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Flagrant Conduct: The Story of Lawrence v. Texas
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Flagrant Conduct: The Story of Lawrence v. Texas

3.99 of 5 stars 3.99  ·  rating details  ·  274 ratings  ·  61 reviews
No one could have predicted that the night of September 17, 1998, would be anything but routine in Houston, Texas. Even the call to police that a black man was "going crazy with a gun" was hardly unusual in this urban setting. Nobody could have imagined that the arrest of two men for a minor criminal offense would reverberate in American constitutional law, exposing a deep ...more
ebook, 368 pages
Published March 12th 2012 by W. W. Norton & Company
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Nancy Oakes
(for a longer, more thorough review, click here).

The New Yorker is one of my favorite magazines, and inside the March 12th issue I came across a fantastic article by writer Dahlia Lithwick, a review of Flagrant Conduct, by Dale Carpenter. By the time I'd finished it, I knew I had to get my hands on the book -- I have a more than keen interest in civil rights history and the growth of social and political power in the nation's gay community. The book examines a case that started with an arrest i
Brittany Kubes
Fascinating contextual backdrop to the heroic case of Texas v. Lawrence (2003), the U.S. Supreme Court case that took the crime of “homosexual conduct” (i.e. sodomy OR oral sex) off the books. Yes, “homosexual conduct” was illegal in some states up until 2003.

Carpenter spends too much time assessing the facts, timing, and stories of all the people involved to theorize whether or not Garner and Lawrence were actually having sex the day the Texas cops busted into the apartment. It seems they proba
Khris Sellin
Fascinating deconstruction of the Lawrence v. Texas Supreme Court case.

In 1998, Houston police received a call that there was a "crazy black man with a gun" at an apartment. They went to the scene, found no gun (it was a false report by a jealous boyfriend), but allegedly discovered two men engaged in a sexual act, IN THE BEDROOM, IN THE PRIVACY OF THEIR OWN HOME. They were arrested, booked, and charged with violating Texas's antisodomy laws.

Carpenter does a great job of laying out the backgrou
Flagrant Conduct: The Story of Lawrence v. Texas by Dale Carpenter, went a bit long. If you remember, Lawrence v. Texas is the 2003 Supreme Court decision declaring anti-sodomy laws unconstitutional. John Lawrence and Tyron Garner were arrested in Lawrence's apartment for having consensual sex with each other under the Texas Homosexual Conduct Law and their Class C misdemeanor with a maximum fine of $200 went all the way to the Supreme Court. (One of the shockers in Flagrant Conduct is that Lawr ...more
Adam Dunn
Another reviewer put it very well, that they'd like to read a long article on the subject. I completely agree and found a whole book to be to much. I resolve to never again read a book on the American political system, and after this book my interest in long articles is waning. The us-and-them bi-partisan mentality with elected judges really turns my stomach.

The book was interesting and I read it partly as I couldn't believe there was anti-sodomy laws prohibiting oral sex as recently as 2004 in
I'm very disturbed that Goodreads has capitalized the V. in the title.

ETA: They've fixed it!
Gary Ray
As someone with an avowed fascination with the US Supreme Court, I found Flagrant Conduct: The Story of Lawrence v. Texas to be a thoroughly engrossing tale of this landmark case.

