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Flagrant Conduct: The Story of Lawrence v. Texas

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  429 ratings  ·  74 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
Hardcover, 345 pages
Published March 12th 2012 by W. W. Norton Company
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Mar 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
As any lawyer will tell you, law school is one of premiere rackets devised by mankind. As a vessel for imparting knowledge, it is as useful as the Titanic as commanded by an Italian cruise ship captain. Law schools rely on two pedagogical concepts: the Socratic method (wherein classes consist of a “dialogue” between professor and student); and the case-law method (wherein law is taught case-by-case, divining the “law of the case” one turgid opinion at a time). These methods assure that every law ...more
Neville Longbottom
Feb 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: lgbtqia, nonfiction, 2019
I’d heard about the Lawrence v. Texas case before but didn’t know many details. I knew it was about two men who were arrested for having consensual sex in the privacy of their own home but were technically breaking the sodomy law in Texas in the late 1990s. I knew the case got all the way to the Supreme Court and ended up making same-sex sexual activity legal in the US and striking down sodomy laws in states where they were still active. But that’s about all that I knew.

I’ve been increasingly
Jan 10, 2016 rated it liked it
Required reading for class.
Adam Dunn
Oct 28, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: glbt
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
Tex Reader
4.5 of 5 stars – Engrossing Backstory of Courage, Strategy & Serendipity.

This book wonderfully captured a piece of underrated glbtq+ history, one that paved the way for the later marriage equality rulings. In a clear way, this dealt with the legal aspects of the case. But more than that, it gave life to the story by delving into the lives of the people involved and how this minor arrest became a landmark Supreme Court decision in glbtq+ history.

Dale Carpenter captured my interest in many
Brittany Kubes
Oct 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Khris Sellin
Oct 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
I'm very disturbed that Goodreads has capitalized the V. in the title.

ETA: They've fixed it!
Jan 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
On Constitution Day in 1998, in Harris County in the outskirts of Houston, Texas, two (adult) men were arrested for (allegedly) engaging in a (consensual) sexual act (in private). They did not contest the charges levied against them, instead they challenged the constitutional validity of the law they were charged with. Their case, on appeal, went to the US Supreme Court and there, the men won – and so did millions of gay and lesbian Americans . This, in a nutshell, is the story of Lawrence v. ...more
Nick Smith
Jun 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-history
In 1998, police responding to a report of a man with a gun entered a residence at an apartment complex in Houston. When they went inside, they claim to have witnessed two men having sex.

...or at least 2 of the 4 officers witnessed it.

...except both men denied it, reporting instead that they had never been intimate, had never had a romantic or sexual relationship, and that they were certainly not having sex after hearing the police scream "Sheriff's Office! Sheriff's Office! Sheriff's Office!"
Nov 04, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lgbt
As a law student and person actively interested in queer history, I had such high hopes for Dale Carpenter's recounting of the landmark Supreme Court case banning sodomy laws. Sadly, "Flagrant Conduct," though certainly historically interesting and relevant, defeated itself and made me realize just how much further the LGBT movement needs to work internally to fight its own homophobia.

In excellent detail, Carpenter's account of the events leading up to and during the watershed legal case
Gayla Bassham
Oct 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Gayla by: 3/18 NYT Book Review
Shelves: 2018-reads
Pretty compelling if legal ticktocks are your thing. The intersection of race and gender in this casee makes this account very timely.
Jul 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
I picked up Flagrant Conduct after hearing about the Lawrence v. Texas case on Radiolab's new spinoff podcast about the Supreme Court, More Perfect (check it out, it's fascinating!). I remembered the case from high school government class--we were taught only that Texas police had mistakenly thought there was a gunman in an apartment, and instead walked in on two men engaging in sex who were subsequently arrested under the state's antisodomy law. The real truth is, as always, more nuanced and ...more
Feb 24, 2014 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Sep 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Paul Rhodes
Apr 18, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Aaron Haberman
Dec 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Greg Stoll
Jun 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Apr 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 03, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the story of Lawrence v. Texas, the Supreme Court case which ruled the sodomy law of Texas (and thus sodomy laws in general) unconstitutional. This would be a good magazine article, but in stretching it into a book the author strives to tell the entire history, from beginning to end. The problem is that the beginning is both dull and unnecessary. We don't need to know about Lawrence and his co-defendant Garner, or the policemen who arrested them. We don't really need to know whether they ...more
Mar 19, 2012 rated it liked it
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, ...more
Brandon Fox
Jul 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Gary Ray
Mar 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
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
Eric Chappell
Jan 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013-reading
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
Jul 26, 2015 rated it liked it
I was kinda ready to geek out over Con law here. But this book was pretty dry and uninteresting for the first 90%.

Things I liked: the backgrounds and opinions of most people involved, the dissection of the Supreme court arguments, and the semi-interesting play-by-play for SCOTUS.

Things I didn't like: it. was. really. boring., the amount of time they spent saying things like, "and they had no idea how big it would be" and "it would change their lives/everything forever." I also understand that
May 18, 2012 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Jun 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: legal
I am not much on long book reviews but I am glad I had the opportunity to read this book. Just as in the New Jim Crow, this book opened my eyes to the blatant hypocrisy found in some of our laws. I again, feel bad for the discrimination faced by the LGBTQ community but mostly I feel bad for my lack of knowledge on the situation. I'm actively trying to educate myself to gain a better level of empathy and I apologize for not doing this sooner.
I loved the chapters that detailed the Supreme Court
Woodstock Pickett
Sep 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Apr 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Nick Duretta
Nov 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
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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 ...more
“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.” 8 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]” 3 likes
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