"A real-life detective story that reveals the drama behind the scenes of a great Supreme Court victory for human rights." —Linda GreenhouseNo one could have predicted that the night of September 17, 1998, would be anything but routine in Houston, Texas. Even the call to police that a black man was "going crazy with a gun" was hardly unusual in this urban setting. Nobody could have imagined that the arrest of two men for a minor criminal offense would reverberate in American constitutional law, exposing a deep malignity in our judicial system and challenging the traditional conception of what makes a family. Indeed, when Harris County sheriff’s deputies entered the second-floor apartment, there was no gun. Instead, they reported that they had walked in on John Lawrence and Tyron Garner having sex in Lawrence’s bedroom.So begins Dale Carpenter’s "gripping and brilliantly researched" Flagrant Conduct, a work nine years in the making that transforms our understanding of what we thought we knew about Lawrence v. Texas, the landmark Supreme Court decision of 2003 that invalidated America’s sodomy laws. Drawing on dozens of interviews, Carpenter has taken on the "gargantuan" task of extracting the truth about the case, analyzing the claims of virtually every person involved.Carpenter first introduces us to the interracial defendants themselves, who were hardly prepared "for the strike of lightning" that would upend their lives, and then to the Harris County arresting officers, including a sheriff’s deputy who claimed he had "looked eye to eye" in the faces of the men as they allegedly fornicated. Carpenter skillfully navigates Houston’s complex gay world of the late 1990s, where a group of activists and court officers, some of them closeted themselves, refused to bury what initially seemed to be a minor arrest.The author charts not only the careful legal strategy that Lambda Legal attorneys adopted to make the case compatible to a conservative Supreme Court but also the...
In a presidential election year when the debate over gay marriage rages, Carpenter returns to the landmark 2003 Supreme Court case Lawrence v. Texas which overturned state laws criminalizing consensual homosexual sex. Carpenter s probing research leads him to question the basic facts of the case: that in Houston in 1998, John Lawrence and Tyron Garner were engaged in anal sex when sheriff s deputies entered Lawrence s apartment, ostensibly looking for an armed man. Carpenter lays out the case s background, including the machismo that dominated the sheriff s office and Texas s history of antigay laws. The story of this case is many-layered, from the stakes for the litigants to the cultural crosscurrents and often shifting societal values; strategic legal gamesmanship; and the prejudices and predilections of Supreme Court justices. Carpenter, professor of civil rights and civil liberty law at the University of Minnesota, integrates all of these parallel parts for a fully rounded account that captures the human and legal dimensions of this groundbreaking case. In his view of the case s significance: It was a judgment that gay sex, too, might lead... lasting relationships. Carpenter presents an engrossing depiction of a pivotal case in 21st-century American jurisprudence. 8 pages of illus.
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Repetitive at time but a great read about an important issue.