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Lawrence V. Texas and Judicial Hubris


Nelson Lund


George Mason University School of Law

John O. McGinnis


Northwestern University - School of Law


Michigan Law Review, Vol. 102, No. 7, pp. 1555-1614, June 2004
George Mason Law & Economics Research Paper No. 04-17
Northwestern Public Law Research Paper No. 04-02

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 anticonstitutional 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.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 61

Keywords: Supreme Court, constitutional law, substantive due process, judicial review

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Date posted: April 22, 2004 ; Last revised: February 21, 2008

Suggested Citation

Lund, Nelson and McGinnis, John O., Lawrence V. Texas and Judicial Hubris. Michigan Law Review, Vol. 102, No. 7, pp. 1555-1614, June 2004; George Mason Law & Economics Research Paper No. 04-17; Northwestern Public Law Research Paper No. 04-02. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=534343

Contact Information

Nelson Robert Lund
George Mason University School of Law ( email )
3301 Fairfax Drive
Arlington, VA 22201
United States
703-993-8045 (Phone)
John McGinnis (Contact Author)
Northwestern University - School of Law ( email )
375 E. Chicago Ave
Unit 1505
Chicago, IL 60611
United States
312-503-3235 (Phone)
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