When referring to federal law, we often consider the individuals involved in the justice system to be impeccable with their judgments, or otherwise fundamentally incapable of making extreme mistakes and misinterpretations. This naïve mindset could be generated in part by the fact that the lives and wellbeing of humans is on the line in nearly every ruling. Unfortunately, this optimistic fallacy is far from the truth, and the flaws of the justice system are occasionally exposed. A prime example of injustice can be viewed through the case and ruling of Bowers v. Hardwick, which struggled to define the right to privacy according to the constitution. The case of Bowers v. Hardwick served as an impeccable illustration of the common uncertainty of the justice system, and proved that individual interpretation is both an unavoidable component of human nature and a possible conflict in the law.
The situation began in 1982, in Atlanta, Georgia when an individual by the name of Michael Hardwick failed to appear at court after he was charged with drinking in public. A police officer seeking to serve him his arrest warrant appeared at his house. The roommate of Hardwick answered the door and told the officer that Hardwick was not home, but gave the policeman permission to enter the house and take a look. It was at this point that the officer discovered Hardwick and another male engaged in intercourse, and Michael Hardwick was promptly arrested. (Sodomy was prohibited by Georgia law at this time) Though the sodomy charges were quickly dropped, Michael Hardwick teamed up with the American Civil Liberties Union to file a lawsuit against the constitutionality of the Georgia law. Their lawsuit was originally dismissed by Judge Robert Hall, but was then reversed by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals on the grounds that the case interfered with the right to privacy. Attorney Michael Bowers appealed that reversal, which was brought to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court finally ruled that the original law prohibiting sodomy was constitutional, and closed the case. (I provided only a brief outline of the case; if you wish to do some further research, additional information can be found here: http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/478/186)
To begin, we will examine the first evident injustice in regards to Bowers v. Hardwick. When delivering a case before the American court system, there must be some type of harm placed on one party to ensure validity. It is clear that Michael Hardwick’s personal decisions did not put anyone in harm, and yet charges were still placed against him. Hardwick’s consensual actions transpired in the privacy of his house with a willing partner. The police officer had no legal right to arrest him on the grounds of sodomy. To continue, the dispute between Bowers and Hardwick undoubtedly deals with one of the most difficult components of delivering justice; individual interpretation of the law, and the definition of human rights. The 14th amendment declares that “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law;” The right to privacy protects intimate aspects of marriage, procreation and marriage-related contraception issues. Therefore, the ruling in the case of Bowers v. Hardwick undeniably abridges the privileges and immunities of Michael Hardwick, and confirmed the case’s unfairness.
Although this dilemma seems to be a clear-cut unjust ruling, a few explanations can be provided for why the case may have concluded the way it did. Due to the fact that “legal privacy” is more of a natural right than a constitutionally given right, its interpretation will certainly vary between individuals. (We have witnessed controversy over how to properly define “natural rights” for decades) In order to fully understand the law, one must also understand that nearly every individual’s personal opinion varies in some way. As long as we allow and promote humans to openly interpret the rights of American citizens, can we honestly expect anything less than occasional uncertainty? We can only hope that as a nation, we may find the ability to avoid future injustices by examining the past and learning from our mistakes.