by Jeremy Leaming
This year marks major anniversaries of several landmark Supreme Court opinions, including two that advanced liberty and equality. In January 1973, the high court in its Roe v. Wade opinion trumpeted liberty by striking a Texas law banning abortion. Equality and liberty were also advanced in June 2003 when a majority of the justices in Lawrence v. Texas invalidated a law targeting sex between consenting adults of the same gender.
On Jan. 18 – 19 as part of the Constitution in 2020 project, several groups, including ACS, will host “Liberty/Equality: The View from Roe’s 40th and Lawrence’s 10th Anniversaries.” (See below for more information about the gathering, including a tentative conference schedule.)
In striking down a state law banning abortion, Justice Harry Blackmun declared that a “right of privacy, whether it be founded in the Fourteenth Amendment’s concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state actions, as we feel it is, or as, the District Court determined, in the Ninth Amendment’s reservation of rights to the people, is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.”
The Roe court, however, did not find this right to be absolute, and subsequently we have seen an erosion of this liberty in a steady and disconcerting fashion by courts and lawmakers over the years. Indeed a string of states over the past few years has ratcheted up efforts to make it vastly more difficult for many women, especially the young and poor, to have abortions. State lawmakers have also pushed laws requiring physicians to lecture women on the alleged dangers of abortions and/or undergo ultrasounds all in an effort to slow the process or dissuade women from abortions.
In 2003’s Lawrence, the majority of the court also advanced liberty by knocking down a Texas law that criminalized sex between people of the same gender. And like Roe, the majority found that liberty is broad enough to prevent the government from intruding upon intimate relations of lesbians and gay men. Indeed, Justice Anthony Kennedy writing for the Lawrence majority, citied the high court’s 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey opinion upholding Roe. In Casey, the Court wrote, “These matters, involving the most intimate personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy, are central to the liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.”
Kennedy’s Lawrence opinion also advanced equality, saying the challengers of the Texas law persuasively argued that their equal protection rights were subverted by a law that criminalized an intimate part of their relationships.