It seems commonsensical that for criminal punishment to be just and legal, the activity punished must have been made illegal.
However, legality is a more complex subject than it seems, as the cases below illustrate. Legislatures and courts struggle to define and interpret criminal law, and the roles and relationships between these institutions in determining what is criminal have evolved over time. Consider the strengths and weaknesses, advantages and disadvantages of courts and of legislatures in defining particular crimes — a topic you have undoubtedly encountered throughout your 1L year.
Additionally, giving people notice of criminal proscription underpins the idea of legality. Consider the issue of notice. Given the limited knowledge that most people have of the law, can they be said to have actual notice of what conduct is criminal? And should this matter? As you will see, courts sometimes invalidate convictions due to lack of notice, such as when a statute is unconstitutionally vague. Given that most people don’t read criminal statutes, why do courts go to such lengths to uphold the principle of notice?
Superior Court of Pennsylvania.
 Before RHODES, P.J., HIRT, ROSS, GUNTHER, WRIGHT, WOODSIDE and ERVIN, JJ.8
Edward A. Schultz, with him H. Turner Frost and Seif, Schultz & Frost, for appellant.9
Albert A. Fiok, Assistant District Attorney, with him James F. Malone, Jr., District Attorney, for appellee.10
OPINION BY HIRT, J., January 14, 1955:11
One indictment (Bill 230), before us in the present appeals, charged that the defendant on May 4, 1953 "devising, contriving and intending the morals and  manners of the good citizens of this Commonwealth then and there being, to debauch and corrupt, and further devising and intending to harass, embarrass and villify divers citizens of this Commonwealth, and particularly one Louise Zivkovich and the members of the family of her the said Louise Zivkovich . . . unlawfully, wickedly and maliciously did then and there on the said days and dates aforesaid, make numerous telephone calls to the dwelling house of the said Louise Zivkovich at all times of the day and night, in which said telephone calls and conversations resulting therefrom the said Michael Mochan did wickedly and maliciously refer to the said Louise Zivkovich as a lewd, immoral and lascivious woman of an indecent and lewd character, and other scurrilous approbrious, filthy, disgusting and indecent language and talk and did then and there use in said telephone calls and conversations resulting therefrom, not only with the said Louise Zivkovich as aforesaid but with other members of the family of the said Louise Zivkovich then and there residing and then and there answering said telephone calls aforesaid intending as aforesaid to blacken the character and reputation of the said Louise Zivkovich and to infer that the said Louise Zivkovich was a woman of ill repute and ill fame, and intending as aforesaid to harass, embarrass and villify the said Louise Zivkovich and other members of her household as aforesaid, to the great damage, injury and oppression of the said Louise Zivkovich and other good citizens of this Commonwealth to the evil example of all other in like case offending, and against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania." A second indictment (Bill 231), in the same language, charged a like offense committed by defendant on another date. Defendant was tried before a judge without a jury and was convicted on both charges and was  sentenced. He has appealed from the refusal by the court en banc of his motions in arrest of judgment, on the ground advanced by him that the conduct charged in the indictments, concededly not a criminal offense in this State by any statute, does not constitute a misdemeanor at common law. In a number of States and especially in the common law State of Pennsylvania the common law of England, as to crimes, is in force except in so far as it has been abrogated by statute. 11 Am. Jur., Common Law, § 4; 22 C.J.S., Criminal Law, § 19. The indictments in these cases by their language, clearly purported to charge a common law crime not included in our Penal Code or elsewhere in our statutory law.12
It is established by the testimony that the defendant over a period of more than one month early in 1953, on numerous occasions and on the specific dates laid in the indictments, telephoned one Louise Zivkovich, a stranger to him and a married woman of the highest character and repute. He called as often as three times each week and at any hour of the day or night. His language on these calls was obscene, lewd and filthy. He not only suggested intercourse with her but talked of sodomy as well, in the loathsome language of that criminal act, on a number of occasions. The calls were coming in from a four-party line. Through cooperation with the telephone company, the defendant was finally located and was arrested by the police at the telephone after the completion of his last call. After his arrest bearing upon the question of his identification as the one who made the calls, Mrs. Zivkovich recognized his voice, in a telephone conversation with him which was set up by the police.13
It is of little importance that there is no precedent in our reports which decides the precise question here involved. The test is not whether precedents can be  found in the books but whether the alleged crimes could have been prosecuted and the offenders punished under the common law. Commonwealth v. McHale, 97 Pa. 397, 408. In Commonwealth v. Miller, 94 Pa. Superior Ct. 499, 507, the controlling principles are thus stated: "The common law is sufficiently broad to punish as a misdemeanor, although there may be no exact precedent, any act which directly injures or tends to injure the public to such an extent as to require the state to interfere and punish the wrongdoer, as in the case of acts which injuriously affect public morality, or obstruct, or pervert public justice, or the administration of government: 16 Corpus Juris, Sec. 23, page 65, citing Republica v. Teischer, 1 Dallas 335; Com. v. Sharpless, 2 S. & R. 91, and Barker v. Com., 19 Pa. 412." Cf. Com. of Penna. v. DeGrange, 97 Pa. Superior Ct. 181, in which it is said: "`Whatever openly outrages decency and is injurious to public morals is a misdemeanor at common law': Russell on Crimes and Misdemeanors, 8th Ed., Vol. 1, p. 10; 4 Blackstone's Commentaries 65, note." Any act is indictable at common law which from its nature scandalously affects the morals or health of the community. 1 Wharton Criminal Law, 12 Ed., § 23. Thus in Barker et al. v. Commonwealth, 19 Pa. 412, a common law conviction based upon open obscenity was affirmed. Cf. Sadler, Criminal & Penal Proc., § 281. And in Commonwealth v. Glenny, 54 D. & C. 633, in a well considered opinion it was held that an indictment charging that the defendant took indecent liberties tending to debauch the morals of a male victim adequately set forth a common law offense. And as early as Updegraph v. Commonwealth, 11 S. & R. 393, it was held that Christianity is a part of the common law and maliciously to vilify the Christian religion is an indictable offense.14
 To endeavor merely to persuade a married woman to commit adultery is not indictable. Smith v. Commonwealth, 54 Pa. 209. The present defendant's criminal intent was evidenced by a number of overt acts beyond the mere oral solicitation of adultery. The vile and disgusting suggestions of sodomy alone and the otherwise persistent lewd, immoral and filthy language used by the defendant, take these cases out of the principle of the Smith case. Moreover potentially at least, defendant's acts injuriously affected public morality. The operator or any one on defendant's four-party telephone line could have listened in on the conversations, and at least two other persons in Mrs. Zivkovich's household heard some of defendant's immoral and obscene language over the telephone.15
The name "Immoral Practices and Conduct" was ascribed to the offense and was endorsed on the indictments by the District Attorney. Whether the endorsement appropriately or adequately names the offense is unimportant (Com. of Penna. v. DeGrange, supra, p. 185); the factual charges in the body of the indictments identify the offense as a common law misdemeanor and the testimony established the guilt of the defendant.16
Judgments and sentences affirmed.17
DISSENTING OPINION BY WOODSIDE, J.:18
Not unmindful of the reprehensible conduct of the appellant, I nevertheless cannot agree with the majority that what he did was a crime punishable under the laws of this Commonwealth.19
The majority is declaring something to be a crime which was never before known to be a crime in this Commonwealth. They have done this by the application  of such general principles as "it is a crime to do anything which injures or tends to injure the public to such an extent as to require the state to interfere and punish the wrongdoer;" and "whatever openly outrages decency and is injurious to public morals is a misdemeanor."20
Not only have they declared it to be a crime to do an act "injuriously affecting public morality," but they have declared it to be a crime to do any act which has a "potentially" injurious effect on public morality.21
Under the division of powers in our constitution it is for the legislature to determine what "injures or tends to injure the public."22
One of the most important functions of a legislature is to determine what acts "require the state to interfere and punish the wrongdoer." There is no reason for the legislature to enact any criminal laws if the courts delegate to themselves the power to apply such general principles as are here applied to whatever conduct may seem to the courts to be injurious to the public.23
There is no doubt that the common law is a part of the law of this Commonwealth, and we punish many acts under the common law. But after nearly two hundred years of constitutional government in which the legislature and not the courts have been charged by the people with the responsibility of deciding which acts do and which do not injure the public to the extent which requires punishment, it seems to me we are making an unwarranted invasion of the legislative field when we arrogate that responsibility to ourselves by declaring now, for the first time, that certain acts are a crime.24
When the legislature invades either the judicial or the executive fields, or the executive invades either the judicial or legislative fields, the courts stand ready to  stop them. But in matters of this type there is nothing to prevent our invasion of the legislative field except our own self restraint. There are many examples of how carefully the courts, with admirable self restraint, have fenced themselves in so they would not romp through the fields of the other branches of government. This case is not such an example.25
Until the legislature says that what the defendant did is a crime, I think the courts should not declare it to be such.26
I would therefore reverse the lower court and discharge the appellant.27
GUNTHER, J. joins in this dissent.
Supreme Court of United States.
CERTIORARI TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE TENTH CIRCUIT.9
Mr. Harry F. Brown for petitioner.10
Mr. Claude R. Branch, Special Assistant to the Attorney General, with whom Solicitor General Thacher, Assistant Attorney General Dodds and Messrs. Harry S. Ridgely and W. Marvin Smith were on the brief, for the United States.11
MR. JUSTICE HOLMES delivered the opinion of the Court.12
The petitioner was convicted of transporting from Ottawa, Illinois, to Guymon, Oklahoma, an airplane that he knew to have been stolen, and was sentenced to serve three years' imprisonment and to pay a fine of $2,000. The judgment was affirmed by the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. 43 F. (2d) 273. A writ of certiorari was granted by this Court on the question whether the National Motor Vehicle Theft Act applies to aircraft.  Act of October 29, 1919, c. 89, 41 Stat. 324; U.S. Code, Title 18, § 408. That Act provides: "Sec. 2. That when used in this Act: (a) The term 'motor vehicle' shall include an automobile, automobile truck, automobile wagon, motor cycle, or any other self-propelled vehicle not designed for running on rails; . . . Sec. 3. That whoever shall transport or cause to be transported in interstate or foreign commerce a motor vehicle, knowing the same to have been stolen, shall be punished by a fine of not more than $5,000, or by imprisonment of not more than five years, or both."13
Section 2 defines the motor vehicles of which the transportation in interstate commerce is punished in § 3. The question is the meaning of the word 'vehicle' in the phrase "any other self-propelled vehicle not designed for running on rails." No doubt etymologically it is possible to use the word to signify a conveyance working on land, water or air, and sometimes legislation extends the use in that direction, e.g., land and air, water being separately provided for, in the Tariff Act, September 22, 1922, c. 356, § 401 (b), 42 Stat. 858, 948. But in everyday speech 'vehicle' calls up the picture of a thing moving on land. Thus in Rev. Stats. § 4, intended, the Government suggests, rather to enlarge than to restrict the definition, vehicle includes every contrivance capable of being used "as a means of transportation on land." And this is repeated, expressly excluding aircraft, in the Tariff Act, June 17, 1930, c. 997, § 401 (b); 46 Stat. 590, 708. So here, the phrase under discussion calls up the popular picture. For after including automobile truck, automobile wagon and motor cycle, the words "any other self-propelled vehicle not designed for running on rails" still indicate that a vehicle in the popular sense, that is a vehicle running on land, is the theme. It is a vehicle that runs, not something, not commonly called a vehicle, that flies. Airplanes were well known in 1919, when this statute was passed; but it is admitted that they were not mentioned in the reports or in the debates in Congress.  It is impossible to read words that so carefully enumerate the different forms of motor vehicles and have no reference of any kind to aircraft, as including airplanes under a term that usage more and more precisely confines to a different class. The counsel for the petitioner have shown that the phraseology of the statute as to motor vehicles follows that of earlier statutes of Connecticut, Delaware, Ohio, Michigan and Missouri, not to mention the late Regulations of Traffic for the District of Columbia, Title 6, c. 9, § 242, none of which can be supposed to leave the earth.14
Although it is not likely that a criminal will carefully consider the text of the law before he murders or steals, it is reasonable that a fair warning should be given to the world in language that the common world will understand, of what the law intends to do if a certain line is passed. To make the warning fair, so far as possible the line should be clear. When a rule of conduct is laid down in words that evoke in the common mind only the picture of vehicles moving on land, the statute should not be extended to aircraft, simply because it may seem to us that a similar policy applies, or upon the speculation that, if the legislature had thought of it, very likely broader words would have been used. United States v. Thind, 261 U.S. 204, 209.15
United States Supreme Court.
CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF ILLINOIS9
   Stevens, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II, and V, in which O'Connor, Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer, JJ., joined, and an opinion with respect to Parts III, IV, and VI, in which Souter and Ginsburg, JJ., joined. O'Connor, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, in which Breyer, J., joined, post, p. 64. Kennedy, J., post, p. 69, and Breyer, J., post, p. 70, filed opinions concurring in part and concurring in the judgment. Scalia, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 73. Thomas, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and Scalia, J., joined, post, p. 98.11
Lawrence Rosenthal argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs were Brian L. Crowe, Benna Ruth Solomon, Timothy W. Joranko, and Julian N. Henriques, Jr.12
Harvey Grossman argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief were Rita Fry, James H. Reddy, Richard J. O'Brien, Jr., Barbara O'Toole, and Steven R. Shapiro.[*]13
 Justice Stevens announced the judgment of the Court and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II, and V, and an opinion with respect to Parts III, IV, and VI, in which Justice Souter and Justice Ginsburg join.14
In 1992, the Chicago City Council enacted the Gang Congregation Ordinance, which prohibits "criminal street gang  members" from "loitering" with one another or with other persons in any public place. The question presented is whether the Supreme Court of Illinois correctly held that the ordinance violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution.15
Before the ordinance was adopted, the city council's Committee on Police and Fire conducted hearings to explore the problems created by the city's street gangs, and more particularly, the consequences of public loitering by gang members. Witnesses included residents of the neighborhoods where gang members are most active, as well as some of the aldermen who represent those areas. Based on that evidence, the council made a series of findings that are included in the text of the ordinance and explain the reasons for its enactment.19
The council found that a continuing increase in criminal street gang activity was largely responsible for the city's rising murder rate, as well as an escalation of violent and drug related crimes. It noted that in many neighborhoods throughout the city, "`the burgeoning presence of street gang members in public places has intimidated many law abiding citizens.' " 177 Ill. 2d 440, 445, 687 N. E. 2d 53, 58 (1997). Furthermore, the council stated that gang members "`establish control over identifiable areas . . . by loitering in those areas and intimidating others from entering those areas; and . . . [m]embers of criminal street gangs avoid arrest by committing no offense punishable under existing laws when they know the police are present . . . .' " Ibid. It further found that "`loitering in public places by  criminal street gang members creates a justifiable fear for the safety of persons and property in the area' " and that "`[a]ggressive action is necessary to preserve the city's streets and other public places so that the public may use such places without fear.' " Moreover, the council concluded that the city "`has an interest in discouraging all persons from loitering in public places with criminal gang members.' " Ibid.20
The ordinance creates a criminal offense punishable by a fine of up to $500, imprisonment for not more than six months, and a requirement to perform up to 120 hours of community service. Commission of the offense involves four predicates. First, the police officer must reasonably believe that at least one of the two or more persons present in a "`public place' " is a "`criminal street gang membe[r].' " Second, the persons must be "`loitering,' " which the ordinance defines as "`remain[ing] in any one place with no apparent purpose.' " Third, the officer must then order "`all' " of the persons to disperse and remove themselves "`from the area.' " Fourth, a person must disobey the officer's order. If any person, whether a gang member or not, disobeys the officer's order, that person is guilty of violating the ordinance. Ibid.21
 Two months after the ordinance was adopted, the Chicago Police Department promulgated General Order 92-4 to provide guidelines to govern its enforcement. That order purported to establish limitations on the enforcement discretion of police officers "to ensure that the anti-gang loitering ordinance is not enforced in an arbitrary or discriminatory way." Chicago Police Department, General Order 92-4, reprinted in App. to Pet. for Cert. 65a. The limitations confine the authority to arrest gang members who violate the ordinance to sworn "members of the Gang Crime Section" and certain other designated officers, and establish detailed criteria for defining street gangs and membership in such gangs. Id., at 66a—67a. In addition, the order directs district commanders to "designate areas in which the presence of gang members has a demonstrable effect on the activities of law abiding persons in the surrounding community," and provides that the ordinance "will be enforced only within the designated  areas." Id., at 68a—69a. The city, however, does not release the locations of these "designated areas" to the public.22
During the three years of its enforcement, the police issued over 89,000 dispersal orders and arrested over 42,000 people for violating the ordinance. In the ensuing enforcement proceedings, 2 trial judges upheld the constitutionality of the ordinance, but 11 others ruled that it was invalid. In respondent Youkhana's case, the trial judge held that the "ordinance fails to notify individuals what conduct  is prohibited, and it encourages arbitrary and capricious enforcement by police."26
The Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the trial court's ruling in the Youkhana case, consolidated and affirmed other pending appeals in accordance with Youkhana, and reversed the convictions of respondents Gutierrez, Morales, and others. The Appellate Court was persuaded that the ordinance impaired the freedom of assembly of nongang members in violation of the First Amendment to the Federal Constitution and Article I of the Illinois Constitution, that it was unconstitutionally vague, that it improperly criminalized status rather than conduct, and that it jeopardized rights guaranteed under the Fourth Amendment.27
The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed. It held "that the gang loitering ordinance violates due process of law in that it is impermissibly vague on its face and an arbitrary restriction on personal liberties." 177 Ill. 2d, at 447, 687 N. E. 2d, at 59. The court did not reach the contentions that the ordinance "creates a status offense, permits arrests without probable cause or is overbroad." Ibid.28
In support of its vagueness holding, the court pointed out that the definition of "loitering" in the ordinance drew no distinction between innocent conduct and conduct calculated  to cause harm. "Moreover, the definition of `loiter' provided by the ordinance does not assist in clearly articulating the proscriptions of the ordinance." Id., at 451-452, 687 N. E. 2d, at 60-61. Furthermore, it concluded that the ordinance was "not reasonably susceptible to a limiting construction which would affirm its validity."29
We granted certiorari, 523 U. S. 1071 (1998), and now affirm. Like the Illinois Supreme Court, we conclude that the ordinance enacted by the city of Chicago is unconstitutionally vague.30
The basic factual predicate for the city's ordinance is not in dispute. As the city argues in its brief, "the very presence of a large collection of obviously brazen, insistent, and lawless gang members and hangers-on on the public ways intimidates residents, who become afraid even to leave their homes and go about their business. That, in turn, imperils community residents' sense of safety and security, detracts from property values, and can ultimately destabilize entire neighborhoods." The findings in the ordinance explain that it was motivated by these concerns. We have no doubt  that a law that directly prohibited such intimidating conduct would be constitutional, but this ordinance broadly covers a significant amount of additional activity. Uncertainty about the scope of that additional coverage provides the basis for respondents' claim that the ordinance is too vague.34
We are confronted at the outset with the city's claim that it was improper for the state courts to conclude that the ordinance is invalid on its face. The city correctly points out that imprecise laws can be attacked on their face under two different doctrines. First, the overbreadth doctrine permits the facial invalidation of laws that inhibit the exercise of First Amendment rights if the impermissible applications of the law are substantial when "judged in relation to the statute's plainly legitimate sweep." Broadrick v. Oklahoma, 413 U. S. 601, 612-615 (1973). Second, even if an enactment does not reach a substantial amount of constitutionally protected conduct, it may be impermissibly vague because it fails to establish standards for the police and public that are sufficient to guard against the arbitrary deprivation of liberty interests. Kolender v. Lawson, 461 U. S. 352, 358 (1983).35
While we, like the Illinois courts, conclude that the ordinance is invalid on its face, we do not rely on the overbreadth doctrine. We agree with the city's submission that the law does not have a sufficiently substantial impact on conduct  protected by the First Amendment to render it unconstitutional. The ordinance does not prohibit speech. Because the term "loiter" is defined as remaining in one place "with no apparent purpose," it is also clear that it does not prohibit any form of conduct that is apparently intended to convey a message. By its terms, the ordinance is inapplicable to assemblies that are designed to demonstrate a group's support of, or opposition to, a particular point of view. Cf. Clark v. Community for Creative Non-Violence, 468 U. S. 288 (1984); Gregory v. Chicago, 394 U. S. 111 (1969). Its impact on the social contact between gang members and others does not impair the First Amendment "right of association" that our cases have recognized. See Dallas v. Stanglin, 490 U. S. 19, 23-25 (1989).36
On the other hand, as the United States recognizes, the freedom to loiter for innocent purposes is part of the "liberty" protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. We have expressly identified this "right to remove from one place to another according to inclination" as "an attribute of personal liberty" protected by the Constitution. Williams v. Fears, 179 U. S. 270, 274 (1900); see also Papachristou v. Jacksonville, 405 U. S. 156, 164 (1972).  Indeed, it is apparent that an individual's decision to remain in a public place of his choice is as much a part of his liberty as the freedom of movement inside frontiers that is "a part of our heritage" Kent v. Dulles, 357 U. S. 116, 126 (1958), or the right to move "to whatsoever place one's own inclination may direct" identified in Blackstone's Commentaries. 1 W. Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England 130 (1765).37
 There is no need, however, to decide whether the impact of the Chicago ordinance on constitutionally protected liberty alone would suffice to support a facial challenge under the overbreadth doctrine. Cf. Aptheker v. Secretary of State, 378 U. S. 500, 515-517 (1964) (right to travel); Planned Parenthood of Central Mo. v. Danforth, 428 U. S. 52, 82-83 (1976) (abortion); Kolender v. Lawson, 461 U. S., at 355, n. 3, 358-360, and n. 9. For it is clear that the vagueness of this enactment makes a facial challenge appropriate. This is not an ordinance that "simply regulates business behavior and contains a scienter requirement." See Hoffman Estates v. Flipside, Hoffman Estates, Inc., 455 U. S. 489, 499 (1982). It is a criminal law that contains no mens rea requirement, see Colautti v. Franklin, 439 U. S. 379, 395 (1979), and infringes on constitutionally protected rights, see id., at 391. When vagueness permeates the text of such a law, it is subject to facial attack.38
 Vagueness may invalidate a criminal law for either of two independent reasons. First, it may fail to provide the kind of notice that will enable ordinary people to understand what conduct it prohibits; second, it may authorize and even encourage arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement. See Kolender v. Lawson, 461 U. S., at 357. Accordingly, we first consider whether the ordinance provides fair notice to the citizen and then discuss its potential for arbitrary enforcement.39
"It is established that a law fails to meet the requirements of the Due Process Clause if it is so vague and standardless that it leaves the public uncertain as to the conduct it prohibits . . . ." Giaccio v. Pennsylvania, 382 U. S. 399, 402-403 (1966). The Illinois Supreme Court recognized that the term "loiter" may have a common and accepted meaning, 177 Ill. 2d, at 451, 687 N. E. 2d, at 61, but the definition of that term in this ordinance—"to remain in any one place with no apparent purpose"—does not. It is difficult to imagine how  any citizen of the city of Chicago standing in a public place with a group of people would know if he or she had an "apparent purpose." If she were talking to another person, would she have an apparent purpose? If she were frequently checking her watch and looking expectantly down the street, would she have an apparent purpose?43
Since the city cannot conceivably have meant to criminalize each instance a citizen stands in public with a gang member, the vagueness that dooms this ordinance is not the product of uncertainty about the normal meaning of "loitering," but rather about what loitering is covered by the ordinance and what is not. The Illinois Supreme Court emphasized the law's failure to distinguish between innocent conduct and conduct threatening harm. Its decision followed the precedent set by a number of state courts that have upheld ordinances that criminalize loitering combined with some other overt act or evidence of criminal intent. However, state  courts have uniformly invalidated laws that do not join the term "loitering" with a second specific element of the crime.44
The city's principal response to this concern about adequate notice is that loiterers are not subject to sanction until after they have failed to comply with an officer's order to disperse. "[W]hatever problem is created by a law that criminalizes conduct people normally believe to be innocent is solved when persons receive actual notice from a police order of what they are expected to do." We find this response unpersuasive for at least two reasons.45
