National NOW Times >> Fall 2003 >> Article
Supreme Court Rules on Landmark Cases
by Michele Keller, Web Editor and Shana Taylor, Legal Intern
The Supreme Court recently ruled on two cases with sweeping ramifications for lesbian and gay rights, civil rights, and racial and ethnic diversity in higher education.
Lawrence v. Texas: A Resounding Victory for LGBT Rights
In a landmark 6-3 ruling announced on June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Texas sodomy law and overruled a similar Georgia law, affirming the constitutional right to privacy. The case was brought by John Lawrence and Tyron Garner, who were arrested and convicted under the Texas sodomy law after sheriff's deputies, responding to a false report of an armed intruder, burst into Lawrence's home. The men challenged the statute on grounds that it violates their Constitutional right to privacy and their right to equal protection under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The Court considered three issues: whether sodomy laws like those in Texas–under which the same sexual act would be illegal for same-sex couples but legal for opposite-sex couples–violate the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection; whether it was a violation of the 14th Amendment's due-process clause to arrest people for consensual intimacy in a private home; and whether Bowers v. Hardwick, which upheld Georgia's sodomy law on the basis of traditional morality, should be overruled.
Feminists and other advocates of equal rights applauded the ruling as a clear victory, particularly because a majority of the justices used the right to privacy as the basis of the decision. "States have no business snooping into, much less busting into, the bedrooms of consenting adults," NOW President Kim Gandy said.
Gandy noted that though six justices voted to overturn the law, only five supported the right to privacy as the basis of the decision—a reminder of the Court's delicate balance and what is at stake with the next resignation from the Court. "If such a vacancy is filled by a justice in the mold of Antonin Scaliawho in his dissent compared homosexuality with bestiality and incest, and criticized the majority for siding with a 'so-called homosexual agenda'civil rights and women's rights will be set back for decades." For more on Scalia, click here.
The U. of Michigan Cases: A Split Decision on Affirmative Action
Three days before announcing the Lawrence v. Texas decision, the Supreme Court issued a ruling on the affirmative action policies in two cases challenging the admissions programs at the University of Michigan undergraduate program and the University of Michigan law school.
In 1978, the Court had ruled in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke that a school couldn't use quotas, but could take race and ethnicity into account with admissions programs "narrowly tailored" to achieve educational diversity.
The Supreme Court considered whether the two University of Michigan programs were flexible enough to provide each applicant with the "individualized consideration" necessary to withstand constitutional challenge:
"Widespread racial and gender inequality still exist in virtually every aspect of our society, and higher education is no exception," Gandy said. "The University of Michigan policies have created opportunities, helped to overcome past discrimination, and opened avenues for learning and cultural exchange that benefit students of all races."
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