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Judicial Reasoning in Bowers v. Hardwick Case


The US judicial system constitutes a powerful component that is engaged in preventing crime and resolving civil matters. Thus, the system must prevent crime while guaranteeing justice to the suspects and victims of criminal offenses. Judges are also required to avail well-reasoned decisions in civil matters to enhance peaceful relations and respect to the law among civilians in the US. West-Faulcon (2016) supports this reasoning by stating that an effective judicial system is the one that is not only fair but also responds to individuals’ rights. In the United States, the Supreme Court constitutes the highest chamber in the land. It is bestowed with the ultimate authority of interpreting the American Constitution and applying the law in various matters presented before it.

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According to Williams (2015), the court takes the position of the final judge in the US. With this mandate, such a court must embrace substantive reasoning before arriving at its decisions. As the paper argues, despite the court having high-caliber judges, its history has not rendered it immune to making decisions that have been arrived at through questionable reasoning processes. To prove this point, this analysis presents Bowers v. Hardwick of 1986 as one of the cases in the US that demonstrated wrong and grossly tendentious judicial reasoning. As revealed in Lawrence v. Texas scenario, the case of Bowers v. Hardwick presented disastrous precedence in the US jurisprudence in the wake of the rising need for the Constitution to defend liberty and privacy rights of the diverse American population as stipulated in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.

The Court’s Ruling and the Law Used

According to Summers and Kaczorowski (2014), Bowers v. Hardwick involved the respondent, Hardwick, who was charged before the court for an alleged crime of engaging in a consensual sodomy act in his bedroom with another male partner. The court held that no constitutional right was in place to protect people’s freedom to engage in homosexual sodomy. In line with Summers and Kaczorowski’s (2014) expositions, the defendant argued before the District Federal Court that he engaged in homosexual practices, which were protected by the Constitution of the land. Therefore, he challenged the Georgian statutes claiming that they violated his constitutional rights by exposing him to the dangers of the undue arrest. The Supreme Court had the duty to determine whether consensual sodomy involving homosexuals was protected by the US Constitution as enumerated in the fundamental rights to people’s privacy.

Byron White wrote the majority jury opinions in the matter placed before the court. He argued that the Constitution failed to provide any protection or confer any fundamental right for people to participate in homosexual sodomy. The decision did not differentiate between homosexual and heterosexual sodomy. However, in the case of homosexual sodomy, the court pronounced itself that homosexuality was a non-popular crime committed against nature (Steel, 2014). This reasoning was based on ancient roots and historical records that prohibited homosexuality. For instance, Chief Justice Burger Warren quoted Blackstone William’s description of homosexual sexual intimacy as unacceptable. In this conclusion, the court depicted an enormous error in its reasoning process. It failed to interpret the facts of the case with respect to the Constitution but chose to explore the historical and ancient roots of perceptions and moral understanding of homosexual sodomy.

Misapplication of the Law and the Standard Used in Reaching the Decision

The decision upheld by the majority opinion in Bowers v. Hardwick signaled the possibility of the jury reaching an incorrect holding based on the law. One of the judge bench members, Lewis Powell, concurred with this assertion by noting that he regretted supporting the majority (Steel, 2014). Powell argued that he dismissed the case for having little importance at the time of the ruling. Arguably, the court overemphasized its moral understanding of homosexual sodomy. Rather, it failed in interpreting the law correctly, as it should apply, in various matters and judicial questions that involve the provision of privacy rights in unique cases. The jury established the precedence that invocating religious taboos would be called into a matter before a court to comprise a standard for judging the citizenry collectively without due regard to non-condemnation of homosexuality by some sections of the public.

The plaintiff sought a declaration by the Supreme Court that the statute of Georgia failed to honor the privacy rights of homosexual sodomy, hence breaching the US Constitution (Summers & Kaczorowski, 2014). However, the court’s reasoning did not reflect any critical and unquestionable definition of the constituents of privacy rights in the effort to classify homosexual sodomy (without any doubt) as an act that did not encompass one of such confidentiality privileges. Abrams (2015) defines privacy privileges as the “right to keep a domain around us, which includes all those things that are part of us, such as our body, home, property, thoughts, feelings, secrets, and identity” (p.1661).

