COURTING JUSTICE by Joyce Murdoch

COURTING JUSTICE

Gay Men and Lesbians v. the Supreme Court

KIRKUS REVIEW

The unsettled legalities of gay rights—seen through the lens of Supreme Court decisions—are fully and fascinatingly explored by Detroit News journalists Murdoch and Price (And Say Hi to Joyce, 1995).

As Murdoch and Price make amply clear, the Supreme Court has “determined not to be an engine driving social change in the area of gay rights.” While the authors appreciate that the judiciary is a deliberative (rather than executive) body, they fault it nevertheless for having “been a drag on the nation, holding back the pace of progress toward the full acceptance of gay people.” The court is notoriously secretive, so Murdoch and Price pulled together their materials from the National Archives, newspapers, justices’ papers, and (perhaps most significantly) interviews with the principals and the justices’ clerks. Starting with the court’s decision in favor of One, The Homosexual Magazine in 1958, and continuing through the ruling that upheld the dismissal of a gay scoutmaster in 2000, Murdoch and Price explain the constitutional issues involved—from freedom and fairness to privacy and free speech and due process. In the process they provide a primer on the ways of the Supreme Court—its curious isolation from the involved parties and each justice’s isolation from all the others—and sketch the personalities of William O. Douglas, John Paul Stevens, William J. Brennan, and many others. They include Brennan’s dissenting opinion in a case involving the dismissal of a bisexual schoolteacher, Kameny’s 1960 formulation of “an equal-rights position that would provide much of the intellectual underpinnings for what would be known as the gay-rights movement,” and an examination of sodomy law and its infringement “on the right of privacy and free association.” Among the historical tidbits included is a 1950s New York Times headline: “Perverts Called Government Peril.”

A telling story of justice’s grinding wheels, and a crackerjack resource volume on gay legal history. (8 pp. photos, not seen)

Pub Date: June 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-465-01513-1
Page count: 592pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 2001




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