Flagrant Conduct: The Story of Lawrence v. Texas

Flagrant Conduct: The Story of Lawrence v. Texas

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by Dale Carpenter
     
 

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“A highly informative, detailed, even thrilling account of how the Supreme Court arguments reshaped American law.”—Michael Bronkski, San Francisco Chronicle
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

Overview

“A highly informative, detailed, even thrilling account of how the Supreme Court arguments reshaped American law.”—Michael Bronkski, San Francisco Chronicle
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 malignity in our judicial system and challenging the traditional conception of what makes a family. Indeed, when Harris County sheriff’s deputies entered the second-floor apartment, there was no gun. Instead, they reported that they had walked in on John Lawrence and Tyron Garner having sex in Lawrence’s bedroom.
So begins Dale Carpenter’s "gripping and brilliantly researched" Flagrant Conduct, a work nine years in the making that transforms our understanding of what we thought we knew about Lawrence v. Texas, the landmark Supreme Court decision of 2003 that invalidated America’s sodomy laws. Drawing on dozens of interviews, Carpenter has taken on the "gargantuan" task of extracting the truth about the case, analyzing the claims of virtually every person involved.
Carpenter first introduces us to the interracial defendants themselves, who were hardly prepared "for the strike of lightning" that would upend their lives, and then to the Harris County arresting officers, including a sheriff’s deputy who claimed he had "looked eye to eye" in the faces of the men as they allegedly fornicated. Carpenter skillfully navigates Houston’s complex gay world of the late 1990s, where a group of activists and court officers, some of them closeted themselves, refused to bury what initially seemed to be a minor arrest.
The author charts not only the careful legal strategy that Lambda Legal attorneys adopted to make the case compatible to a conservative Supreme Court but also the miscalculations of the Houston prosecutors who assumed that the nation’s extant sodomy laws would be upheld. Masterfully reenacting the arguments that riveted spectators and Justices alike in 2003, Flagrant Conduct then reaches a point where legal history becomes literature, animating a Supreme Court decision as few writers have done.
In situating Lawrence v. Texas within the larger framework of America’s four-century persecution of gay men and lesbians, Flagrant Conduct compellingly demonstrates that gay history is an integral part of our national civil rights story.

