the society and needed address to promote cohesion in the society. The court ruling would also establish a new benchmark regarding privacy, an approach that would ensure protection for various private sexual behaviors that the numerous American citizens engaged in and which could lead to arrest and prosecution in some states. Due to the increasing diversity in the American lifestyles, most of the states repelled the anti-sodomy laws with several others portraying patterns of non-enforcement concerning consenting adults whose interaction was private. Furthermore, the Great Britain and the European Court of Human Rights had undertaken measures to eliminated anti-sodomy laws based on societal change. Thus, the Supreme Court deemed it inappropriate to impose a moral conviction on the society as a matter of criminal law. This distinction between morality and law enables the state to have a circumscribed purpose so that some, but not all purposes consistent with the comprehensive propose are proper pursuits to the state. The Court also considered the close relation between religion and morality. It observed that the state has a role of supporting the majority’s religious beliefs. When a behavior is a threat to the society simply because it is contrary to the beliefs of the majority, outlawing that behavior cannot be consistent with religious freedom.
As Justice Kennedy read the majority decision, the various gay and lesbian lawyers present in the courtroom were considerably relieved with the declaration of the anti-sodomy laws in the various states as constitutional. The laws depicted gay people as inferior persons although the intimacy undertaken in the privacy of their homes was consensual. Thus, these laws empowered states to invade the privacy of people’s homes. The fact that the law lacked any provisions regulating such acts in the case of heterosexual couples amounted to prejudice. Criminalizing homosexual conduct invited discrimination against homosexual persons both in the public and private sphere. Justice Kennedy stated that the Texas law facilitated intrusion on the liberty of persons, which the constitution served to protect. An excerpt from the majority ruling report stating that the case involved two adults whose sexual acts were common to a homosexual lifestyle demonstrated the court’s acknowledgement of the homosexual practices which although were private in the American society. The court did not find a substantial reason to criminalize the homosexuals’ existence and to control their destiny, because of the homosexuals’ liberty, provided by the Constitution, that restrained to engage in their acts without the Government’s intervention. The judges in the majority decision found it appropriate to distance the State from interfering in individual freedom of thought, belief and particular intimate conducts. In another excerpt form the majority ruling report, the court avoided to provide categorically any formal recognition to same-sex unions to avoid stirring any unwarranted responses from the conservative individuals who strongly supported the upholding of the previous rulings on the two cases. However, the ruling promoted the recognition of the privacy right for gays and lesbians and the acknowledgement of their dignity in the society. The majority thus overruled the two previous convictions and declared a due process right to consensual, intimate conduct. In this regard, they rejected an alternate argument based on the Equal Protection Clause (Robertson, 2010).
The minority opinion, read by Justice Scalia dwelt on the courts departure from its role of a neutral observer and the preference bestowed on homosexuals. The dissidents argued that the constitution permitted the court to make a distinction between heterosexual and homosexual unions. In this regard, the court ruling promoted the probability of challenges against laws prohibiting such acts as bigamy, prostitution, and bestiality. According to Justice Scalia, the majority’s stance that the law lacked rational basis decreed the end of all moral legislation (Lively & Weaver, 2006). He perceived the majority’s opinion as an agenda promoted by some homosexual activists that aimed at eliminating the prejudice traditionally attached to homosexual acts in the society. In consideration to the notion that some people viewed homosexuality as immoral and destructive rather than a lifestyle, he contended that the issue of homosexuality should be resolved through democratic means. He argued that homosexuals have the right to persuade the public majority to change their moral views regarding them. He further added that the homosexuals’ failure in this regard obliterates their right to seek protection for their minority views on sexual morality. In his closing, Justice Scalia observed that the Supreme Court’s decision initiated inevitable consequences (Richards, 2009). He was particularly concerned with the court’s interpretation regarding liberty. This interpretation related to personal decisions such as marriage, and individuals in homosexual relationships may seek to dismantle the constitutional structure that enables the state to prohibit same-sex marriage. However, the court addressed these concerns with the observation that its holdings did not provide for such instances. Scalia was undoubtedly overhasty in concluding that the majority opinion threatens all moral legislation as the immorality of an act is not sufficient to justify legislation against it.
The social and Christian conservatives’ main concern was the overturning of the sodomy law in all the four states, which meant that same- sex unions would become recognized. This threatened the sanctity of marriage, which distinguished it from other unions such as sodomy, as the ruling would promote same-sex marriages. They anticipated that the court’s decision would interfere with the traditional societal set up.
The two major constitutional provisions that contributed in the court’s ruling were the constitution protections on an individual’s right to privacy and the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S Constitution that guaranteed all individuals equal treatment under the law. Previously, the Supreme Court had ruled in the Roe v. Wade abortion case that the Bill of Rights implied that the government should not interfere in some aspects of the citizens’ lives (Robertson, 2010). The Bill of right is written in a general language that can be adapted to a variety of changing and generally unforeseen circumstances. Thus in its ruling, the Supreme Court extended the right to privacy as provided in the Bill to cater for the right to engage in consensual homosexual relations. Justice Kennedy wrote that the right to engage in private sexual activity is a part of the Right to Liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment due process clause. In this regard, the Majority ruling observed that the meaning of constitutional liberty might change with persons in different generations having varied principles in the search for freedom. Justice O’Connor while concurring in the judgment stated that a law that criminalized a particular group of individuals based on the States disapproval of the class and the conduct associated with it contravened the Constitutional values and the Equal protection clause (Lively & Weaver, 2006). She preferred the state to enact an anti-sodomy law that regulated both the heterosexual and homosexual relationships equally. She viewed the current law as illegitimately based. Thus, the Supreme Court rendered the sodomy laws unconstitutional in Texas and other twelve states. Previously, the court had not addressed the question regarding discrimination based on sexual orientation, which might constitute an equal protection violation.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court considered the right of people to make independent decisions regarding the acts which define their identities and which constitute them as persons. Thus, the Court in its ruling considered the individuals’ self-definition of their identities to conclude to maintain the dignity and integrity that the individuals deserved. By upholding the previous convictions, the Court would be encouraging the continued dictation of the state on the individuals’ freedom that ought to be observed in a democratic society without any compromises whatsoever (Richard, 2009). The Court observed that it was inappropriate for a free society to restrict in any way individual’s construction of their concepts regarding existence and personhood as long as such individuals did not interfere with the freedom and self-determination of other persons. The Court also observed that the current laws subjected homosexuals to discrimination, which unnecessarily affected various aspects of their lives. There lacked any substantial justification on the state’s interested in this regard. The individuals’ right to make independent decisions regarding private and consensual sexual activity considering that they were adults was a personal matter that concerns their identity. Thus, the state ought to distance itself from such an issue.