First, the purpose of the fair notice requirement is to enable the ordinary citizen to conform his or her conduct to the law. "No one may be required at peril of life, liberty or property to speculate as to the meaning of penal statutes." Lanzetta v. New Jersey, 306 U. S. 451, 453 (1939). Although it is true that a loiterer is not subject to criminal sanctions unless he or she disobeys a dispersal order, the loitering is the conduct that the ordinance is designed to prohibit. If the loitering is in fact harmless and innocent, the dispersal order itself is an unjustified impairment of liberty. If the police are able to decide arbitrarily which members of the public they will order to disperse, then the Chicago ordinance becomes indistinguishable from the law we held invalid in Shuttlesworth v. Birmingham, 382 U. S. 87, 90  (1965). Because an officer may issue an order only after prohibited conduct has already occurred, it cannot provide the kind of advance notice that will protect the putative loiterer from being ordered to disperse. Such an order cannot retroactively give adequate warning of the boundary between the permissible and the impermissible applications of the law.46
Second, the terms of the dispersal order compound the inadequacy of the notice afforded by the ordinance. It provides that the officer "shall order all such persons to disperse and remove themselves from the area." App. to Pet. for Cert. 61a. This vague phrasing raises a host of questions. After such an order issues, how long must the loiterers remain apart? How far must they move? If each loiterer walks around the block and they meet again at the same location, are they subject to arrest or merely to being ordered to disperse again? As we do here, we have found vagueness in a criminal statute exacerbated by the use of the standards of "neighborhood" and "locality." Connally v. General Constr. Co., 269 U. S. 385 (1926). We remarked in Connally that "[b]oth terms are elastic and, dependent upon circumstances, may be equally satisfied by areas measured by rods or by miles." Id., at 395.47
Lack of clarity in the description of the loiterer's duty to obey a dispersal order might not render the ordinance unconstitutionally  vague if the definition of the forbidden conduct were clear, but it does buttress our conclusion that the entire ordinance fails to give the ordinary citizen adequate notice of what is forbidden and what is permitted. The Constitution does not permit a legislature to "set a net large enough to catch all possible offenders, and leave it to the courts to step inside and say who could be rightfully detained, and who should be set at large." United States v. Reese, 92 U. S. 214, 221 (1876). This ordinance is therefore vague "not in the sense that it requires a person to conform his conduct to an imprecise but comprehensible normative standard, but rather in the sense that no standard of conduct is specified at all." Coates v. Cincinnati, 402 U. S. 611, 614 (1971).48
The broad sweep of the ordinance also violates "`the requirement that a legislature establish minimal guidelines to govern law enforcement.' " Kolender v. Lawson, 461 U. S., at 358. There are no such guidelines in the ordinance. In any public place in the city of Chicago, persons who stand or sit in the company of a gang member may be ordered to disperse unless their purpose is apparent. The mandatory language in the enactment directs the police to issue an order without first making any inquiry about their possible purposes. It matters not whether the reason that a gang member and his father, for example, might loiter near Wrigley Field is to rob an unsuspecting fan or just to get a glimpse of Sammy Sosa leaving the ballpark; in either event, if their purpose is not apparent to a nearby police officer, she may— indeed, she "shall"—order them to disperse.52
Recognizing that the ordinance does reach a substantial amount of innocent conduct, we turn, then, to its language to determine if it "necessarily entrusts lawmaking to the moment-to-moment judgment of the policeman on his beat." Kolender v. Lawson, 461 U. S., at 360 (internal quotation marks omitted). As we discussed in the context of fair notice,  see supra, at 56-60, the principal source of the vast discretion conferred on the police in this case is the definition of loitering as "to remain in any one place with no apparent purpose."53
As the Illinois Supreme Court interprets that definition, it "provides absolute discretion to police officers to decide what activities constitute loitering." 177 Ill. 2d, at 457, 687 N. E. 2d, at 63. We have no authority to construe the language of a state statute more narrowly than the construction given by that State's highest court. "The power to determine the meaning of a statute carries with it the power to prescribe its extent and limitations as well as the method by which they shall be determined." Smiley v. Kansas, 196 U. S. 447, 455 (1905).54
Nevertheless, the city disputes the Illinois Supreme Court's interpretation, arguing that the text of the ordinance limits the officer's discretion in three ways. First, it does not permit the officer to issue a dispersal order to anyone who is moving along or who has an apparent purpose. Second, it does not permit an arrest if individuals obey a dispersal order. Third, no order can issue unless the officer reasonably believes that one of the loiterers is a member of a criminal street gang.55
Even putting to one side our duty to defer to a state court's construction of the scope of a local enactment, we find each of these limitations insufficient. That the ordinance does not apply to people who are moving—that is, to activity that would not constitute loitering under any possible definition of the term—does not even address the question of how much discretion the police enjoy in deciding which stationary persons  to disperse under the ordinance. Similarly, that the ordinance does not permit an arrest until after a dispersal order has been disobeyed does not provide any guidance to the officer deciding whether such an order should issue. The "no apparent purpose" standard for making that decision is inherently subjective because its application depends on whether some purpose is "apparent" to the officer on the scene.56
Presumably an officer would have discretion to treat some purposes—perhaps a purpose to engage in idle conversation or simply to enjoy a cool breeze on a warm evening—as too frivolous to be apparent if he suspected a different ulterior motive. Moreover, an officer conscious of the city council's reasons for enacting the ordinance might well ignore its text and issue a dispersal order, even though an illicit purpose is actually apparent.57
It is true, as the city argues, that the requirement that the officer reasonably believe that a group of loiterers contains a gang member does place a limit on the authority to order dispersal. That limitation would no doubt be sufficient if the ordinance only applied to loitering that had an apparently harmful purpose or effect, or possibly if it only applied to loitering by persons reasonably believed to be criminal gang members. But this ordinance, for reasons that are not explained in the findings of the city council, requires no harmful purpose and applies to nongang members as well as suspected gang members. It applies to everyone in the city  who may remain in one place with one suspected gang member as long as their purpose is not apparent to an officer observing them. Friends, relatives, teachers, counselors, or even total strangers might unwittingly engage in forbidden loitering if they happen to engage in idle conversation with a gang member.58
Ironically, the definition of loitering in the Chicago ordinance not only extends its scope to encompass harmless conduct, but also has the perverse consequence of excluding from its coverage much of the intimidating conduct that motivated its enactment. As the city council's findings demonstrate, the most harmful gang loitering is motivated either by an apparent purpose to publicize the gang's dominance of certain territory, thereby intimidating nonmembers, or by an equally apparent purpose to conceal ongoing commerce in illegal drugs. As the Illinois Supreme Court has not placed any limiting construction on the language in the ordinance, we must assume that the ordinance means what it says and that it has no application to loiterers whose purpose is apparent. The relative importance of its application to harmless loitering is magnified by its inapplicability to loitering that has an obviously threatening or illicit purpose.59
Finally, in its opinion striking down the ordinance, the Illinois Supreme Court refused to accept the general order issued by the police department as a sufficient limitation on the "vast amount of discretion" granted to the police in its enforcement. We agree. See Smith v. Goguen, 415 U. S. 566, 575 (1974). That the police have adopted internal rules limiting their enforcement to certain designated areas in the city would not provide a defense to a loiterer who might be arrested elsewhere. Nor could a person who knowingly loitered with a well-known gang member anywhere in the city  safely assume that they would not be ordered to disperse no matter how innocent and harmless their loitering might be.60
In our judgment, the Illinois Supreme Court correctly concluded that the ordinance does not provide sufficiently specific limits on the enforcement discretion of the police "to meet constitutional standards for definiteness and clarity." 177 Ill. 2d, at 459, 687 N. E. 2d, at 64. We recognize the serious and difficult problems testified to by the citizens of Chicago that led to the enactment of this ordinance. "We are mindful that the preservation of liberty depends in part on the maintenance of social order." Houston v. Hill, 482 U. S. 451, 471-472 (1987). However, in this instance the city has enacted an ordinance that affords too much discretion to the police and too little notice to citizens who wish to use the public streets.64
Accordingly, the judgment of the Supreme Court of Illinois is65
Justice O'Connor, with whom Justice Breyer joins, concurring in part and concurring in the judgment.67
I agree with the Court that Chicago's Gang Congregation Ordinance, Chicago Municipal Code § 8-4—015 (1992) (gang loitering ordinance or ordinance) is unconstitutionally vague. A penal law is void for vagueness if it fails to "define the criminal offense with sufficient definiteness that ordinary people can understand what conduct is prohibited" or fails to  establish guidelines to prevent "arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement" of the law. Kolender v. Lawson, 461 U. S. 352, 357 (1983). Of these, "the more important aspect of the vagueness doctrine `is . . . the requirement that a legislature establish minimal guidelines to govern law enforcement.' " Id., at 358 (quoting Smith v. Goguen, 415 U. S. 566, 574-575 (1974)). I share Justice Thomas' concern about the consequences of gang violence, and I agree that some degree of police discretion is necessary to allow the police "to perform their peace keeping responsibilities satisfactorily." Post, at 109 (dissenting opinion). A criminal law, however, must not permit policemen, prosecutors, and juries to conduct "`a standardless sweep . . . to pursue their personal predilections.' " Kolender v. Lawson, supra, at 358 (quoting Smith v. Goguen, supra, at 575).68
The ordinance at issue provides:69
"Whenever a police officer observes a person whom he reasonably believes to be a criminal street gang member loitering in any public place with one or more other persons, he shall order all such persons to disperse and remove themselves from the area. Any person who does not promptly obey such an order is in violation of this section." App. to Pet. for Cert. 61a.70
To "[l]oiter," in turn, is defined in the ordinance as "to remain in any one place with no apparent purpose." Ibid. The Illinois Supreme Court declined to adopt a limiting construction of the ordinance and concluded that the ordinance vested "absolute discretion to police officers." 177 Ill. 2d 440, 457, 687 N. E. 2d 53, 63 (1997) (emphasis added). This Court is bound by the Illinois Supreme Court's construction of the ordinance. See Terminiello v. Chicago, 337 U. S. 1, 4 (1949).72
As it has been construed by the Illinois court, Chicago's gang loitering ordinance is unconstitutionally vague because it lacks sufficient minimal standards to guide law enforcement  officers. In particular, it fails to provide police with any standard by which they can judge whether an individual has an "apparent purpose." Indeed, because any person standing on the street has a general "purpose"—even if it is simply to stand—the ordinance permits police officers to choose which purposes are permissible. Under this construction the police do not have to decide that an individual is "threaten[ing] the public peace" to issue a dispersal order. See post, at 107 (Thomas, J., dissenting). Any police officer in Chicago is free, under the Illinois Supreme Court's construction of the ordinance, to order at his whim any person standing in a public place with a suspected gang member to disperse. Further, as construed by the Illinois court, the ordinance applies to hundreds of thousands of persons who are not gang members, standing on any sidewalk or in any park, coffee shop, bar, or "other location open to the public, whether publicly or privately owned." Chicago Municipal Code § 8-4—015(c)(5) (1992).73
To be sure, there is no violation of the ordinance unless a person fails to obey promptly the order to disperse. But, a police officer cannot issue a dispersal order until he decides that a person is remaining in one place "with no apparent purpose," and the ordinance provides no guidance to the officer on how to make this antecedent decision. Moreover, the requirement that police issue dispersal orders only when they "reasonably believ[e]" that a group of loiterers includes a gang member fails to cure the ordinance's vague aspects. If the ordinance applied only to persons reasonably believed to be gang members, this requirement might have cured the ordinance's vagueness because it would have directed the manner in which the order was issued by specifying to whom the order could be issued. Cf. ante, at 62. But, the Illinois Supreme Court did not construe the ordinance to be so limited. See 177 Ill. 2d, at 453-454, 687 N. E. 2d, at 62.74
This vagueness consideration alone provides a sufficient ground for affirming the Illinois court's decision, and I agree  with Part V of the Court's opinion, which discusses this consideration. See ante, at 62 ("[T]hat the ordinance does not permit an arrest until after a dispersal order has been disobeyed does not provide any guidance to the officer deciding whether such an order should issue"); ibid. ("It is true .. . that the requirement that the officer reasonably believe that a group of loiterers contains a gang member does place a limit on the authority to order dispersal. That limitation would no doubt be sufficient if the ordinance only applied to loitering that had an apparently harmful purpose or effect, or possibly if it only applied to loitering by persons reasonably believed to be criminal gang members"). Accordingly, there is no need to consider the other issues briefed by the parties and addressed by the plurality. I express no opinion about them.75