While repetitive at times, this book demonstrated how easy it has been through history for the majority to marginalized those who are different simply because of the perceived differences. Justice Kennedy's opinion for the majority in this case is a truly moving statement affirming the general privacy rights of all US c
A very readable history of one of the most important U.S. Supreme Court cases in my lifetime. You know -- Lawrence v. Texas, the one that said I was no longer living a life of crime just by leading my day-to-day life in my home state. From the incident itself (which probably didn't even really happen!) up through the final decision, this is really quite a riveting story. It was most interesting to see how a seminal case like this is handled by a national organization through the process, careful ...more
Greg Stoll
Very interesting book about the sodomy law in Texas and how it was struck down in 2003. It starts with the background of both the people involved in the case and the city of Houston w.r.t gay rights (which I found fascinating, having grown up there and never picked up on any of that stuff). Then the arrest in question, in which the author convincingly argues that Lawrence and Garner were probably not, in fact, having sex when the officers walked in. Somehow that makes the whole case more poignan ...more
An important book. As he sets the context of John Lawrence and Tyron Garner's 1998 arrest, Carpenter delves heavily into the political landscape of 1980s Houston. Having come of age politically in the Houston area myself during these years, I am reminded of how political rhetoric was dominated by the stuff of culture wars and bigotry. (I am also left curious as to the real issues that were obscured by hyperbole and homophobia. Actual policy issues? Who knows. But we can all remember Louie Welch ...more
Eric Chappell
If legal histories were always this interesting, I would read many more of them. Carpenter does a masterful job of describing the context, circumstances, and court proceedings of one of the 21st century's landmark Supreme Court decisions. The book is divided into three sections which first describe the situation of the gay movement in Houston prior to the arrests of Lawrence, Garner, and Eubanks; second, portray what happened on the night of the arrests and attempt to answer the question why it ...more
Brandon Fox
This is a fascinating account of one of the most important cases in the history of the gay civil rights movement. It contains a mix of factual information and legal analysis, which made the book gripping as well as enlightening. One thing that struck me was how much luck, as well as effort, was involved in bringing the case to a successful conclusion at the Supreme Court. If anyone doubts the importance of voting, and thereby influencing who makes appointments to the Supreme Court, they should r ...more
Aaron Haberman
Written by a constitutional law scholar, this book offers a great overview of this landmark Supreme Court case that outlawed all state anti-sodomy laws, and may eventually be seen as the equivalent of the Brown decision for gay Americans. Carpenter was able to interview most of the major players in the case, which led to the book's "big reveal," that the two men arrested for sodomy in September 1998, that led to this case, most likely were not having sex that night.
Though clearly a book that wi
I suppose I should write something. Fine. The book was a fairly interesting read. A page turner, in fact. That's why I gave it three stars.

But it should be said that I find it hard to understand homosexual relations as Mr. Carpenter and the defense attorneys in Lawrence want me to understand them, namely as a means to solidify the bonds of companionship and family. The "official facts" of the case (which Carpenter argues--persuasively by my lights--probably never happened) actually betoken prec
In this compelling page turner, Carpenter dissects the facts behind and circuitous routes through which the arrests of Tyron Garner and John Geddes Lawrence led to a landmark Supreme Court case. He examines the historical, social, legal, and personal factors and forces at play as well as the veracity of the major actors’ claims. It seems like the stars aligned for the personalities and legal statutes to be framed in such a way that lawyers had the perfect case, if not the perfect clients.

