Bowers v. Hardwick

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Bowers v. Hardwick
Court U.S. Supreme Court
Citation 478 U.S. 186 (1986)
Date decided June 30, 1986
Appealed from U.S. Court of Appeals, 11th Circuit
Distinguished Griswold v. Connecticut
Case Opinions
majority written by Byron White
joined by Warren E. Burger, Lewis F. Powell Jr., William Rehnquist, Sandra Day O'Connor
concurrence written by Warren E. Burger
concurrence written by Lewis F. Powell Jr.
dissent written by Harry Blackmun
joined by William J. Brennan Jr., Thurgood Marshall, John P. Stevens
dissent written by John P. Stevens
joined by William J. Brennan Jr., Thurgood Marshall

Facts: Michael Hardwick was observed by a Georgia police officer while engaging in the act of consensual homosexual sodomy with another adult in the bedroom of his home. After being charged with violating a Georgia statute that criminalized sodomy, Hardwick challenged the statute's constitutionality in Federal District Court. Following a ruling that Hardwick failed to state a claim, the court dismissed. On appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded, holding that Georgia's statute was unconstitutional. Georgia's Attorney General, Michael J. Bowers, appealed to the Supreme Court and was granted certiorari.

Issue: Does the Constitution confer a fundamental right upon homosexuals to engage in consensual sodomy, thereby invalidating the laws of many states which make such conduct illegal?

Holding: No. The divided Court found that there was no constitutional protection for acts of sodomy, and that states could outlaw those practices.

Rationale: Justice Byron White argued that the Court has acted to protect rights not easily identifiable in the Constitution only when those rights are "implicit in the concept of ordered liberty" (Palko v. Connecticut, 1937) or when they are "deeply rooted in the Nation's history and tradition" (Griswold v. Connecticut, 1965). The Court held that the right to commit sodomy did not meet either of these standards. White feared that guaranteeing a right to sodomy would be the product of "judge-made constitutional law" and send the Court down the road of illegitimacy.

Notes: The Court subsequently overruled this decision in Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003).