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Flagrant Conduct: The Story of Lawrence v. Texas Hardcover – March 12, 2012

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (March 12, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393062082
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393062083
  • Product Dimensions: 0.7 x 0.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #655,056 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


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 York Times)

“[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 - New Yorker)

“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 - Booklist)

“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 - San Francisco Chronicle)

“Starred review. [In Flagrant Conduct] Carpenter presents an engrossing depiction of a pivotal case in 21st-century American jurisprudence.” (Publishers Weekly)

“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.” (Don Franzen - Los Angeles Review of Books)

“[An] informative, highly readable account of a case that has been likened in significance to Brown v. Board of Education and Gideon v. Wainwright.” (Kirkus Reviews)

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 - The New York Review of Books)

“An important and scary book.” (Larry Kramer)

“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 - lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com)

“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.” (Blanche Wiesen Cook, author of Eleanor Roosevelt)

“... 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 Nation)

“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 Daily Beast)

“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 Republic)

About 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.

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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Excellent, well-written, and well-researched book.
I highly recommend this fascinating, well researched tale of the major 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision condemning sodomy laws to the dust bin of history.
Eugene P. Sweeney
I bought this book thinking that it would probably be a dull read.
James L Todd

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By James Hiller VINE VOICE on March 14, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Back in 2003, the Supreme Court reversed a seventeen year long decision by affirming the right for a group of people to engage in consensual sexual conduct in the privacy of their own home. The decision was a moment of elation and celebration; the timing, coming on the heels of pride weekend across the country, fueled joy that the gay community had finally had the right to step out from under discriminatory laws. What was even more amazing, after reading Dale Carpenter's new book, "Flagrant Conduct", was how little did I know of the case that inspired this change in our country.

Although I'm not a lawyer, I've read quite a number of books on the Supreme Court, very interested in the nine people that make so many important decisions that affect our country. Carpenter's book is one of the best, for many reasons. Carpenter knows his audience. Throughout some potentially murky Constitutional waters, he doesn't ever get bogged down by legalese or technicalities that may lose the lay reader like myself. When warranted, he takes time out to explain issues in a clear, focused way that makes the issues at hand (equal protection, due process clause) truly understandable.

The tour de force of the book, however, happens early on in the book, examining the case itself. Interviewing John Lawrence and Tyrone Garner for the book, as well as various deputies, judges, and attorneys involved with the case. He shares everyone's insights equally, even ones that are particularly painful (from the arresting deputies). Although he allows people to speak for themselves, he also argues certain conclusions and findings equally as well.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Wayne Dynes on March 8, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is the definitive book on a legal development of epic significance, reflecting much relevant research on the part of its resourceful author. In addition, the volume is beautifully written. A disturbing finding is that the two men were probably not having sex, and may never have. Nonetheless, the lawyers were able to use the incident to reshape the law.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Jon Hunt on April 10, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
There are so many layers of sizzle in Dale Carpenter's book, "Flagrant Conduct", that one might be hard pressed to have a favorite moment. This book, concerning the landmark "Lawrence v. Texas" case, is a terrific read for anyone interested in not only the recent history of sodomy laws in this country but how the United States Supreme Court works.

The author spends a fair amount of time revisiting the actually "crime" and focuses as much on the police officers who were involved in the search of John Lawrence's home in 1998 as he does with Lawrence and the other defendant, Tyron Garner. It's clear from the outset that Carpenter is firmly on the side of the defendants but this stance does not take away from the book...in fact, it adds to it, as he carefully educates the reader as to the specifics of the case.

"Flagrant Conduct" really catches fire as the case is laid out before the nine justices but this is preceded by several chapters outlining the reasons that "Lawrence v. Texas" might never have made it to the high court and how lawyers for the defendants had to be careful not to push too hard in its presentation. It's a fascinating build-up. When Paul Smith, arguing brilliantly for the defendants, matches up with Charles Rosenthal's inept and bumbling performance before the Supreme Court...well, it's no match at all as Carpenter points out. But it is not until Justice Anthony Kennedy reads his own opinion that we get to know the outcome and the author keeps this crescendo going right up to the last moment.

This is a deep and convincing look at not only how a bad law was overturned but how fragile the legal system is in getting it done. I highly recommend "Flagrant Conduct".
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By William Capodanno VINE VOICE on February 26, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
"Flagrant Conduct" is an impressive achievement and detailed examination of the Supreme Court case, Lawrence vs. Texas, that overthrew a Texas "Homosexual Conduct Law" (and ultimately similar laws in other states) that discriminated against private consensual sex among gay/lesbian individuals. Carpenter's book is an incredibly precise and insightful analysis of the characters --- police, defendants, prosecutors and defense attorneys --- that comprise this case. He does a great job of not only providing the history of the case, but gives the relevant background on the genesis of sodomy laws in America and the subsequent evolution of them in most states to be used a tool to discriminate and marginalize homosexuals .

Overall, I believe Carpenter delivers a "just the facts" approach to the subject matter but brings it to life through well-conducted research and analysis to tell the story in a richer, more engaging and informative. While familiar with the outcome of the case, I was unfamiliar, surprised and fascinated with all the twists and turns in this case. Frankly, "Flagrant Conduct" was such a great read that it left me hoping there are similarly exhaustive and compelling books on other monumental Supreme Court cases --- mind you, not scholarly journals but well-written and well-researched narratives.
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