It is important to courts and legislatures alike that we characterize more clearly the narrow scope of today's holding. As the ordinance comes to this Court, it is unconstitutionally vague. Nevertheless, there remain open to Chicago reasonable alternatives to combat the very real threat posed by gang intimidation and violence. For example, the Court properly and expressly distinguishes the ordinance from laws that require loiterers to have a "harmful purpose," see ibid., from laws that target only gang members, see ibid., and from laws that incorporate limits on the area and manner in which the laws may be enforced, see ante, at 62-63. In addition, the ordinance here is unlike a law that "directly prohibit[s]" the "`presence of a large collection of obviously brazen, insistent, and lawless gang members and hangers-on on the public ways,' " that "`intimidates residents.' " Ante, at 51, 52 (quoting Brief for Petitioner 14). Indeed, as the plurality notes, the city of Chicago has several laws that do exactly this. See ante, at 52, n. 17. Chicago has even enacted a provision that "enables police officers to fulfill . . . their traditional functions," including "preserving the public peace." See post, at 106 (Thomas, J., dissenting). Specifically,  Chicago's general disorderly conduct provision allows the police to arrest those who knowingly "provoke, make or aid in making a breach of peace." See Chicago Municipal Code § 8-4—010 (1992).76
In my view, the gang loitering ordinance could have been construed more narrowly. The term "loiter" might possibly be construed in a more limited fashion to mean "to remain in any one place with no apparent purpose other than to establish control over identifiable areas, to intimidate others from entering those areas, or to conceal illegal activities." Such a definition would be consistent with the Chicago City Council's findings and would avoid the vagueness problems of the ordinance as construed by the Illinois Supreme Court. See App. to Pet. for Cert. 60a—61a. As noted above, so would limitations that restricted the ordinance's criminal penalties to gang members or that more carefully delineated the circumstances in which those penalties would apply to nongang members.77
The Illinois Supreme Court did not choose to give a limiting construction to Chicago's ordinance. To the extent it relied on our precedents, particularly Papachristou v. Jacksonville, 405 U. S. 156 (1972), as requiring it to hold the ordinance vague in all of its applications because it was intentionally drafted in a vague manner, the Illinois court misapplied our precedents. See 177 Ill. 2d, at 458-459, 687 N. E. 2d, at 64. This Court has never held that the intent of the drafters determines whether a law is vague. Nevertheless, we cannot impose a limiting construction that a state supreme court has declined to adopt. See Kolender v. Lawson, 461 U. S., at 355-356, n. 4 (noting that the Court has held that "`[f]or the purpose of determining whether a state statute is too vague and indefinite to constitute valid legislation we must take the statute as though it read precisely as the highest court of the State has interpreted it' " (citations and internal quotation marks omitted)); New York  v. Ferber, 458 U. S. 747, 769, n. 24 (1982) (noting that where the Court is "dealing with a state statute on direct review of a state-court decision that has construed the statute[,] [s]uch a construction is binding on us"). Accordingly, I join Parts I, II, and V of the Court's opinion and concur in the judgment.78
Justice Kennedy, concurring in part and concurring in the judgment.79
I join Parts I, II, and V of the Court's opinion and concur in the judgment.80
I also share many of the concerns Justice Stevens expresses in Part IV with respect to the sufficiency of notice under the ordinance. As interpreted by the Illinois Supreme Court, the Chicago ordinance would reach a broad range of innocent conduct. For this reason it is not necessarily saved by the requirement that the citizen must disobey a police order to disperse before there is a violation.81
We have not often examined these types of orders. Cf. Shuttlesworth v. Birmingham, 382 U. S. 87 (1965). It can be assumed, however, that some police commands will subject a citizen to prosecution for disobeying whether or not the citizen knows why the order is given. Illustrative examples include when the police tell a pedestrian not to enter a building and the reason is to avoid impeding a rescue team, or to protect a crime scene, or to secure an area for the protection of a public official. It does not follow, however, that any unexplained police order must be obeyed without notice of the lawfulness of the order. The predicate of an order to disperse is not, in my view, sufficient to eliminate doubts regarding the adequacy of notice under this ordinance. A citizen, while engaging in a wide array of innocent conduct, is not likely to know when he may be subject to a dispersal order based on the officer's own knowledge of the identity or affiliations of other persons with whom the citizen is congregating;  nor may the citizen be able to assess what an officer might conceive to be the citizen's lack of an apparent purpose.82
Justice Breyer, concurring in part and concurring in the judgment.83
The ordinance before us creates more than a "minor limitation upon the free state of nature." Post, at 74 (Scalia, J., dissenting) (emphasis added). The law authorizes a police officer to order any person to remove himself from any "location open to the public, whether publicly or privately owned," Chicago Municipal Code § 8-4—015(c)(5) (1992), i. e., any sidewalk, front stoop, public park, public square, lakeside promenade, hotel, restaurant, bowling alley, bar, barbershop, sports arena, shopping mall, etc., but with two, and only two, limitations: First, that person must be accompanied by (or must himself be) someone police reasonably believe is a gang member. Second, that person must have remained in that public place "with no apparent purpose." § 8-4—015(c)(1).84
The first limitation cannot save the ordinance. Though it limits the number of persons subject to the law, it leaves many individuals, gang members and nongang members alike, subject to its strictures. Nor does it limit in any way the range of conduct that police may prohibit. The second limitation is, as the Court, ante, at 62, and Justice O'Connor, ante, at 65-66 (opinion concurring in part and concurring in judgment), point out, not a limitation at all. Since one always has some apparent purpose, the so-called limitation invites, in fact requires, the policeman to interpret the words "no apparent purpose" as meaning "no apparent purpose except for . . . ." And it is in the ordinance's delegation to the policeman of open-ended discretion to fill in that blank that the problem lies. To grant to a policeman virtually standardless discretion to close off major portions of the city to an innocent person is, in my view, to create a major, not a "minor," "limitation upon the free state of nature."85
 Nor does it violate "our rules governing facial challenges," post, at 74 (Scalia, J., dissenting), to forbid the city to apply the unconstitutional ordinance in this case. The reason why the ordinance is invalid explains how that is so. As I have said, I believe the ordinance violates the Constitution because it delegates too much discretion to a police officer to decide whom to order to move on, and in what circumstances. And I see no way to distinguish in the ordinance's terms between one application of that discretion and another. The ordinance is unconstitutional, not because a policeman applied this discretion wisely or poorly in a particular case, but rather because the policeman enjoys too much discretion in every case. And if every application of the ordinance represents an exercise of unlimited discretion, then the ordinance is invalid in all its applications. The city of Chicago may be able validly to apply some other law to the defendants in light of their conduct. But the city of Chicago may no more apply this law to the defendants, no matter how they behaved, than it could apply an (imaginary) statute that said, "It is a crime to do wrong," even to the worst of murderers. See Lanzetta v. New Jersey, 306 U. S. 451, 453 (1939) ("If on its face the challenged provision is repugnant to the due process clause, specification of details of the offense intended to be charged would not serve to validate it").86
Justice Scalia's examples, post, at 81-83, reach a different conclusion because they assume a different basis for the law's constitutional invalidity. A statute, for example, might not provide fair warning to many, but an individual defendant might still have been aware that it prohibited the conduct in which he engaged. Cf., e. g., Parker v. Levy, 417 U. S. 733, 756 (1974) ("[O]ne who has received fair warning of the criminality of his own conduct from the statute in question is [not] entitled to attack it because the language would not give similar fair warning with respect to other conduct which might be within its broad and literal ambit.87
 One to whose conduct a statute clearly applies may not successfully challenge it for vagueness"). But I believe this ordinance is unconstitutional, not because it provides insufficient notice, but because it does not provide "sufficient minimal standards to guide law enforcement officers." See ante, at 65-66 (O'Connor, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment).88
I concede that this case is unlike those First Amendment "overbreadth" cases in which this Court has permitted a facial challenge. In an overbreadth case, a defendant whose conduct clearly falls within the law and may be constitutionally prohibited can nonetheless have the law declared facially invalid to protect the rights of others (whose protected speech might otherwise be chilled). In the present case, the right that the defendants assert, the right to be free from the officer's exercise of unchecked discretion, is more clearly their own.89
This case resembles Coates v. Cincinnati, 402 U. S. 611 (1971), where this Court declared facially unconstitutional on, among other grounds, the due process standard of vagueness an ordinance that prohibited persons assembled on a sidewalk from "conduct[ing] themselves in a manner annoying to persons passing by." The Court explained:90
"It is said that the ordinance is broad enough to encompass many types of conduct clearly within the city's constitutional power to prohibit. And so, indeed, it is. The city is free to prevent people from blocking sidewalks, obstructing traffic, littering streets, committing assaults, or engaging in countless other forms of antisocial conduct. It can do so through the enactment and enforcement of ordinances directed with reasonable specificity toward the conduct to be prohibited. . . . It cannot constitutionally do so through the enactment and enforcement of an ordinance whose violation may entirely depend upon whether or not a policeman is annoyed." Id., at 614 (citation omitted).91
 The ordinance in Coates could not constitutionally be applied whether or not the conduct of the particular defendants was indisputably "annoying" or of a sort that a different, more specific ordinance could constitutionally prohibit. Similarly, here the city might have enacted a different ordinance, or the Illinois Supreme Court might have interpreted this ordinance differently. And the Constitution might well have permitted the city to apply that different ordinance (or this ordinance as interpreted differently) to circumstances like those present here. See ante, at 67-68 (O'Connor, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment). But this ordinance, as I have said, cannot be constitutionally applied to anyone.93
Justice Scalia, dissenting.94
The citizens of Chicago were once free to drive about the city at whatever speed they wished. At some point Chicagoans (or perhaps Illinoisans) decided this would not do, and imposed prophylactic speed limits designed to assure safe operation by the average (or perhaps even subaverage) driver with the average (or perhaps even subaverage) vehicle. This infringed upon the "freedom" of all citizens, but was not unconstitutional.95
Similarly, the citizens of Chicago were once free to stand around and gawk at the scene of an accident. At some point Chicagoans discovered that this obstructed traffic and caused more accidents. They did not make the practice unlawful, but they did authorize police officers to order the crowd to disperse, and imposed penalties for refusal to obey such an order. Again, this prophylactic measure infringed upon the "freedom" of all citizens, but was not unconstitutional.96
Until the ordinance that is before us today was adopted, the citizens of Chicago were free to stand about in public places with no apparent purpose—to engage, that is, in conduct that appeared to be loitering. In recent years, however, the city has been afflicted with criminal street gangs. As reflected in the record before us, these gangs congregated  in public places to deal in drugs, and to terrorize the neighborhoods by demonstrating control over their "turf." Many residents of the inner city felt that they were prisoners in their own homes. Once again, Chicagoans decided that to eliminate the problem it was worth restricting some of the freedom that they once enjoyed. The means they took was similar to the second, and more mild, example given above rather than the first: Loitering was not made unlawful, but when a group of people occupied a public place without an apparent purpose and in the company of a known gang member, police officers were authorized to order them to disperse, and the failure to obey such an order was made unlawful. See Chicago Municipal Code § 8-4—015 (1992). The minor limitation upon the free state of nature that this prophylactic arrangement imposed upon all Chicagoans seemed to them (and it seems to me) a small price to pay for liberation of their streets.97
The majority today invalidates this perfectly reasonable measure by ignoring our rules governing facial challenges, by elevating loitering to a constitutionally guaranteed right, and by discerning vagueness where, according to our usual standards, none exists.98
