With Buzzfeed having picked up Virginia’s petition for rehearing en banc in MacDonald v. Moose (previously discussed here and here), I am prompted to post a quotation from the Court’s opinion in Lawrence v. Texas that recently jumped out at me.
First, some background. I argued in my first post on the case that the panel majority misread Lawrence v. Texas as requiring facial invalidation of the “anti-sodomy provision” in Virginia’s “crimes against nature” statute. One basis for my argument was the claim that “reasoning throughout [Lawrence] is all about the petitioners’ personal interests in liberty and privacy.” One commenter on that post criticized its reasoning by asserting that “bending over backwards to say that the facts here are slightly different and that should be sufficient is not a reasonable position to take because it is based on narrowing Justice Kennedy’s entire due-process analysis to one case and one case only.” That is not the position I meant to adopt. Rather, the force of Lawrence as a precedent rests on its ratio decidendi, which is an understanding of the constitutionally protected personal liberty interests of two adults to engage in certain private, consensual conduct.
Apart from what I have previously posted on the subject, support for my reading of the case can be seen in Justice Kennedy’s description of how the case ought to be decided: “We conclude the case should be resolved by determining whether the petitioners were free as adults to engage in the private conduct in the exercise of their liberty under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution” (emphasis added). If one reads Lawrence in this way, then the Virginia court’s disposition of the petitioner’s challenge to his conviction was plainly not contrary to or an unreasonable application of clearly established law.