Working Paper No. 04-17:
Lawrence v. Texas and Judicial Hubris

Author(s):

Nelson Lund, John McGinnis

Date Posted: 2004

Availability:
Abstract (below) | Full text (most recent) on SSRN

Abstract:

Lawrence v. Texas produces a desirable policy result, but it deserves condemnation as a legal decision. It repudiates the Supreme Court's most recent attempt to put doctrinal restraints on the most anti-constitutional doctrine in constitutional law - substantive due process.

That doctrine, for which the Court has never provided a successful textual justification, has been selectively employed over the decades to advance a variety of political agendas popular with Supreme Court majorities. In 1938, Carolene Products put meaningful restraints on substantive due process, taming that doctrine for about a quarter of a century. With Griswold and Roe v. Wade, the Court adopted a new substantive due process agenda - sexual freedom. In Washington v. Glucksberg, the Court sought to restore most of the limits of the Carolene Products approach, while leaving the Griswold-Roe line in place, by adopting a test requiring that newly recognized rights be "deeply rooted in the nation's history and tradition."

Lawrence repudiates the Glucksberg approach and instead deploys an undisciplined form of judicial mysticism. Notwithstanding the availability of plausible arguments based on precedent to invalidate the Texas law, the Lawrence Court chose instead to rely on a series of utterly untenable arguments and analytically empty bombast. We argue that the Lawrence approach is not law in any meaningful sense of the term, but only a vehicle for judges to impose their own political preferences on the nation.

We also rebut some justifications that could be offered in defense of Lawrence. We show that Professor Robert Post's concept of a "conversation" between the Court and the nation obliterates the concept of law as something distinct from politics, and offers a theory of judicial review that would justify even a decision like Plessy v. Ferguson. Second, we show that Professor Randy Barnett fails in his effort to provide Lawrence with a foundation in the Constitution because he misinterprets the Ninth Amendment and the Privileges or Immunities Clause. Third, we rebut those who would defend Lawrence on pragmatic grounds by explaining why we think competitive federalism is a far superior mechanism for creating new norms of liberty, and for correcting the mistakes that are inevitable in any process of policy development.

Finally, we outline the case for repudiating the Griswold-Roe-Lawrence line of cases and for using the Glucksberg test to return the Court's substantive due process jurisprudence roughly to where it stood as a result of Carolene Products.