Respondents' consolidated appeal presents a facial challenge to the Chicago ordinance on vagueness grounds. When a facial challenge is successful, the law in question is declared to be unenforceable in all its applications, and not just in its particular application to the party in suit. To tell the truth, it is highly questionable whether federal courts have any business making such a declaration. The rationale for our power to review federal legislation for constitutionality, expressed in Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137 (1803), was that we had to do so in order to decide the case before us. But that rationale only extends so far as to require us to determine that the statute is unconstitutional as applied to this party, in the circumstances of this case.102
 That limitation was fully grasped by Tocqueville, in his famous chapter on the power of the judiciary in American society:103
"The second characteristic of judicial power is, that it pronounces on special cases, and not upon general principles. If a judge, in deciding a particular point, destroys a general principle by passing a judgment which tends to reject all the inferences from that principle, and consequently to annul it, he remains within the ordinary limits of his functions. But if he directly attacks a general principle without having a particular case in view, he leaves the circle in which all nations have agreed to confine his authority; he assumes a more important, and perhaps a more useful influence, than that of the magistrate; but he ceases to represent the judicial power.104
. . . . .106
"Whenever a law which the judge holds to be unconstitutional is invoked in a tribunal of the United States, he may refuse to admit it as a rule . . . . But as soon as a judge has refused to apply any given law in a case, that law immediately loses a portion of its moral force. Those to whom it is prejudicial learn that means exist of overcoming its authority; and similar suits are multiplied, until it becomes powerless. . . . The political power which the Americans have intrusted to their courts of justice is therefore immense; but the evils of this power are considerably diminished by the impossibility of attacking the laws except through the courts of justice. . . . [W]hen a judge contests a law in an obscure debate on some particular case, the importance of his attack is concealed from public notice; his decision bears upon the interest of an individual, and the law is slighted only incidentally. Moreover, although it is censured, it is not abolished; its moral force may be diminished, but its authority is not taken away; and its final destruction can  be accomplished only by the reiterated attacks of judicial functionaries." Democracy in America 73, 75-76 (R. Heffner ed. 1956).107
As Justice Sutherland described our system in his opinion for a unanimous Court in Massachusetts v. Mellon, 262 U. S. 447, 488 (1923):109
"We have no power per se to review and annul acts of Congress on the ground that they are unconstitutional. That question may be considered only when the justification for some direct injury suffered or threatened, presenting a justiciable issue, is made to rest upon such an act. Then the power exercised is that of ascertaining and declaring the law applicable to the controversy. It amounts to little more than the negative power to disregard an unconstitutional enactment, which otherwise would stand in the way of the enforcement of a legal right. . . . If a case for preventive relief be presented the court enjoins, in effect, not the execution of the statute, but the acts of the official, the statute notwithstanding."110
And as Justice Brennan described our system in his opinion for a unanimous Court in United States v. Raines, 362 U. S. 17, 20-22 (1960):111
"The very foundation of the power of the federal courts to declare Acts of Congress unconstitutional lies in the power and duty of those courts to decide cases and controversies before them. . . . This Court, as is the case with all federal courts, `has no jurisdiction to pronounce any statute, either of a State or of the United States, void, because irreconcilable with the Constitution, except as it is called upon to adjudge the legal rights of litigants in actual controversies. In the exercise of that jurisdiction, it is bound by two rules, to which it has rigidly adhered, one, never to anticipate a question of constitutional law in advance of the necessity of deciding it; the other never to formulate a rule of  constitutional law broader than is required by the precise facts to which it is to be applied.' . . .Kindred to these rules is the rule that one to whom application of a statute is constitutional will not be heard to attack the statute on the ground that impliedly it might also be taken as applying to other persons or other situations in which its application might be unconstitutional. . . . The delicate power of pronouncing an Act of Congress unconstitutional is not to be exercised with reference to hypothetical cases thus imagined."112
It seems to me fundamentally incompatible with this system for the Court not to be content to find that a statute is unconstitutional as applied to the person before it, but to go further and pronounce that the statute is unconstitutional in all applications. Its reasoning may well suggest as much, but to pronounce a holding on that point seems to me no more than an advisory opinion—which a federal court should never issue at all, see Hayburn's Case, 2 Dall. 409 (1792), and especially should not issue with regard to a constitutional question, as to which we seek to avoid even non advisory opinions, see, e. g., Ashwander v. TVA, 297 U. S. 288, 347 (1936) (Brandeis, J., concurring). I think it quite improper, in short, to ask the constitutional claimant before us: Do you just want us to say that this statute cannot constitutionally be applied to you in this case, or do you want to go for broke and try to get the statute pronounced void in all its applications?113
I must acknowledge, however, that for some of the present century we have done just this. But until recently, at least, we have—except in free-speech cases subject to the doctrine of overbreadth, see, e. g., New York v. Ferber, 458 U. S. 747, 769-773 (1982)—required the facial challenge to be a go-forbroke proposition. That is to say, before declaring a statute to be void in all its applications (something we should not be doing in the first place), we have at least imposed upon the litigant the eminently reasonable requirement that he establish  that the statute was unconstitutional in all its applications. (I say that is an eminently reasonable requirement, not only because we should not be holding a statute void in all its applications unless it is unconstitutional in all its applications, but also because unless it is unconstitutional in all its applications we do not even know, without conducting an as-applied analysis, whether it is void with regard to the very litigant before us—whose case, after all, was the occasion for undertaking this inquiry in the first place.)114
As we said in United States v. Salerno, 481 U. S. 739, 745 (1987):115
"A facial challenge to a legislative Act is, of course, the most difficult challenge to mount successfully, since the challenger must establish that no set of circum-116
 stances exists under which the Act would be valid. The fact that [a legislative Act] might operate unconstitutionally under some conceivable set of circumstances is insufficient to render it wholly invalid, since we have not recognized an `overbreadth' doctrine outside the limited context of the First Amendment." (Emphasis added.)117
This proposition did not originate with Salerno, but had been expressed in a line of prior opinions. See, e. g., Members of City Council of Los Angeles v. Taxpayers for Vincent, 466 U. S. 789, 796 (1984) (opinion for the Court by Stevens, J.) (statute not implicating First Amendment rights is invalid on its face if "it is unconstitutional in every conceivable application"); Schall v. Martin, 467 U. S. 253, 269, n. 18 (1984); Hoffman Estates v. Flipside, Hoffman Estates, Inc., 455 U. S. 489, 494-495, 497 (1982); United States v. National Dairy Products Corp., 372 U. S. 29, 31-32 (1963); Raines, 362 U. S., at 21. And the proposition has been reaffirmed in many cases and opinions since. See, e. g., Anderson v. Edwards, 514 U. S. 143, 155-156, n. 6 (1995) (unanimous Court); Babbitt v. Sweet Home Chapter, Communities for Great Ore., 515 U. S. 687, 699 (1995) (opinion for the Court by Stevens, J.) (facial challenge asserts that a challenged statute or regulation is invalid "in every circumstance"); Reno v. Flores, 507 U. S. 292, 301 (1993); Rust v. Sullivan,  500 U. S. 173, 183 (1991); Ohio v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health, 497 U. S. 502, 514 (1990) (opinion of Kennedy, J.); Webster v. Reproductive Health Servs., 492 U. S. 490, 523-524 (1989) (O'Connor, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment); New York State Club Assn., Inc. v. City of New York, 487 U. S. 1, 11-12 (1988). Unsurprisingly, given the clarity of our general jurisprudence on this point, the Federal Courts of Appeals all apply the Salerno standard in adjudicating facial challenges.119
 I am aware, of course, that in some recent facial-challenge cases the Court has, without any attempt at explanation, created entirely irrational exceptions to the "unconstitutional in every conceivable application" rule, when the statutes at issue concerned hot-button social issues on which "informed opinion" was zealously united. See Romer v. Evans, 517 U. S. 620, 643 (1996) (Scalia, J., dissenting) (homosexual rights); Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, 505 U. S. 833, 895 (1992) (abortion rights). But the present case does not even lend itself to such a "political correctness" exception—which, though illogical, is at least predictable. It is not à la mode to favor gang members and associated loiterers over the beleaguered law-abiding residents of the inner city.120
When our normal criteria for facial challenges are applied, it is clear that the Justices in the majority have transposed the burden of proof. Instead of requiring respondents, who are challenging the ordinance, to show that it is invalid in all its applications, they have required petitioner to show that it is valid in all its applications. Both the plurality opinion and the concurrences display a lively imagination, creating hypothetical situations in which the law's application would (in their view) be ambiguous. But that creative role has been usurped from petitioner, who can defeat respondents' facial challenge by conjuring up a single valid application of the law. My contribution would go something like this: Tony, a member of the Jets criminal street gang, is standing  alongside and chatting with fellow gang members while staking out their turf at Promontory Point on the South Side of Chicago; the group is flashing gang signs and displaying their distinctive tattoos to passersby. Officer Krupke, applying the ordinance at issue here, orders the group to disperse. After some speculative discussion (probably irrelevant here) over whether the Jets are depraved because they are deprived, Tony and the other gang members break off further conversation with the statement—not entirely coherent, but evidently intended to be rude—"Gee, Officer Krupke, krup you." A tense standoff ensues until Officer Krupke arrests the group for failing to obey his dispersal order. Even assuming (as the Justices in the majority do, but I do not) that a law requiring obedience to a dispersal order is impermissibly vague unless it is clear to the objects of the order, before its issuance, that their conduct justifies it,I find it hard to believe that the Jets would not have known they had it coming. That should settle the matter of respondents' facial challenge to the ordinance's vagueness.121
Of course respondents would still be able to claim that the ordinance was vague as applied to them. But the ultimate demonstration of the inappropriateness of the Court's holding of facial invalidity is the fact that it is doubtful whether some of these respondents could even sustain an as-applied challenge on the basis of the majority's own criteria. For instance, respondent Jose Renteria—who admitted that he was a member of the Satan Disciples gang—was observed by the arresting officer loitering on a street corner with other gang members. The officer issued a dispersal order, but when she returned to the same corner 15 to 20 minutes later, Renteria was still there with his friends, whereupon he was arrested. In another example, respondent Daniel Washington and several others—who admitted they were members of the Vice Lords gang—were observed by the arresting officer loitering in the street, yelling at passing vehicles, stopping traffic, and preventing pedestrians from using  the sidewalks. The arresting officer issued a dispersal order, issued another dispersal order later when the group did not move, and finally arrested the group when they were found loitering in the same place still later. Finally, respondent Gregorio Gutierrez—who had previously admitted to the arresting officer his membership in the Latin Kings gang—was observed loitering with two other men. The officer issued a dispersal order, drove around the block, and arrested the men after finding them in the same place upon his return. See Brief for Petitioner 7, n. 5; Brief for United States as Amicus Curiae 16, n. 11. Even on the majority's assumption that to avoid vagueness it must be clear to the object of the dispersal order ex ante that his conduct is covered by the ordinance, it seems most improbable that any of these as-applied challenges would be sustained. Much less is it possible to say that the ordinance is invalid in all its applications.122
The plurality's explanation for its departure from the usual rule governing facial challenges is seemingly contained in the following statement: "[This] is a criminal law that contains no mens rea requirement . . . and infringes on constitutionally protected rights . . . . When vagueness permeates the text of such a law, it is subject to facial attack." Ante, at 55 (emphasis added). The proposition is set forth with such assurance that one might suppose that it repeats some well-accepted formula in our jurisprudence: (Criminal law without mens rea requirement) [H11501] (infringement of constitutionally protected right) [H11501] (vagueness) [H11505] (entitlement to facial invalidation). There is no such formula; the plurality has made it up for this case, as the absence of any citation demonstrates.126
But no matter. None of the three factors that the plurality relies upon exists anyway. I turn first to the support for the proposition that there is a constitutionally protected right to loiter—or, as the plurality more favorably describes  it, for a person to "remain in a public place of his choice." Ante, at 54. The plurality thinks much of this Fundamental Freedom to Loiter, which it contrasts with such lesser, constitutionally un protected, activities as doing (ugh!) business: "This is not an ordinance that simply regulates business behavior and contains a scienter requirement. . . . It is a criminal law that contains no mens rea requirement . . . and infringes on constitutionally protected rights." Ante, at 55 (internal quotation marks omitted). (Poor Alexander Hamilton, who has seen his "commercial republic" devolve, in the eyes of the plurality, at least, into an "indolent republic," see The Federalist No. 6, p. 56; No. 11, pp. 84-91 (C. Rossiter ed. 1961).)127