Editorial Reviews

David Oshinsky - New York Times
“Stirring and richly detailed. . . . A book that turns conventional wisdom about Lawrence on its head. Indeed, the readers most likely to be surprised by Flagrant Conduct are those who think they already know the basic outlines of the case.”
Dahlia Lithwick - New Yorker
“[An] important new book... [A] chronicle that peels the Lawrence case back through layers of carefully choreographed litigation and tactical appeals, back to the human protagonists we never really got to know, and back again through centuries of laws criminalizing “unnatural” sexual activity.”
June Sawyers - Booklist
“Starred review. In compelling and eminently readable prose—as gripping as any detective novel—Carpenter reveals the details behind the famous legal battle. ...It is a story, according to the author, that involves the misuse of authority, the cowardice of elected state-court judges who rebuffed the defendants’ legal claims, and the refusal of legislators to repeal a dubious and odious law. An important book about a landmark case.”
Michael Bronkski - San Francisco Chronicle
“Dale Carpenter’s excellent new book, Flagrant Conduct: The Story of Lawrence v. Texas is not only an in-depth study of the complicated background of the case, but also a highly informative, detailed, even thrilling account of how the Supreme Court arguments reshaped American law, possibly even inadvertently leading to the legalization of same-sex marriage.
...Carpenter moves into John Grisham territory as a group of rebels with a very good cause...mount their battle against not only the Texas law but all existing state sodomy laws. Carpenter’s tale of the arrest — and how it affected these men’s lives— is fascinating, but his recounting of the Supreme Court hearings is a fine piece of dramatic reporting that sharpens the drama and presents the legal issues and personalities with clarity.”
David Cole - The New York Review of Books
“Flagrant Conduct provides a rich, meticulous, and fascinating account of the most important constitutional decision so far on the status of gays and lesbians in American society.”
Larry Kramer
“An important and scary book.”
Scott Lemieux - lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com
“Easily the best book of its kind since Richard Kluger’s Simple Justice was published in 1975, Flagrant Conduct is a rare combination of virtues. It is a gripping story of individuals fighting against systematic injustices intended for a general audience, but it is also a theoretically sophisticated work that represents an important contribution to legal scholarship.”
Blanche Wiesen Cook
“Dale Carpenter has gifted us with a landmark book to dramatize a landmark case. Gripping and brilliantly researched, Flagrant Conduct takes us on a journey of hate and contempt, activism and dedication that finally led to the legalization of our right to love, to pursue intimate pleasures within the privacy of our homes. Everybody concerned about women’s rights, gay rights, civil rights and human rights will be informed and energized by this important splendid book.”
Kirk Swinehart - The Daily Beast
“In his sinuous, elegant new book, Flagrant Conduct, Dale Carpenter... gives this landmark case the bold, intimate face it has long deserved, even as he conducts a captivating, forensic tour of its legal subterrain. The result, from its first pages, is a book that sets a benchmark for the writing of civil-rights history, a book with all the stirring social consciousness and staying power of Taylor Branch’s trilogy, America in the King Years.”
David J. Grarrow - New Republic
“Superb and memorable…. Dale Carpenter’s assiduous unearthing of the case’s early history…highlights how every great constitutional decision owes its existence to obscure individuals whose crucial contributions proved more essential to the final outcome than anything in the legal briefs or oral arguments.”
New York Times - David Oshinsky
“Stirring and richly detailed. . . . A book that turns conventional wisdom about Lawrence on its head. Indeed, the readers most likely to be surprised by Flagrant Conduct are those who think they already know the basic outlines of the case.”
New Yorker - Dahlia Lithwick
“[An] important new book... [A] chronicle that peels the Lawrence case back through layers of carefully choreographed litigation and tactical appeals, back to the human protagonists we never really got to know, and back again through centuries of laws criminalizing "unnatural" sexual activity.”
Booklist - June Sawyers
“Starred review. In compelling and eminently readable prose—as gripping as any detective novel—Carpenter reveals the details behind the famous legal battle. ...It is a story, according to the author, that involves the misuse of authority, the cowardice of elected state-court judges who rebuffed the defendants’ legal claims, and the refusal of legislators to repeal a dubious and odious law. An important book about a landmark case.”
San Francisco Chronicle - Michael Bronkski
“Dale Carpenter’s excellent new book, Flagrant Conduct: The Story of Lawrence v. Texas is not only an in-depth study of the complicated background of the case, but also a highly informative, detailed, even thrilling account of how the Supreme Court arguments reshaped American law, possibly even inadvertently leading to the legalization of same-sex marriage....Carpenter moves into John Grisham territory as a group of rebels with a very good cause...mount their battle against not only the Texas law but all existing state sodomy laws. Carpenter’s tale of the arrest — and how it affected these men’s lives— is fascinating, but his recounting of the Supreme Court hearings is a fine piece of dramatic reporting that sharpens the drama and presents the legal issues and personalities with clarity.”
The New York Review of Books - David Cole
“Flagrant Conduct provides a rich, meticulous, and fascinating account of the most important constitutional decision so far on the status of gays and lesbians in American society.”
lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com - Scott Lemieux
“Easily the best book of its kind since Richard Kluger’s Simple Justice was published in 1975, Flagrant Conduct is a rare combination of virtues. It is a gripping story of individuals fighting against systematic injustices intended for a general audience, but it is also a theoretically sophisticated work that represents an important contribution to legal scholarship.”
The Daily Beast - Kirk Swinehart
“In his sinuous, elegant new book, Flagrant Conduct, Dale Carpenter... gives this landmark case the bold, intimate face it has long deserved, even as he conducts a captivating, forensic tour of its legal subterrain. The result, from its first pages, is a book that sets a benchmark for the writing of civil-rights history, a book with all the stirring social consciousness and staying power of Taylor Branch’s trilogy, America in the King Years.”
New Republic - David J. Grarrow
“Superb and memorable…. Dale Carpenter’s assiduous unearthing of the case’s early history…highlights how every great constitutional decision owes its existence to obscure individuals whose crucial contributions proved more essential to the final outcome than anything in the legal briefs or oral arguments.”
The Nation
“... an exceptional book, in the tradition of Anthony Lewis’s Gideon’s Trumpet (1964), expertly guiding the reader from the moment of the arrest through the culminating oral argument in the Supreme Court. Flagrant Conduct is also a moving and deeply humane study of the law’s effect on ordinary people.”
The Daily Beast
In his sinuous, elegant new book, Flagrant Conduct, Dale Carpenter... gives this landmark case the bold, intimate face it has long deserved, even as he conducts a captivating, forensic tour of its legal subterrain. The result, from its first pages, is a book that sets a benchmark for the writing of civil-rights history, a book with all the stirring social consciousness and staying power of Taylor Branch’s trilogy, America in the King Years.— Kirk Swinehart
The Bay Area Reporter
Carpenter brings to it all a novelist's gift for character and a dramatist's for scene. In the gripping chapter on the oral arguments at the Court, Paul Smith, the petitioners' counsel, is depicted as memorably as Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird .— Tim Pfaff
New Republic
Superb and memorable…. Dale Carpenter’s assiduous unearthing of the case’s early history…highlights how every great constitutional decision owes its existence to obscure individuals whose crucial contributions proved more essential to the final outcome than anything in the legal briefs or oral arguments.— David J. Grarrow
New York Times
Flagrant Conduct is a stirring and richly detailed account of Lawrence v. Texas, the momentous 2003 decision that overturned Bowers [v. Hardwick]. Carpenter...tells the story through the eyes of the major players — the plaintiffs, arresting officers, attorneys, judges and prosecutors — most of whom were interviewed at length. The result is a book that turns conventional wisdom about Lawrence on its head. Indeed, the readers most likely to be surprised by Flagrant Conduct are those who think they already know the basic outlines of the case.— David Oshinsky
New Yorker
[An] important new book... [A] chronicle that peels the Lawrence case back through layers of carefully choreographed litigation and tactical appeals, back to the human protagonists we never really got to know, and back again through centuries of laws criminalizing “unnatural” sexual activity.— Dahlia Lithwick
Booklist
Starred review. In compelling and eminently readable prose—as gripping as any detective novel—Carpenter reveals the details behind the famous legal battle. ...It is a story, according to the author, that involves the misuse of authority, the cowardice of elected state-court judges who rebuffed the defendants’ legal claims, and the refusal of legislators to repeal a dubious and odious law. An important book about a landmark case.— June Sawyers
San Francisco Chronicle
Dale Carpenter’s excellent new book, Flagrant Conduct: The Story of Lawrence v. Texas is not only an in-depth study of the complicated background of the case, but also a highly informative, detailed, even thrilling account of how the Supreme Court arguments reshaped American law, possibly even inadvertently leading to the legalization of same-sex marriage.

