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Courting Justice: Gay Men And Lesbians V. The Supreme Court Paperback – May 7, 2002


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (May 7, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 046501514X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465015146
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.3 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #651,689 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

If this meticulously documented and compellingly narrated chronicle of the gay-related cases before the nation's highest court over the past fifty-odd years were even half as good as it is--or, ideally, half as long--it would still be terrific. Lending heft to the notion that the couple that investigates together domesticates together, veteran D.C. journalists Joyce Murdoch and Deb Price, life partners since 1985, have composed the gay bookend to Bob Woodward's The Brethren--with all the epic sweep, painstaking research and intimate storytelling of such nonfiction classics as And the Band Played On and Common Ground. Two cases here provide the book's anchors: 1986's Bowers v. Hardwick, which upheld Georgia's law against homosexual sodomy and provided an astonishingly hostile climax to two decades of high-court homophobia, and 1992's ruling that found unconstitutional Colorado's ban on equal protection of any sort for gays--the Court's greatest and most respectful affirmation of gay rights, if not much of a promise that the court would rule with equal sensitivity on future gay-related cases.

Beyond those two seminal rulings, Murdoch and Price cover what seems like, and may well be, every gay-oriented case to so much as petition the Court since the Eisenhower years. That comprehensiveness can become a little exhausting, amounting as it does largely to a dispiriting archive of the myriad ways the Court has found of blithely dismissing or even scoffing at the basic rights of gay Americans. Drawing on everything from scrawled notes in the justices' personal archives to in-depth interviews with the justices' former clerks, Murdoch and Price provide a fascinating window into how each justice's individual experience and temperament--not to mention the intricate, ever shifting power plays among them--influenced his or her decisions. The most heart-wrenching, haunting portrait is of Justice Lewis Powell, by the 1980s an frail, aging Southern gentleman who had an uncanny knack for hiring gay clerks yet claimed he'd never met a homosexual. He made a valiant but failed effort to understand gays, and ultimately changed his mind at the last minute to cast the damning, deciding vote in Bowers--an about-face he fretted over up until his death. Rehnquist and Scalia clearly emerge here as the homophobic bullies, with Thomas as their silent yes man, O'Connor as spinelessly concerned with voting in the majority, and Ginsburg, Stevens, Souter and sometimes Kennedy as the usual pro-gay "count-on" votes. Undeniably, Brennan, Marshall, and Blackmun (who wrote Bowers's stirring dissent) are portrayed as the heroes on the bench.

But the real heroes here are in the pageant of gay men and lesbians who took their demands for justice to the nation's highest court, many in an era when it was considered absurd to think they had any rights at all in an America that saw them as child molesters, psychopaths, or--at best--pitifully "afflicted with homosexuality." Very few of them were vindicated, and many more lost nearly everything--their jobs, homes, income, privacy, reputation, and sometimes children--for the fight they waged. Their diversely fascinating stories are told here, in a volume whose ultimate triumph is the emotional punch it packs. I kept thinking of Dorothy and her friends petitioning the Wizard: Their firm belief that he would do right by them, their fear and awe before his mysterious majesty, their rage and grief when he welshed on his promise, and, finally, their astonishment to learn that the great and mighty Oz, who had the last say in the highest tribunal in the land, was really just a man, with the same capacity for both ignorance and enlightenment as the rest of us. --Timothy Murphy --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