Of course every activity, even scratching one's head, can be called a "constitutional right" if one means by that term nothing more than the fact that the activity is covered (as all are) by the Equal Protection Clause, so that those who engage in it cannot be singled out without "rational basis." See FCC v. Beach Communications, Inc., 508 U. S. 307, 313 (1993). But using the term in that sense utterly impoverishes our constitutional discourse. We would then need a new term for those activities—such as political speech or religious worship—that cannot be forbidden even with rational basis.128
The plurality tosses around the term "constitutional right" in this renegade sense, because there is not the slightest evidence for the existence of a genuine constitutional right to loiter. Justice Thomas recounts the vast historical tradition of criminalizing the activity. Post, at 102-106 (dissenting opinion). It is simply not maintainable that the right to loiter would have been regarded as an essential attribute of liberty at the time of the framing or at the time of adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment. For the plurality, however, the historical practices of our people are nothing more than a speed bump on the road to the "right" result. Its opinion blithely proclaims: "Neither this history nor the scholarly  compendia in Justice Thomas' dissent, [ibid.,] persuades us that the right to engage in loitering that is entirely harmless in both purpose and effect is not a part of the liberty protected by the Due Process Clause." Ante, at 54, n. 20. The entire practice of using the Due Process Clause to add judicially favored rights to the limitations upon democracy set forth in the Bill of Rights (usually under the rubric of socalled "substantive due process") is in my view judicial usurpation. But we have, recently at least, sought to limit the damage by tethering the courts' "right-making" power to an objective criterion. In Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U. S. 702, 720-721 (1997), we explained our "established method" of substantive due process analysis: carefully and narrowly describing the asserted right, and then examining whether that right is manifested in "[o]ur Nation's history, legal traditions, and practices." See also Collins v. Harker Heights, 503 U. S. 115, 125-126 (1992); Michael H. v. Gerald D., 491 U. S. 110, 122-123 (1989); Moore v. East Cleveland, 431 U. S. 494, 502-503 (1977). The plurality opinion not only ignores this necessary limitation, but it leaps far beyond any substantive-due-process atrocity we have ever committed, by actually placing the burden of proof upon the defendant to establish that loitering is not a "fundamental liberty." It never does marshal any support for the proposition that loitering is a constitutional right, contenting itself with a (transparently inadequate) explanation of why the historical record of laws banning loitering does not positively contradict that proposition, and the (transparently erroneous) assertion that the city of Chicago appears to have conceded the  point. It is enough for the Members of the plurality that "history . . . [fails to] persuad[e] us that the right to engage in loitering that is entirely harmless in both purpose and effect is not a part of the liberty protected by the Due Process Clause," ante, at 54, n. 20 (emphasis added); they apparently think it quite unnecessary for anything to persuade them that it is.129
It would be unfair, however, to criticize the plurality's failed attempt to establish that loitering is a constitutionally  protected right while saying nothing of the concurrences. The plurality at least makes an attempt. The concurrences, on the other hand, make no pretense at attaching their broad "vagueness invalidates" rule to a liberty interest. As far as appears from Justice O'Connor's and Justice Breyer's opinions, no police officer may issue any order, affecting any insignificant sort of citizen conduct (except, perhaps, an order addressed to the unprotected class of "gang members") unless the standards for the issuance of that order are precise. No modern urban society—and probably none since London got big enough to have sewers—could function under such a rule. There are innumerable reasons why it may be important for a constable to tell a pedestrian to "move on"—and even if it were possible to list in an ordinance all of the reasons that are known, many are simply unpredictable. Hence the (entirely reasonable) Rule of the city of New York which reads: "No person shall fail, neglect or refuse to comply with the lawful direction or command of any Police Officer, Urban Park Ranger, Parks Enforcement Patrol Officer or other [Parks and Recreation] Department employee, indicated verbally, by gesture or otherwise." 56 RCNY § 1-03(c)(1) (1996). It is one thing to uphold an "as-applied" challenge when a pedestrian disobeys such an order that is unreasonable—or even when a pedestrian asserting some true "liberty" interest (holding a political rally, for instance) disobeys such an order that is reasonable but unexplained. But to say that such a general ordinance permitting "lawful orders" is void in all its applications demands more than a safe and orderly society can reasonably deliver.130
Justice Kennedy apparently recognizes this, since he acknowledges that "some police commands will subject a citizen to prosecution for disobeying whether or not the citizen knows why the order is given," including, for example, an order "tell[ing] a pedestrian not to enter a building" when the reason is "to avoid impeding a rescue team." Ante, at 69 (opinion concurring in part and concurring in judgment).  But his only explanation of why the present interference with the "right to loiter" does not fall within that permitted scope of action is as follows: "The predicate of an order to disperse is not, in my view, sufficient to eliminate doubts regarding the adequacy of notice under this ordinance." Ibid. I have not the slightest idea what this means. But I do understand that the follow-up explanatory sentence, showing how this principle invalidates the present ordinance, applies equally to the rescue-team example that Justice Kennedy thinks is constitutional—as is demonstrated by substituting for references to the facts of the present case (shown in italics) references to his rescue-team hypothetical (shown in brackets): "A citizen, while engaging in a wide array of innocent conduct, is not likely to know when he may be subject to a dispersal order [order not to enter a building] based on the officer's own knowledge of the identity or affiliations of other persons with whom the citizen is congregating [what is going on in the building]; nor may the citizen be able to assess what an officer might conceive to be the citizen's lack of an apparent purpose [the impeding of a rescue team]." Ante, at 69-70.131
I turn next to that element of the plurality's facialchallenge formula which consists of the proposition that this criminal ordinance contains no mens rea requirement. The first step in analyzing this proposition is to determine what the actus reus, to which that mens rea is supposed to be attached, consists of. The majority believes that loitering forms part of (indeed, the essence of) the offense, and must be proved if conviction is to be obtained. See ante, at 47, 50-51, 53-55, 57-59, 60-61, 62-63 (plurality and majority opinions); ante, at 65, 66, 68 (O'Connor, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment); ante, at 69-70 (Kennedy, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment); ante, at 72-73 (Breyer, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment). That is not what the ordinance provides. The  only part of the ordinance that refers to loitering is the portion that addresses, not the punishable conduct of the defendant, but what the police officer must observe before he can issue an order to disperse; and what he must observe is carefully defined in terms of what the defendant appears to be doing, not in terms of what the defendant is actually doing. The ordinance does not require that the defendant have been loitering (i. e., have been remaining in one place with no purpose), but rather that the police officer have observed him remaining in one place without any apparent purpose. Someone who in fact has a genuine purpose for remaining where he is (waiting for a friend, for example, or waiting to hold up a bank) can be ordered to move on (assuming the other conditions of the ordinance are met), so long as his remaining has no apparent purpose. It is likely, to be sure, that the ordinance will come down most heavily upon those who are actually loitering (those who really have no purpose in remaining where they are); but that activity is not a condition for issuance of the dispersal order.135
The only act of a defendant that is made punishable by the ordinance—or, indeed, that is even mentioned by the ordinance—is his failure to "promptly obey" an order to disperse. The question, then, is whether that actus reus must be accompanied by any wrongful intent—and of course it must. As the Court itself describes the requirement, "a person must disobey the officer's order." Ante, at 47 (emphasis added). No one thinks a defendant could be successfully prosecuted under the ordinance if he did not hear the order to disperse, or if he suffered a paralysis that rendered his compliance impossible. The willful failure to obey a police order is wrongful intent enough.136
Finally, I address the last of the three factors in the plurality's facial-challenge formula: the proposition that the ordinance is vague. It is not. Even under the ersatz overbreadth  standard applied in Kolender v. Lawson, 461 U. S. 352, 358, n. 8 (1983), which allows facial challenges if a law reaches "a substantial amount of constitutionally protected conduct," respondents' claim fails because the ordinance would not be vague in most or even a substantial number of applications. A law is unconstitutionally vague if its lack of definitive standards either (1) fails to apprise persons of ordinary intelligence of the prohibited conduct, or (2) encourages arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement. See, e. g., Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U. S. 104, 108 (1972).140
The plurality relies primarily upon the first of these aspects. Since, it reasons, "the loitering is the conduct that the ordinance is designed to prohibit," and "an officer may issue an order only after prohibited conduct has already occurred," ante, at 58, 59, the order to disperse cannot itself serve "to apprise persons of ordinary intelligence of the prohibited conduct." What counts for purposes of vagueness analysis, however, is not what the ordinance is "designed to prohibit," but what it actually subjects to criminal penalty. As discussed earlier, that consists of nothing but the refusal to obey a dispersal order, as to which there is no doubt of adequate notice of the prohibited conduct. The plurality's suggestion that even the dispersal order itself is unconstitutionally vague, because it does not specify how far to disperse(!), see ante, at 59, scarcely requires a response. If it were true, it would render unconstitutional for vagueness many of the Presidential proclamations issued under that provision of the United States Code which requires the President,  before using the militia or the Armed Forces for law enforcement, to issue a proclamation ordering the insurgents to disperse. See 10 U. S. C. § 334. President Eisenhower's proclamation relating to the obstruction of court-ordered enrollment of black students in public schools at Little Rock, Arkansas, read as follows: "I . . .command all persons engaged in such obstruction of justice to cease and desist therefrom, and to disperse forthwith." Presidential Proclamation No. 3204, 3 CFR 132 (1954-1958 Comp.). See also Presidential Proclamation No. 3645, 3 CFR 103 (1964-1965 Comp.) (ordering those obstructing the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, to "disperse . . . forthwith"). See also Boos v. Barry, 485 U. S. 312, 331 (1988) (rejecting overbreadth/vagueness challenge to a law allowing police officers to order congregations near foreign embassies to disperse); Cox v. Louisiana, 379 U. S. 536, 551 (1965) (rejecting vagueness challenge to the dispersal-order prong of a breach-of-the-peace statute and describing that prong as "narrow and specific").141
For its determination of unconstitutional vagueness, the Court relies secondarily—and Justice O'Connor's and Justice Breyer's concurrences exclusively—upon the second aspect of that doctrine, which requires sufficient specificity to prevent arbitrary and discriminatory law enforcement. See ante, at 60 (majority opinion); ante, at 65-66 (O'Connor, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment); ante, at 72 (Breyer, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment). In discussing whether Chicago's ordinance meets that requirement, the Justices in the majority hide behind an artificial construct of judicial restraint. They point to the Supreme Court of Illinois' statement that the "apparent purpose" standard "provides absolute discretion to police officers to decide what activities constitute loitering," 177 Ill. 2d 440, 457, 687 N. E. 2d 53, 63 (1997), and protest that it would be wrong to construe the language of the ordinance more narrowly than did the State's highest court. Ante, at  61, 63 (majority opinion); ante, at 68 (O'Connor, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment). The "absolute discretion" statement, however, is nothing more than the Illinois Supreme Court's characterization of what the language achieved—after that court refused (as I do) to read in any limitations that the words do not fairly contain. It is not a construction of the language (to which we are bound) but a legal conclusion (to which we most assuredly are not bound).142
The criteria for issuance of a dispersal order under the Chicago ordinance could hardly be clearer. First, the law requires police officers to "reasonably believ[e]" that one of the group to which the order is issued is a "criminal street gang member." This resembles a probable-cause standard, and the Chicago Police Department's General Order 92-4 (1992)—promulgated to govern enforcement of the ordinance—makes the probable-cause requirement explicit. Under the Order, officers must have probable cause to believe that an individual is a member of a criminal street gang, to be substantiated by the officer's "experience and knowledge of the alleged offenders" and by "specific, documented and reliable information" such as reliable witness testimony or an individual's admission of gang membership or display of distinctive colors, tattoos, signs, or other markings worn by members of particular criminal street gangs. App. to Pet. for Cert. 67a—69a, 71a—72a.143