This definition implies that people have the right or the freedom to choose at an individual level the domains that other individuals can freely access. Hence, the decision of Bowers v. Hardwick set a standard in law upholding the need to embrace the feelings and identity of those who engage in homosexual sodomy. Indeed, in its reason and ultimate decision, the court should have restrained from setting a precedent that would become invalidated by new possible gains in the discourse of privacy rights as time progressed. Rather than reasoning from this point of historical taboos, the court should have reasoned in terms of privacy rights provision in the context of emerging calls concerning the legal protection of certain rights such as homosexuality.

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In a study by Koren (2016), from 2001, some nations, among them the US, began to authenticate homosexual marriages. According to Koren (2016), following this legalization, proponents of same-sex marriages have advocated for legislative changes to the existing marriage laws. In fact, as Sengupta (2014) reveals, proponents argue that permitting homosexual marriages is one of the mechanisms for enhancing the practical applicability of constitutional provisions pertaining to equality and respect for individual rights and choices. In the case of Bowers v. Hardwick, the court should have foreseen the possibility of the emergence of sexual orientations that would call for recognition and protection under the law. Hence, it should have supported this projection in its jurisprudence to avoid any future contradiction of its decision. This gap reveals why Lawrence v. Texas overturned Bowers v. Hardwick case.

Sengupta (2014) discusses the need to respect human rights, including homosexuality and civil liberties as part of the stipulated international obligations. The article asserts that nations such as the US, Netherlands, Norway, and the EU mainly drive this debate. For instance, Sengupta (2014) cites the case of the EU’s pressure on Nigeria to embrace homosexual rights by reminding it of its (Nigeria) obligations under international law to respect human rights. The article argues that donor nations have come out conspicuously to campaign for the rights of homosexuals by imposing diplomatic threats to countries that discriminate against people along with their sexual orientation. The study concurs with Koren’s (2016) assertion, “Twenty-nine states do not have laws that prohibit housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity” (para. 7). Hence, Bowers v. Hardwick failed to recognize such rights. It stuck to its obsession with ancient taboos and moral interpretations of homosexual rights, despite the strides made in defending homosexual rights, especially between 1900 and 1960.

In its decision, the Supreme Court held that there was no constitutional right protecting people’s freedom to engage in homosexual sodomy. According to Roberts and Siddiqui (2015), although the judges’ reasoning in the case of Bowers v. Hardwick can be argued as inconsistent with the standards of law, the question emerges whether the jury ought to have overturned the Georgian statutes as argued by the plaintiff based on a constitutional framework that lacks no express the right to privacy. Law and regulations limit persons from violating the constitutional rights of others (Roberts & Siddiqui, 2015). States’ laws prevent and reduce crime rates.

However, such laws need to reflect both legal and ethical soundness in their application. As one of the permissible rights, people have the right to have their privacy safeguarded, unless a court order justifies such a violation (Abrams, 2015). The question of whether the US constitution makes any declaration of privacy rights attracts a heated debate in the legal practice. West-Faulcon (2016) posits that the US Constitution lacks comprehensible confidentiality rights. However, the bill of rights makes various provisions for the protection of individual privacy. Hence, the Supreme Court badly positioned itself in its reasoning to outlaw Hardwick’s right of choice concerning his sexual orientation and feelings.

The layout on the Way the Court should have held and grounded Reasoning for the Decision

Upon its consideration of the need to protect individuals’ fundamental privacy rights, the Supreme Court should have acknowledged the need to interpret the US law in the context of the broad principles, which underline the treatment of privacy rights in particular cases. It needed to clarify whether any state could develop and advance a justification for its set of laws beyond its conformity to certain religious or otherwise moral doctrines. In response to such an important legal interrogation, the Supreme Court should have regarded Georgian anti-sodomy laws as unconstitutional. Indeed, the circumstance under which the plaintiff’s involvement in consensual oral sex with male partners came into the limelight amounted to a breach of his privacy rights as provided for in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments (Ahlander, 2017).