The Supreme Court's complicated relationship with lesbians and gay men in the U.S. is the focus of this well-researched, highly informative and chatty history of the Court's rulings concerning homosexuality. Murdoch (a former editor and reporter at the Washington Post) and Price (a syndicated columnist on lesbian and gay issues) follow the evolution of gay rights from a 1950s U.S. postal ban against "the nation's first homosexual publication," One magazine, to Bowers v. Hardwick in 1986, which addressed the legality of homosexual sex, and the recent discrimination case brought against the Boy Scouts. The authors' detailed reportage relies on court documents, news reports, oral arguments, written briefs and interviews with plaintiffs, defendants, lawyers and Supreme Court clerks (the justices themselves declined interviews). Surprising moments, like the discovery of Justice Powell's many homosexual clerks, and dramatic ones such as public sparring between Justices Ginsberg and Scalia on Colorado's Amendment Two, which would have abrogated local initiatives banning discrimination against homosexuals keep things lively. Murdoch and Price convey the sweep of gay legal history without skimping on personal portraits, including a restrained one of Clarence Thomas and a fascinating one of Justice Frank Murphy, who served in the 1940s until his death and was most probably gay. Despite occasional journalistic lapses, such as the authors' admission that they were initially "squeamish about the cases involving sleazy public sex arrests," this ambitious popular survey of gay and lesbian civil rights in the U.S. ably fills a gap in lesbian and gay studies and legal studies. 8 pages of photos. Agent, Charlotte Sheedy.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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I received this book and once I got it, I sat down and read it all at one sitting.
Kate
Beyond that, the book ends up simultaneously offering a grand historical narrative of the modern gay rights movement.
Steve
The authors write in an engaging style that will appeal to nonacademics as well as academics.
Satisfied Customer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Arthur Leonard on June 28, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was so gripped by this book that I stayed up through the night reading it in one sitting! A rare event for me... Murdoch and Price have gone into the belly of the beast, interviewed more than 100 former Supreme Court clerks, gone through the available papers of deceased justices with a fine-tooth comb, and come up with a compelling account of how the nation's highest court deals with lesbian and gay issues (or, perhaps more accurately, refuses to deal with them). I can't imagine anyone with an interest in gaylaw not finding this book a compulsive page-turner and a source of numerous new insights. The heros emerging from its pages -- William Brennan, William O. Douglas, Franklin Kameny, etc. -- leave indelible impressions. A must-read!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Shane B. on November 17, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This book was pretty good, and I enjoyed reading it immensely. Most law schools and legal texts tend to just barely discuss legal issues which affect the gay community, if at all. It was actually quite interesting to see the many issues portrayed from the point of the losing side. NOTE: I use the term "losing side" only because in general, the courts have tended to come down with decisions against the gay community.
I do have some cause for concern about the book, however. The authors have attempted throughout the book to analyze why the U.S. Supreme Court has decided cases against gays, in many cases without any documentation of the Justices' rationale. The authors then used past practices and comments of the Justices, as well as commentary from friends and colleagues, to "create" the supposed biases against gays which led to the negative decisions. These conclusions may be entirely correct. But some of the arguments presented just defied any logic I could find. Perhaps I am being overly critical, which is entirely possible. As an attorney, I have a hard time accepting conclusions when I do not see the analysis or facts to back them up. I hope that other readers will be able to distinguish between fact and the opinions/conclusions of the authors.
With that reservation in mind, I do feel this book is a must read for anyone with an interest in "gay rights," whether you be for or against them. The book demonstrates how the law tends to be slow to recognize the growing changes in society's norms.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Satisfied Customer on June 25, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This book is a must read for anyone interested in the role of the supreme court in the modern lesbian and gay civil rights movement. Meticulously researched, it contains invaluable details about key cases and the roles that various justices have played in the formulation of rationales that either support or undermine gay rights. The authors write in an engaging style that will appeal to nonacademics as well as academics. I literally could not put the book down!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jane R. Rigby on June 27, 2002
Format: Hardcover
"Courting Justice" is an authoritative account of gay men and lesbians who have petitioned the court for their civil rights.
Through interviews with clerks, excerpts from transcripts and audiotapes of oral arguments, justices' notes of meetings and rough drafts of decisions, and the journalist authors' clear explanations of legal jargon and procedure, we watch the court at work. The mysterious, incontrovertable third arm of our government is revealed to be simply nine men and women, as subject to prejudice as the rest of us. But we also see a few justices wrestle with their prejudices and write forceful dissents and eventually a majority opinion (Romer v. Evans) that wrapped queer Americans in the constitutional guarantee of Equal Protection.
Because Murdoch and Price's book covers such a broad timespan, they're able to dissect the court's (often achingly) slow evolution from viewing gays as perverted criminals to citizens.
If you want to understand the key legal questions facing gay, lesbian, transgender, and bi-affectional Americans, and their search for equal justice in a country that promises so much, I would highly recommend this book. But don't read it before bedtime; Scalia's a pretty scary boogyman.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Don Belling on January 9, 2004
Format: Paperback
I picked up this book, and as an attorney I expected a dry legal analysis, instead I was happy to discover a more lively look at the history of gay rights. The authors have taken the time to track down many of the individuals who were involved in these cases going all the way back to the 1950s. It is fascinating to read about gay men and lesbians who stood up for themselves when there was really no hope, yet persisted at the cost of their jobs, personal freedom, and relationships. I was taken aback by some of the heroism and am inspired by the courage and unwillingness to compromise.
The book covers all the major cases that those familiar with gay rights law are familiar with and many others you have probably never heard of. The chapter on the Bowers v. Hardwick case is terrific. The authors tracked down a semi-closeted (at the time) gay clerk from Justice Powell's chambers. Justice Powell cornered this young man and asked him a series of questions about gays that make it clear the man had not the simplest idea of what he was dealing with. Ultimately Powell provided the deciding vote with the majority (in favor of upholding sodomy laws) and late in life stated that it was his major regret.
This is a fascinating read and I recommend it to anyone interested in gay rights, gay history, and the Supreme Court.
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