Remembering John Lawrence, the man behind Lawrence v. Texas

Lawrence

John Lawrence and Tyrone Gardner

Metro Weekly reports that one-time Houstonian John Geddes Lawrence, the “Lawrence” in Lawrence v. Texas, passed away last month at the age of 68:

“In the facts underlying the Supreme Court case, Lawrence v. Texas, Lawrence and Tyron Garner were arrested under Texas’s Homosexual Conduct Law after police entered Lawrence’s home on Sept. 17, 1998, and saw them “engaging in a sexual act.” The couple challenged the law as unconstitutional”

I was 22 and living in Dallas in 2003 when the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Lawrence declaring Texas’ law against “homosexual conduct” unconstitutional. A group of over 100 people gathered in the parking lot of the Resource Center of Dallas as Dennis Coleman, then with Lambda Legal, read excerpts of the decision. I remember the exuberant electricity in the air, the crowd bubbling with joy and the relief of centuries of official oppression finally coming to an end. Similar get-togethers took place across the state, as an entire community breathing a collective sigh of relief.

That relief has turn to frustration over the years. Although the Supreme Court decision rendered Penal Code Section 21.06 unconstitutional, the law remains on the books, and efforts to remove it have met with significant resistance. During a hearing this spring on finally removing the unconstitutional law, Rep. Jose Aliseda, R – Pleasanton, lamented that repeal of the law would entail removing portions of the Health Code requiring that HIV education efforts include information that “homosexual conduct is not an acceptable lifestyle and is a criminal offense under Section 21.06, Penal Code.”

Before Lawrence several attempts were made to remove the law against “homosexual conduct.” The Texas legislature voted to remove it from the penal code as part of a complete rewrite of the code in 1971, but the measure was vetoed by Gov. Preston Smith. In 1973 the Legislature again undertook a rewrite of the code, keeping “homosexual conduct” a crime but making it a class C misdemeanor. In 1981 a U.S. District Court ruled in Baker v. Wade that the law was unconstitutional, but as that case was winding its way through an unusually torturous appeals process the Supreme Court ruled in Bowers v. Hardwick that a similar law in Georgia was constitutional, making the questions in Baker moot. Similarly, in the 90′s there was hope that Texas v. Morales might finally prevail in defeating the “homosexual conduct” prohibition, but the Texas Supreme Court decided that since, in their opinion, the law was rarely enforced, there was no reason for them to rule in the matter.

Lawrence’s legacy lives on in a scholarship named after him and Garner administered by the Houston GLBT Community Center. The scholarship “recognizes outstanding leadership shown by gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Texas high school seniors and college
students by contributing to the cost of their continuing education. Selection is based upon character and need.” Tim Brookover, president of the community center, expressed sorrow at Lawrence’s passing “John was a hero, the community owes a great debt of gratitude to John and Tyrone for taking the case all the way to the Supreme Court,” said Brookover. “They could have easily allowed it to slip away, but they decided to stay and fight and that makes them heroes and role models.”

The application deadline for the John Lawrence/Tyrone Gardner Scholarship is March 2, 2012.

—  admin

A viewer’s guide to the Proposition 8 arguments

3-judge panel from 9th Circuit appeals court takes up case challenging voter-approved amendment banning same-sex marriage in California; C-SPAN will televise proceedings

Lisa Keen  |  Keen News Service lisakeen@me.com

THE NEXT STEP | Kristin Perry, from left, and Sandra Stier, listen as attorney Theodore Olson speaks at a news conference at the Federal Building in San Francisco in July 2009. A three-judge panel from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments in the case on Monday, Dec. 6. (Jeff Chiu/Associated Press)

A federal appeals panel in San Francisco will hear oral arguments Monday, Dec. 6, in the landmark challenge to Proposition 8 — California’s voter-passed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Broadcast of the district court trial last January was disallowed due to objections by some witnesses who said they feared harassment. But only attorneys will appear before the court Monday, and the 9th Circuit has agreed to allow the proceedings to be broadcast on C-SPAN and in other venues around the country.

A three-judge panel will hear arguments regarding the appeal of a lower court decision that held Proposition 8 violates the federal Constitution’s guarantees to equal protection and due process of law.

The Aug. 4 decision from Judge Vaughn Walker was the first time a federal court had struck down a statewide same-sex marriage ban, and similar bans exist in the constitutions or statutes of 38 other states.

Another six states have interpreted existing law as excluding same-sex couples from marriage licensing. Only five states and the District of Columbia have marriage equality laws.

If the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upholds the lower court decision, the ruling would make the bans in California and eight other western states unenforceable. But the decision of the 9th Circuit — whatever it is — will almost certainly be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, and a decision there could affect bans in all states.

But there are also numerous potential variations to this simple scenario.

The most prominent potential variation at the moment concerns whether the group that has been defending Proposition 8 in court has legal standing to bring its appeal to the 9th Circuit.

It is a dull question compared to the drama of the original three-week trial of witnesses who testified about how Proposition 8 had damaged their lives. But its resolution could have enormous consequences for the case and will consume one of two hours set aside for Monday’s appeal.

Here is some key information most court watchers will need to know and will want to take notice of Monday:

Case name: Perry v. Schwarzenegger is the shorthand name for the case. The full name is Perry v. Schwarzenegger and Hollingsworth et. al.