In 1982, Keith Torick, a police officer based in Atlanta, had issued a citation to the plaintiff after the police officer witnessed him throwing a bottle of beer, an act that was viewed as a violation of the city’s codes of conduct prohibiting drinking in public. After the failure of Hardwick to attend a court session as required due to a clerical mistake, Torick obtained an arrest warrant. However, Hardwick had paid $50 fine to settle the matter (Steel, 2014). Nevertheless, after three weeks, Torick showed up at Hardwick’s apartment with now an invalid warrant. The plaintiff’s roommate directed Torick to Hardwick’s room. The officer found Hardwick having oral sex with a male partner. To this extent, the court should have held any fact of the case against homosexual sodomy brought against the defendant as a product of the breach of privacy laws, owing to the fact that such witnessing or evidence flowed from serving an invalid warrant.

A court ruling should set jurisprudence that is uniformly applicable to all people (Ahlander, 2017). However, the majority decision and reasoning of Bowers v. Hardwick suggested the applicability of discriminatory enforcement (Smith, 2013). The Georgian statutes would not apply to heterosexual marriages in matters of consensual oral sex. Indeed, the judicial decision in Griswold v. Connecticut protected such activities among heterosexual couples. Eisenstadt v. Baird extended the protection of Griswold v. Connecticut to all unmarried heterosexuals. Upon considering that judicial precedence constitutes an important source of law in the US, the Supreme Court’s reasoning upheld law standards that promoted a selective application and enforcement of the law in the case of Bowers v. Hardwick. The court should have prevented itself from being involved in this incorrect position, which undermines its finality in interpreting the Constitution and upholding the US law. Bowers v. Hardwick reasoning indicated a reluctance of the Supreme Court to embrace privacy rights without any form of exclusion as a fundamental principle of US constitutional rights.

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In Bowers v. Hardwick case, the US Supreme Court upheld the state of Georgia’s law that selectively outlawed sodomy in cases that involved homosexuals but not heterosexuals. This provision was in agreement with the 11th circuit, which had overturned a decision by a lower court holding that anti-sodomy laws were in direct contravention of people’s privacy rights. Instead of the Supreme Court following the due legal reasoning and interpretation of the Constitution in its decision-making, the majority bench members deprived the plaintiff of his liberty without considering the Fourteenth and Fifth Amendments. Hence, Bowers v. Hardwick qualifies as one of the situations in which the Supreme Court made a spectacularly bad and unreasoned decision.


Abrams, K. (2015). Seeking emotional ends with legal means. California Law Review, 103(6), 1657-1678.

Ahlander, R. (2017). Undressing naked economic protectionism, rational basis review, and fourteenth amendment equal protection. Brigham Young University Law Review, 1(1), 167-193.

Koren, M. (2016). Gay marriage in the United States, one year later. The Atlantic. Web.

Roberts, D., & Siddiqui, S. (2015). Gay marriage declared legal across the US in historic Supreme Court ruling. The Guardian. Web.

Sengupta, S. (2014). Antigay laws gain global attention: Countering them remains a challenge. The New York Times. Web.

Smith, R. (2013). Supreme Court considers two same-sex marriage issues. Policy & Practice, 71(3), 6-6.

Steel, L. (2014). Judging sodomy: Gay identity in Bowers, Romer & Lawrence. Bellingham, WA: Western Washington University.

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Summers, C., & Kaczorowski, C. (2014). Bowers v. Hardwick / Lawrence v. Texas. Web.

West-Faulcon, K. (2016). Liberty bound: Obergefell’s eclipse of autonomy in sexual intimacy. Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review, 49(2), 351-373.

Williams, L. (2015). Forecasting the decisions of the US Supreme Court: Lessons from the ‘Affordable Care Act’ judgment. Journal of Prediction Markets, 9(2), 64-78.

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