Lawrence v. Texas (2003)

IRAC Summary

Issue: The primary issue in Lawrence v. Texas is whether the criminal conviction of two adults for engaging in consensual homosexual conduct in the privacy of a home is a violation of their liberty under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Rule: The relevant legal rule comes from the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause which guarantees the right to liberty and the protection against deprivation of that liberty without due process of law. The Court also referred to its prior decisions regarding the right to privacy, including Griswold v. Connecticut and Roe v. Wade.

Application: In applying the rule to this case, the Supreme Court examined whether the Texas statute criminalizing sodomy between same-sex adults infringed upon an individual’s liberty and right to privacy. The Court looked at historical attitudes toward homosexuality and current societal views, as well as its own precedents concerning consensual sexual behavior among adults.

Conclusion: The Supreme Court concluded that the Texas statute violated the Due Process Clause because it infringed on the petitioners’ liberty without affording due process. The Court held that adults are entitled to engage in private conduct without government intervention as part of their liberty under the Fourteenth Amendment. Consequently, the Texas statute was deemed unconstitutional, and the convictions of the petitioners, John Lawrence and Tyron Garner, were overturned.

Detailed IRAC Outline


The issue revolves around whether a Texas statute, which criminalizes consensual sexual conduct between two persons of the same sex, violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.


The legal framework is provided by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. This case also draws upon the judicial precedent established in Bowers v. Hardwick (1986), which upheld sodomy laws against a substantive due process challenge but is re-evaluated by the Court.


  1. Historical Context and Societal Attitudes:
    • The Court analyzed the historical context of laws concerning homosexual conduct.
    • It questioned the rationality and fairness of a legal tradition that penalized homosexual conduct, especially in light of recent changes in societal attitudes.
  2. Precedents Concerning Privacy and Sexual Conduct:
    • The Court revisited and distinguished prior cases, notably Bowers v. Hardwick, which had previously upheld similar sodomy laws.
    • The Court considered the evolution of legal principles and understandings regarding personal relationships and autonomy, citing cases like Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey and Romer v. Evans.
  3. Liberty and Autonomy:
    • The Court asserted that individuals have the right to liberty under the Due Process Clause, which includes the freedom to engage in certain intimate conduct without government intervention.
    • The Court discussed the importance of protecting personal relationships that involve choices central to personal dignity and autonomy.
  4. Equality and the Law:
    • While the equal protection argument was not the primary focus, the Court noted the discriminatory nature of the Texas statute, emphasizing equal respect for the personal lives of all citizens.
  5. International and Professional Views:
    • The Court considered international opinions and the views of professional organizations, noting a global trend toward recognizing the rights of homosexual individuals.
  6. Conclusion of Application:
    • After analyzing these factors, the Court determined that the moral disapproval of a group or a private behavior is not a sufficient reason to uphold a law that infringes upon individual freedoms protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.


The Supreme Court held that the statute in question was unconstitutional as it violated the Due Process Clause by intruding into the personal and private lives of consenting adults. The right to liberty according to the Fourteenth Amendment protects the petitioners’ ability to engage in their chosen sexual conduct without intervention from the state. The Court’s decision in Lawrence v. Texas overruled Bowers v. Hardwick, thereby invalidating similar sodomy laws in other states and fundamentally changing the legal landscape concerning sexual privacy.

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