Second, the ordinance requires that the group be "remain[ing] in any one place with no apparent purpose." Justice O'Connor's assertion that this applies to "any person standing  in a public place," ante, at 66, is a distortion. The ordinance does not apply to "standing," but to "remain[ing]"— a term which in this context obviously means "[to] endure or persist," see American Heritage Dictionary 1525 (1992). There may be some ambiguity at the margin, but "remain[ing] in one place" requires more than a temporary stop, and is clear in most of its applications, including all of those represented by the facts surrounding respondents' arrests described supra, at 82-83.144
As for the phrase "with no apparent purpose": Justice O'Connor again distorts this adjectival phrase, by separating it from the word that it modifies. "[A]ny person standing on the street," her concurrence says, "has a general `purpose'—even if it is simply to stand," and thus "the ordinance permits police officers to choose which purposes are permissible. " Ante, at 66. But Chicago police officers enforcing the ordinance are not looking for people with no apparent purpose (who are regrettably in oversupply); they are looking for people who "remain in any one place with no apparent purpose"—that is, who remain there without any apparent reason for remaining there. That is not difficult to perceive.145
The Court's attempt to demonstrate the vagueness of the ordinance produces the following peculiar statement: "The `no apparent purpose' standard for making [the decision to  issue an order to disperse] is inherently subjective because its application depends on whether some purpose is `apparent' to the officer on the scene." Ante, at 62. In the Court's view, a person's lack of any purpose in staying in one location is presumably an objective factor, and what the ordinance requires as a condition of an order to disperse— the absence of any apparent purpose—is a subjective factor. This side of the looking glass, just the opposite is true.146
Elsewhere, of course, the Court acknowledges the clear, objective commands of the ordinance, and indeed relies upon them to paint it as unfair:147
"In any public place in the city of Chicago, persons who stand or sit in the company of a gang member may be ordered to disperse unless their purpose is apparent. The mandatory language in the enactment directs the police to issue an order without first making any inquiry about their possible purposes. It matters not whether the reason that a gang member and his father, for example, might loiter near Wrigley Field is to rob an unsuspecting fan or just to get a glimpse of Sammy Sosa leaving the ballpark; in either event, if their purpose is not apparent to a nearby police officer, she may—indeed, she `shall'—order them to disperse." Ante, at 60.148
Quite so. And the fact that this clear instruction to the officers "reach[es] a substantial amount of innocent conduct," ibid., would be invalidating if that conduct were constitutionally protected against abridgment, such as speech or the practice of religion. Remaining in one place is not so protected, and so (as already discussed) it is up to the citizens of Chicago—not us—to decide whether the trade-off is worth it.150
 Justice Breyer's concurrence tries to perform the impossible feat of affirming our unquestioned rule that a criminal statute that is so vague as to give constitutionally inadequate notice to some violators may nonetheless be enforced against those whose conduct is clearly covered, see ante, at 71-72, citing Parker v. Levy, 417 U. S. 733 (1974), while at the same time asserting that a statute which "delegates too much discretion to a police officer" is invalid in all its applications, even where the officer uses his discretion "wisely," ante, at 71. But the vagueness that causes notice to be inadequate is the very same vagueness that causes "too much discretion" to be lodged in the enforcing officer. Put another way: A law that gives the policeman clear guidance in all cases gives the public clear guidance in all cases as well. Thus, what Justice Breyer gives with one hand, he takes away with the other. In his view, vague statutes that nonetheless give adequate notice to some violators are not unenforceable against those violators because of inadequate notice, but are unenforceable against them "because the policeman enjoys too much discretion in every case," ibid. This is simply contrary to our case law, including Parker v. Levy, supra.151
The plurality points out that Chicago already has several laws that reach the intimidating and unlawful gang-related conduct the ordinance was directed at. See ante, at 52, n. 17. The problem, of course, well recognized by Chicago's city council, is that the gang members cease their intimidating and unlawful behavior under the watchful eye of police officers, but return to it as soon as the police drive away. The only solution, the council concluded, was to clear the streets of congregations of gangs, their drug customers, and their associates.155
Justice O'Connor's concurrence proffers the same empty solace of existing laws useless for the purpose at hand, see ante, at 67, 67-68, but seeks to be helpful by suggesting some measures similar to this ordinance that would be constitutional. It says that Chicago could, for example, enact a law that "directly prohibit[s] the presence of a large collection of obviously brazen, insistent, and lawless gang members and hangers-on on the public ways, that intimidates residents." Ante, at 67 (internal quotation marks omitted). (If the majority considers the present ordinance too vague, it would be fun to see what it makes of "a large collection of obviously brazen, insistent, and lawless gang members.") This prescription of the concurrence is largely a quotation from the plurality—which itself answers the concurrence's suggestion that such a law would be helpful by pointing out that the city already "has several laws that serve this purpose." Ante, at 52, n. 17 (plurality opinion) (citing extant laws against "intimidation," "street gang criminal drug conspiracy," and "mob action"). The problem, again, is that the intimidation and lawlessness do not occur when the police are in sight.156
 Justice O'Connor's concurrence also proffers another cure: "If the ordinance applied only to persons reasonably believed to be gang members, this requirement might have cured the ordinance's vagueness because it would have directed the manner in which the order was issued by specifying to whom the order could be issued." Ante, at 66 (the Court agrees that this might be a cure, see ante, at 62). But the ordinance already specifies to whom the order can be issued: persons remaining in one place with no apparent purpose in the company of a gang member. And if "remain[ing] in one place with no apparent purpose" is so vague as to give the police unbridled discretion in controlling the conduct of nongang members, it surpasses understanding how it ceases to be so vague when applied to gang members alone. Surely gang members cannot be decreed to be outlaws, subject to the merest whim of the police as the rest of us are not.157
The fact is that the present ordinance is entirely clear in its application, cannot be violated except with full knowledge and intent, and vests no more discretion in the police than innumerable other measures authorizing police orders to preserve the public peace and safety. As suggested by their tortured analyses, and by their suggested solutions that bear no relation to the identified constitutional problem, the majority's real quarrel with the Chicago ordinance is simply that it permits (or indeed requires) too much harmless conduct by innocent citizens to be proscribed. As Justice O'Connor's concurrence says with disapprobation, "the ordinance applies to hundreds of thousands of persons who are not gang members, standing on any sidewalk or in any park, coffee shop, bar, or other location open to the public." Ante, at 66 (internal quotation marks omitted).161
But in our democratic system, how much harmless conduct to proscribe is not a judgment to be made by the courts. So long as constitutionally guaranteed rights are not affected,  and so long as the proscription has a rational basis, all sorts of perfectly harmless activity by millions of perfectly innocent people can be forbidden—riding a motorcycle without a safety helmet, for example, starting a campfire in a national forest, or selling a safe and effective drug not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration. All of these acts are entirely innocent and harmless in themselves, but because of the risk of harm that they entail, the freedom to engage in them has been abridged. The citizens of Chicago have decided that depriving themselves of the freedom to "hang out" with a gang member is necessary to eliminate pervasive gang crime and intimidation—and that the elimination of the one is worth the deprivation of the other. This Court has no business second-guessing either the degree of necessity or the fairness of the trade.162
I dissent from the judgment of the Court.163
Justice Thomas, with whom The Chief Justice and Justice Scalia join, dissenting.164
The duly elected members of the Chicago City Council enacted the ordinance at issue as part of a larger effort to prevent gangs from establishing dominion over the public streets. By invalidating Chicago's ordinance, I fear that the Court has unnecessarily sentenced law-abiding citizens to lives of terror and misery. The ordinance is not vague. "[A]ny fool would know that a particular category of conduct would be within [its] reach." Kolender v. Lawson, 461 U. S. 352, 370 (1983) (White, J.,dissenting). Nor does it violate the Due Process Clause. The asserted "freedom to loiter for innocent purposes," ante, at 53 (plurality opinion), is in no way "`deeply rooted in this Nation's history and tradition,' " Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U. S. 702, 721 (1997) (citation omitted). I dissent.165
The human costs exacted by criminal street gangs are inestimable. In many of our Nation's cities, gangs have "[v]irtually  overtak[en] certain neighborhoods, contributing to the economic and social decline of these areas and causing fear and lifestyle changes among law-abiding residents." U. S. Dept. of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Assistance, Monograph: Urban Street Gang Enforcement 3 (1997). Gangs fill the daily lives of many of our poorest and most vulnerable citizens with a terror that the Court does not give sufficient consideration, often relegating them to the status of prisoners in their own homes. See U. S. Dept. of Justice, Attorney General's Report to the President, Coordinated Approach to the Challenge of Gang Violence: A Progress Report 1 (Apr. 1996) ("From the small business owner who is literally crippled because he refuses to pay `protection' money to the neighborhood gang, to the families who are hostages within their homes, living in neighborhoods ruled by predatory drug trafficking gangs, the harmful impact of gang violence . . . is both physically and psychologically debilitating").169
The city of Chicago has suffered the devastation wrought by this national tragedy. Last year, in an effort to curb plummeting attendance, the Chicago Public Schools hired dozens of adults to escort children to school. The youngsters had become too terrified of gang violence to leave their homes alone. Martinez, Parents Paid to Walk Line Between Gangs and School, Chicago Tribune, Jan. 21, 1998, p. 1. The children's fears were not unfounded. In 1996, the Chicago Police Department estimated that there were 132 criminal street gangs in the city. Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, Research Bulletin: Street Gangs and Crime 4 (Sept. 1996). Between 1987 and 1994, these gangs were involved in 63,141 criminal incidents, including 21,689 nonlethal violent crimes and 894 homicides. Id., at 4-5. Many  of these criminal incidents and homicides result from gang "turf battles," which take place on the public streets and place innocent residents in grave danger. See U. S. Dept. of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice, Research in brief, C. Block & R. Block, Street Gang Crime in Chicago 1 (Dec. 1993); U. S. Dept. of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Juvenile Justice Journal, J. Howell, Youth Gang Drug Trafficking and Homicide: Policy and Program Implications (Dec. 1997); see also Testimony of Steven R. Wiley, Chief, Violent Crimes and Major Offenders Section, FBI, Hearing on S. 54 before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, 105th Cong., 1st Sess., 13 (1997) ("While street gangs may specialize in entrepreneurial activities like drug-dealing, their gang-related lethal violence is more likely to grow out of turf conflicts").170
Before enacting its ordinance, the Chicago City Council held extensive hearings on the problems of gang loitering. Concerned citizens appeared to testify poignantly as to how gangs disrupt their daily lives. Ordinary citizens like Ms. D'Ivory Gordon explained that she struggled just to walk to work:171
"When I walk out my door, these guys are out there . . . .172
. . . . .173
"They watch you. . . . They know where you live. They know what time you leave, what time you come home. I am afraid of them. I have even come to the point now that I carry a meat cleaver to work with me . . . .174
". . . I don't want to hurt anyone, and I don't want to be hurt. We need to clean these corners up. Clean these communities up and take it back from them." Transcript of Proceedings before the City Council of  Chicago, Committee on Police and Fire 66-67 (May 15, 1992) (hereinafter Transcript).175
Eighty-eight-year-old Susan Mary Jackson echoed her sentiments, testifying: "We used to have a nice neighborhood. We don't have it anymore . . . . I am scared to go out in the daytime. . . . [Y]ou can't pass because they are standing. I am afraid to go to the store. I don't go to the store because I am afraid. At my age if they look at me real hard, I be ready to holler." Id., at 93-95. Another long-time resident testified:177
"I have never had the terror that I feel everyday when I walk down the streets of Chicago. . . .178
. . . . .179
"I have had my windows broken out. I have had guns pulled on me. I have been threatened. I get intimidated on a daily basis, and it's come to the point where I say, well, do I go out today. Do I put my ax in my briefcase. Do I walk around dressed like a bum so I am not looking rich or got any money or anything like that." Id., at 124-125.180