In the
Woodstock Pickett
WHile a detailed, almost week by week chronology of the Supreme Court case Lawrence v Texas, this book is highly readable and very educational. The chain of events began when two men were arrested by an overeager law enforcement officer, and charged with violating Texas' anti sodomy laws. From there, events gradually move the case through the local courts, then on to the state level, and eventually to the Supreme Court. That court's decision upholding the rights of the petitioners effectively de ...more
An extremely relevant read given the Supreme Court's recent decision to hear two gay marriage cases and I enjoyed the light it shed on the Supreme Court process in general. But boy, this was disjointed. Every chapter seemed like it's own little essay and Carpenter ended up repeating a lot of information and contradicting himself (look, the homosexual conduct law was either horribly oppressing and cast a pall over all gay people or it was so obscure no one knew about it. It cannot be both). And t ...more
Nick Duretta
An excellent account of a case that should never have come to court in the first place, but fortunately did, as it enabled the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Texas' prohibition against "sodomy" (a very loosely interpreted and defined collection of sexual acts) and make a huge advance in the equal and fair treatment of LGBT citizens. Reading about the legal negotiations that moved this case forward could have been drier than it was. In particular, the presentation of the case to the Supreme Court ...more
It is no exaggeration that this Supreme Court decision from only nine years ago decriminalized gay Americans. Prior to that, it was illegal to be gay in many states insomuch as it involved actual sexual activity. The Lawrence decision, made during the conservative Bush era, overturned all existing sodomy laws and recognized the right for all Americans to enjoy sexual activity in the privacy of their own homes. This book is a comprehensive tour of the case as it moved to the Supreme Court and pre ...more
randy potts
Dale's foreword alone is priceless in terms of why sodomy laws matter; the book itself is a tale of exactly how we won the fight in 2003 that burned up old man Scalia so righteously.
Adam Omelianchuk
The story of how two gay friends, who in all likelihood did not have sex, were arrested for sodomy, and how their pro bono legal team engineered Lawrence v. Texas. Fascinating story.
The whole time I was reading this book, I kept thinking how much I wish I cold talk with my uncle about it (he was a law professor and gay rights activist in Houston). In the last chapter, Carpenter describes the quickly-organized rally held on the steps of the Houston city hall, the evening after the Lawrence decision came down: "[then City Council President Annise] Parker spoke, followed by Linda Morales. Both noted the absence of movement heroes like Gene Harrington, a gay law professor, and ...more
Kathryn French
This is an easily-read look at the Supreme Court's first step in granting equality to gay citizens. It is all interesting but I particularly enjoyed the chapter covering the actual arguments before the Supreme Court.
This book was very well written, and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in LGBT rights/ politics. There were a few things that made me uneasy (mostly how it felt like these big shot power lawyers were using Lawrence and Gardner) but those were faults more with the actors in this drama, not with the author of this book. Either way, a good overview of a landmark case. My further thoughts on the title can be found at
This is an interesting story badly told. Carpenter's writing is tediously repetitive--we hear the same series of arguments over and over and over--as well as occasionally purple. In addition, he loves to impute motives where they cannot be known. "Is it not possible that racism played some part in so-and-so's motivation? Is it so hard to imagine that Person X secretly wanted the case to fail?" The book manages to be florid, tedious, and unprofessional all at once. I'd love to read a long article ...more
Oct 09, 2014 axoNsq is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: to-not-finish
Spends too much time discussing the motivations of the cops.
Mar 12, 2014 Keith rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Keith by:
This is not only a good overview of the specific case at hand, but serves also as something of an insider view on how constitutional jurisprudence functions in 21st Century America: the behind the scenes work that brings a viable case to the Supreme Court in such a way that a centrally important issue can be adjudicated. In this case it is especially telling in that, for Lawrence to prevail, previous precedent would need to be overturned, which is never taken lightly by The Nine, no matter where ...more
Margaret Sankey
Carpenter, a U of M law professor, assembles a gripping account of how activists, long in search of a good case of Texas enforcing its sodomy laws against people at home, finally found the perfect storm--plaintiffs with nothing to lose, local cops so flagrant and obnoxious that the plaintiffs were angry enough to pursue the case and not just pay a $100 fine, an existing infrastructure of support for the long haul of a supreme court case and the financial and legal expertise to support a process ...more
Anne Broyles
The explanation of this fascinating subject is almost a mystery with lots of characters involved in "How a Bedroom Arrest Decriminalized Gay Americans." The author's scholarly attention to detail dampened my enthusiasm at times. Perhaps I needed the Cliff Notes version of the story or if I had a better grasp of legal terms and practices, it would have been an easier read.

Note: I support independent bookstores and encourage you to check out to find your closest bookstor
We all know the constitutional decision and its consequences, but the actual case underlying the decision is fascinating. If you want to understand how a case goes from a dot in the common law annals to a supernova Supreme Court decision, this is the book for you. I suppose that even if you aren't particularly interesting in gay civil rights, but want a better understanding of how a simple case makes it way to the Supreme Court, this highly readable history should do the trick.
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Lit Lawvers: This topic has been closed to new comments. April 2012 "Flagrant Conduct" discussion 5 22 Apr 27, 2012 10:37AM  
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Dale Carpenter, J.D. (b. 1966) is is an American legal commentator, regular contributor to The Volokh Conspiracy, and Earl R. Larson Professor of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Law at the University of Minnesota Law School, specializing in constitutional law. He was Editor-in-Chief of the University of Chicago Law Review while working on his doctoral degree, after receiving his B.A. in history f ...more
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“If citizens cannot trust that laws will be enforced in an evenhanded and honest fashion, they cannot be said to live under the rule of law. Instead, they live under the rule of men corrupted by the law.” 4 likes
“Police throughout the United States have been caught fabricating, planting, and manipulating evidence to obtain convictions where cases would otherwise be very weak. Some authorities regard police perjury as so rampant that it can be considered a "subcultural norm rather than an individual aberration" of police officers. Large-scale investigations of police units in almost every major American city have documented massive evidence of tampering, abuse of the arresting power, and discriminatory enforcement of laws. There also appears to be widespread police perjury in the preparation of reports because police know these reports will be used in plea bargaining. Officers often justify false and embellished reports on the grounds that it metes out a rough justice to defendants who are guilty of wrongdoing but may be exonerated on technicalities. [internal citations omitted]” 2 likes
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