...Carpenter moves into John Grisham territory as a group of rebels with a very good cause...mount their battle against not only the Texas law but all existing state sodomy laws. Carpenter’s tale of the arrest — and how it affected these men’s lives— is fascinating, but his recounting of the Supreme Court hearings is a fine piece of dramatic reporting that sharpens the drama and presents the legal issues and personalities with clarity.— Michael Bronkski

The New York Review of Books
Flagrant Conduct provides a rich, meticulous, and fascinating account of the most important constitutional decision so far on the status of gays and lesbians in American society.— David Cole
lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com
Easily the best book of its kind since Richard Kluger’s Simple Justice was published in 1975, Flagrant Conduct is a rare combination of virtues. It is a gripping story of individuals fighting against systematic injustices intended for a general audience, but it is also a theoretically sophisticated work that represents an important contribution to legal scholarship.— Scott Lemieux
Don Franzen - Los Angeles Review of Books
“Dale Carpenter’s Flagrant Conduct: The Story of Lawrence v. Texas presents a micro-history of a Texas case that against all odds reached the Untied States Supreme Court and resulted in the constitutional abolition of anti-sodomy laws…. Living constitutionalists will look to evolving societal norms and the compulsion of precedent, including Lawrence v. Texas, to argue that the time has come to recognize a constitutional right to marry whom you will.”
Tim Pfaff - The Bay Area Reporter
“Carpenter brings to it all a novelist's gift for character and a dramatist's for scene. In the gripping chapter on the oral arguments at the Court, Paul Smith, the petitioners' counsel, is depicted as memorably as Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird .”
Geoffrey R. Stone
“Dale Carpenter's Flagrant Conduct does for Lawrence v. Texas what Richard Kluger's Simple Justice and Anthony Lewis's Gideon's Trumpet did for Brown v. Board of Education and Gideon v. Wainwright. It tells the story of a profoundly dramatic and important Supreme Court decision in a way that brings to life the stakes, the participants, the justices, and the drama of the constitutional controversy. It is a landmark achievement.”
David Levering Lewis
“A terrific book. Generations of future readers of Dale Carpenter's powerful, enveloping narrative will shake their heads in disbelief that, until Lawrence v. Texas, civil rights stopped at the bedroom door.”
The Bay Area Reporter - Tim Pfaff
“Carpenter brings to it all a novelist's gift for character and a dramatist's for scene. In the gripping chapter on the oral arguments at the Court, Paul Smith, the petitioners' counsel, is depicted as memorably as Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird .”

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393345124
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
06/17/2013
Pages:
384
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)

What People are saying about this

Larry Kramer
An important and scary book.
David Levering Lewis
A terrific book. Generations of future readers of Dale Carpenter's powerful, enveloping narrative will shake their heads in disbelief that, until Lawrence v. Texas, civil rights stopped at the bedroom door.

Meet the Author

Dale Carpenter is the Earl R. Larson Professor of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Law at the University of Minnesota Law School. He lives in Minneapolis.

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Flagrant Conduct 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Even though one knows from the first pages what the outcome will be, one cannot stop reading! If you are at all interested in the Supreme Court, if you like John Grisham's legal shenanigans, if you just like to see the pieces fall into place by way of masterful planning, you will love watching old, worn-out laws crumble and fall away! Dale Carpenter is a master story teller telling a non-fiction tale!
DrDonnie More than 1 year ago
This is the best nonfiction book I have read since Game Change. Absolutely fascinating!
HarrietteWilson More than 1 year ago
Engaging, thoroughly researched book goes into the history and personalities behind the Lawrence v. Texas decision, a landmark for gay rights.