Time and Place: Monday, Dec. 6, 10 a.m. PDT (noon, CST) at the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, in San Francisco.

Where to watch: Nationally, C-SPAN will be broadcasting the proceedings live. Court enthusiasts can also go to the federal courthouse in select cities around the country to watch a live feed — in Boston; Brooklyn, N.Y.; Portland, Ore.; Seattle, Wash.; Pasadena, Calif.; and two other courthouses in San Francisco.

The Parties: Perry is Kristin Perry, one of four plaintiffs who originally filed the lawsuit challenging Proposition 8. Perry seeks to marry her partner of 10 years, Sandra Stiers. They have four children. The other two plaintiffs — also a couple — are Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo, who have been together for nine years.

The city of San Francisco was also designated as a plaintiff-intervenor in the district court, meaning the city did not bring the lawsuit but established that it had a governmental interest in the outcome.

Schwarzenegger is, of course, Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who represents the California government in the case. Neither Schwarzenegger nor California Attorney General Jerry Brown (now governor-elect) was willing to defend Proposition 8 in the appeal.

So the real appellants in the case are the original “proponents” of the ban, identified as the Yes on 8 campaign (aka ProtectMarriage.com), and include State Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth and others. In addition, the board of supervisors and clerk of Imperial County are seeking the right to serve as appellants as well.

The schedule: The first hour of the two-hour argument will be focused on the issue of whether the Yes on 8 appellants and/or Imperial County have legal standing to appeal the lower court’s decision (see below). There will be a “brief” break, and then the second hour will be focused on the merits of the appeal (see below). The entire proceeding is likely to be concluded by around 12:15 p.m. Pacific Time.

The attorneys: At least six attorneys will be involved in Monday’s argument — three on merits and three on standing.

On merits, famed conservative attorney Ted Olson will argue for the four plaintiffs, and Therese Stewart, the openly gay chief deputy city attorney for San Francisco, will present arguments for the city, which would like to see the ban struck down. Conservative attorney Charles Cooper, who led the defense of Proposition 8 at the district court trial, is expected to argue the merits for proponents.

On standing, it has not yet been announced who will argue the standing issue for plaintiffs, the Yes on 8 Proponents, or Imperial County.

Legal standing issue: Not just anybody can initiate a lawsuit and appeal the decision, but courts err on the side of allowing a party to appeal.

Nevertheless, a party or parties seeking to appeal must still show they are at least vulnerable to an “actual” injury because of the decision below. That injury can include an economic one, but it has to be an injury more “concrete” than the fact that appellants disagree with the lower court decision.

Proponents will argue that the fact they were allowed standing in the U.S. District Court should mean they should naturally have standing on appeal.

The merits: Two provisions of the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment are at issue, both encompassed in this language: “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Concerning due process, a state cannot deny citizens a fundamental right, including the right to marry, unless it can show a compelling reason to do so. U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker said proponents failed to establish “any historical purpose for excluding same-sex couples from marriage, as states have never required spouses to have an ability or willingness to procreate in order to marry.”

With equal protection, the government may not treat one group of citizens with less favor than others unless it has a reason to do so. It may not treat oppressed minorities with less favor unless it has a compelling reason to do so.

Judge Walker ruled that gays and lesbians are an oppressed minority and that proponents failed to establish evidence of even a simple, rational reason to treat them differently, much less a compelling one.

The Judges: The 9th Circuit on Monday, Nov. 29, announced the three judges that will make up next Monday’s panel — and it’s a dramatic line-up.

The senior-most judge — in age and experience on the federal appeals bench — is Stephen Reinhardt, 79, a Carter nominee who has ruled favorably on gay-related cases before.

The least senior is N. Randy Smith, 69, a native of Utah, an appointee of President George W. Bush, and a graduate of Brigham Young University Law School, an entity of the Mormon Church which played an enormous role in promoting Proposition 8.

In the middle is Judge Michael Hawkins, 65, a Clinton appointee, based in Phoenix, Ariz.

Prop 8 proponents on Wednesday, Dec. 1, filed papers asking Reinhardt to recuse himself because his wife, Ramona Ripston, is executive director of the Southern California chapter of the ACLU, which has been actively involved in trying to invalidate Prop 8.

But Reinhardt on Thursday morning, Dec. 2, issued a statement refusing to step down from the trial, saying there is no legal reason to question his impartiality.

Timetable after argument: There is no deadline by which the three-judge panel must issue its opinion, however, a decision is likely to be forthcoming within a few months. The losing party then will almost certainly appeal that decision to the full 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals,which may or may not agree to hear an appeal.

The losing party at that point would then likely appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The earliest the Supreme Court would likely get such an appeal would be in the fall of 2011, and the earliest it would rule would be in the late spring of 2012.

If the proponents or Imperial County lose on the question of standing, the 9th Circuit could decide not to make a ruling on the merits. But proponents and/or Imperial County would almost certainly appeal the decision concerning standing to the Supreme Court.

Should the Supreme Court rule that either of those parties has standing, it would then send the question on the merits of the appeal back to the 9th Circuit for a decision.

That eventual decision on the merits from the 9th Circuit could then be appealed to the Supreme Court. Wild guess timetable for a decision from the Supreme Court on merits with this scenario? 2014.

© 2010 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 3, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens