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Brown and Lawrence


  • Michael Klarman

    (University of Virginia School of Law)


Brown and Lawrence: One year shy of the fiftieth anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the justices issued another equality ruling that is also likely to become an historical landmark. In Lawrence v. Texas, the Court invalidated a state law that criminalized same-sex sodomy. This essay contrasts these two historic rulings along several dimensions, with the aim of shedding light on how Supreme Court justices decide cases and how Court decisions influence social reform movements. The six dimensions along which I compare and contrast these decisions are: (1) the ways in which both cases were hard for several of the justices; (2) how the Court decisions fit within the respective movements for social reform (i.e., was the Court playing the role of vanguard or laggard?); (3) how the respective decisions fit within the spectrum of issues involving race and sexual orientation (i.e., was the Court in Brown and Lawrence tackling issues where opinion was most likely to be with or against the Court?); (4) how and why the Court in both cases desperately evaded the marriage issue; (5) the consequences of both rulings (and, more specifically, the backlash effects they entailed); (6) the extent to which the rulings can be seen as predictions of future developments in the areas of race and sexual orientation

Suggested Citation

  • Michael Klarman, "undated". "Brown and Lawrence," University of Virginia John M. Olin Program for Law & Economics Working Paper Series uvalwps-1003, University of Virginia School of Law.
  • Handle: RePEc:bep:uvalwp:uvalwps-1003

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