Following these hearings, the council found that "criminal street gangs establish control over identifiable areas . . . by loitering in those areas and intimidating others from entering those areas." App. to Pet. for Cert. 60a. It further found that the mere presence of gang members "intimidate[s] many law abiding citizens" and "creates a justifiable fear for the safety of persons and property in the area." Ibid. It is the product of this democratic process—the council's attempt to address these social ills—that we are asked to pass judgment upon today.182
As part of its ongoing effort to curb the deleterious effects of criminal street gangs, the citizens of Chicago sensibly decided to return to basics. The ordinance does nothing more than confirm the well-established principle that the police  have the duty and the power to maintain the public peace, and, when necessary, to disperse groups of individuals who threaten it. The plurality, however, concludes that the city's commonsense effort to combat gang loitering fails constitutional scrutiny for two separate reasons—because it infringes upon gang members' constitutional right to "loiter for innocent purposes," ante, at 53, and because it is vague on its face, ante, at 55. A majority of the Court endorses the latter conclusion. I respectfully disagree.186
We recently reconfirmed that "[o]ur Nation's history, legal traditions, and practices . . . provide the crucial `guide posts for responsible decision-making' . . . that direct and restrain our exposition of the Due Process Clause." Glucksberg, 521 U. S., at 721 (quoting Moore v. East Cleveland, 431 U. S. 494, 503 (1977) (plurality opinion)). Only laws that infringe "those fundamental rights and liberties which are, objectively, `deeply rooted in this Nation's history and tradition' " offend the Due Process Clause. Glucksberg, supra, at 720-721.190
The plurality asserts that "the freedom to loiter for innocent purposes is part of the `liberty' protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment." Ante, at 53. Yet it acknowledges—as it must—that "antiloitering ordinances have long existed in this country." Ante, at 53, n. 20; see also 177 Ill. 2d 440, 450, 687 N. E. 2d 53, 60 (1997) (case below) ("Loitering and vagrancy statutes have been utilized throughout American history in an attempt to prevent crime by removing `undesirable persons' from public before they have the opportunity to engage in criminal activity"). In derogation of the framework we articulated only two Terms ago in Glucksberg, the plurality asserts that this history fails to "persuad[e] us that the right to engage in loitering that is entirely harmless . . . is not a part of the liberty protected by the Due Process Clause." Ante, at 54,  n. 20. Apparently, the plurality believes it sufficient to rest on the proposition that antiloitering laws represent an anachronistic throwback to an earlier, less sophisticated, era. For example, it expresses concern that some antivagrancy laws carried the penalty of slavery. Ibid. But this fact is irrelevant to our analysis of whether there is a constitutional right to loiter for innocent purposes. This case does not involve an antiloitering law carrying the penalty of slavery. The law at issue in this case criminalizes the failure to obey a police officer's order to disperse and imposes modest penalties, such as a fine of up to $500 and a prison sentence of up to six months.191
The plurality's sweeping conclusion that this ordinance infringes upon a liberty interest protected by the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause withers when exposed to the relevant history: Laws prohibiting loitering and vagrancy have been a fixture of Anglo-American law at least since the time of the Norman Conquest. See generally C. Ribton-Turner, A History of Vagrants and Vagrancy and Beggars and Begging (reprint 1972) (discussing history of English vagrancy laws); see also Papachristou v. Jacksonville, 405 U. S. 156, 161-162 (1972) (recounting history of vagrancy laws). The American colonists enacted laws modeled upon the English vagrancy laws, and at the time of the founding, state and local governments customarily criminalized loitering and other forms of vagrancy. Vagrancy laws  were common in the decades preceding the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, and remained on the books long after.192
 Tellingly, the plurality cites only three cases in support of the asserted right to "loiter for innocent purposes." See ante, at 53-54. Of those, only one—decided more than 100 years after the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment— actually addressed the validity of a vagrancy ordinance. That case, Papachristou, supra, contains some dicta that can be read to support the fundamental right that the plurality asserts. However, the Court in Papachristou did not undertake the now-accepted analysis applied in substantive due process cases—it did not look to tradition to define the rights protected by the Due Process Clause. In any event, a careful reading of the opinion reveals that the Court never said anything about a constitutional right. The Court's holding was that the antiquarian language employed in the vagrancy ordinance at issue was unconstitutionally vague. See id., at 162-163. Even assuming, then, that Papachristou was correctly decided as an original matter—a doubtful proposition—it  does not compel the conclusion that the Constitution protects the right to loiter for innocent purposes. The plurality's contrary assertion calls to mind the warning that "[t]he Judiciary, including this Court, is the most vulnerable and comes nearest to illegitimacy when it deals with judge-made constitutional law having little or no cognizable roots in the language or even the design of the Constitution. . . . [We] should be extremely reluctant to breathe still further substantive content into the Due Process Clause so as to strike down legislation adopted by a State or city to promote its welfare." Moore, 431 U. S., at 544 (White, J., dissenting). When "the Judiciary does so, it unavoidably pre-empts for itself another part of the governance of the country without express constitutional authority." Ibid.193
The Court concludes that the ordinance is also unconstitutionally vague because it fails to provide adequate standards to guide police discretion and because, in the plurality's view, it does not give residents adequate notice of how to conform their conduct to the confines of the law. I disagree on both counts.197
At the outset, it is important to note that the ordinance does not criminalize loitering per se. Rather, it penalizes loiterers' failure to obey a police officer's order to move along. A majority of the Court believes that this scheme vests too much discretion in police officers. Nothing could be further from the truth. Far from according officers too much discretion, the ordinance merely enables police officers to fulfill one of their traditional functions. Police officers are not, and have never been, simply enforcers of the criminal law. They wear other hats—importantly, they have long been vested with the responsibility for preserving the public peace. See, e. g., O. Allen, Duties and Liabilities of Sheriffs  59 (1845) ("As the principal conservator of the peace in his county, and as the calm but irresistible minister of the law, the duty of the Sheriff is no less important than his authority is great"); E. Freund, Police Power § 86, p. 87 (1904) ("The criminal law deals with offenses after they have been committed, the police power aims to prevent them. The activity of the police for the prevention of crime is partly such as needs no special legal authority"). Nor is the idea that the police are also peace officers simply a quaint anachronism. In most American jurisdictions, police officers continue to be obligated, by law, to maintain the public peace.201
In their role as peace officers, the police long have had the authority and the duty to order groups of individuals who threaten the public peace to disperse. For example, the 1887 police manual for the city of New York provided:202
 "It is hereby made the duty of the Police Force at all times of day and night, and the members of such Force are hereby there unto empowered, to especially preserve the public peace, prevent crime, detect and arrest offenders, suppress riots, mobs and insurrections, disperse unlawful or dangerous assemblages, and assemblages which obstruct the free passage of public streets, side- walks, parks and places. " Manual Containing the Rules and Regulations of the Police Department of the City of New York, Rule 414 (emphasis added).203
See also J. Crocker, Duties of Sheriffs, Coroners and Constables § 48, p. 33 (2d ed. rev. 1871) ("Sheriffs are, ex officio, conservators of the peace within their respective counties, and it is their duty, as well as that of all constables, coroners, marshals and other peace officers, to prevent every breach of the peace, and to suppress every unlawful assembly, affray or riot which may happen in their presence" (emphasis added)). The authority to issue dispersal orders continues to play a commonplace and crucial role in police operations, particularly in urban areas. Even the ABA Standards for  Criminal Justice recognize that "[i]n day-to-day police experience there are innumerable situations in which police are called upon to order people not to block the sidewalk, not to congregate in a given place, and not to `loiter' . . . . The police may suspect the loiterer of considering engaging in some form of undesirable conduct that can be at least temporarily frustrated by ordering him or her to `move on.' " Standard 1-3.4(d), p. 1.88, and comments (2d ed. 1980, Supp. 1986).205
In order to perform their peacekeeping responsibilities satisfactorily, the police inevitably must exercise discretion. Indeed, by empowering them to act as peace officers, the law assumes that the police will exercise that discretion responsibly and with sound judgment. That is not to say that the law should not provide objective guidelines for the police, but simply that it cannot rigidly constrain their every action. By directing a police officer not to issue a dispersal order unless he "observes a person whom he reasonably believes to be a criminal street gang member loitering in any public place," App. to Pet. for Cert. 61a, Chicago's ordinance strikes an appropriate balance between those two extremes. Just as we trust officers to rely on their experience and expertise in order to make spur-of-the-moment determinations about amorphous legal standards such as "probable cause"  and "reasonable suspicion," so we must trust them to determine whether a group of loiterers contains individuals (in this case members of criminal street gangs) whom the city has determined threaten the public peace. See Ornelas v. United States, 517 U. S. 690, 695, 700 (1996) ("Articulating precisely what `reasonable suspicion' and `probable cause' mean is not possible. They are commonsense, nontechnical conceptions that deal with the factual and practical considerations of everyday life on which reasonable and prudent men, not legal technicians, act. . . . [O]ur cases have recognized that a police officer may draw inferences based on his own experience in deciding whether probable cause exists" (citations and internal quotation marks omitted)). In sum, the Court's conclusion that the ordinance is impermissibly vague because it "`necessarily entrusts lawmaking to the momentto-moment judgment of the policeman on his beat,' " ante, at 60, cannot be reconciled with common sense, longstanding police practice, or this Court's Fourth Amendment jurisprudence.206
The illogic of the Court's position becomes apparent when it opines that the ordinance's dispersal provision "would no doubt be sufficient if the ordinance only applied to loitering that had an apparently harmful purpose or effect, or possibly if it only applied to loitering by persons reasonably believed to be criminal gang members." Ante, at 62 (footnote omitted). See also ante, at 67 (O'Connor, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment) (endorsing Court's proposal). With respect, if the Court believes that the ordinance is vague as written, this suggestion would not cure the vagueness problem. First, although the Court has suggested that a scienter requirement may mitigate a vagueness problem "with respect to the adequacy of notice to the complainant that his conduct is proscribed," Hoffman Estates v. Flipside, Hoffman Estates, Inc., 455 U. S. 489, 499 (1982) (footnote omitted), the alternative proposal does not incorporate a scienter requirement. If the ordinance's prohibition were limited  to loitering with "an apparently harmful purpose," the criminality of the conduct would continue to depend on its external appearance, rather than the loiterer's state of mind. See Black's Law Dictionary 1345 (6th ed. 1990) (scienter "is frequently used to signify the defendant's guilty knowledge"). For this reason, the proposed alternative would neither satisfy the standard suggested in Hoffman Estates nor serve to channel police discretion. Indeed, an ordinance that required officers to ascertain whether a group of loiterers have "an apparently harmful purpose" would require them to exercise more discretion, not less. Furthermore, the ordinance in its current form—requiring the dispersal of groups that contain at least one gang member—actually vests less discretion in the police than would a law requiring that the police disperse groups that contain only gang members. Currently, an officer must reasonably suspect that one individual is a member of a gang. Under the plurality's proposed law, an officer would be required to make such a determination multiple times.207
In concluding that the ordinance adequately channels police discretion, I do not suggest that a police officer enforcing the Gang Congregation Ordinance will never make a mistake. Nor do I overlook the possibility that a police officer, acting in bad faith, might enforce the ordinance in an arbitrary or discriminatory way. But our decisions should not turn on the proposition that such an event will be anything but rare. Instances of arbitrary or discriminatory enforcement of the ordinance, like any other law, are best addressed when (and if) they arise, rather than prophylactically through the disfavored mechanism of a facial challenge on vagueness grounds. See United States v. Salerno, 481 U. S. 739, 745 (1987) ("A facial challenge to a legislative Act is, of course, the most difficult challenge to mount successfully, since the challenger must establish that no set of circumstances exists under which the Act would be valid").208
The plurality's conclusion that the ordinance "fails to give the ordinary citizen adequate notice of what is forbidden and what is permitted," ante, at 60, is similarly untenable. There is nothing "vague" about an order to disperse. While "we can never expect mathematical certainty from our language," Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U. S. 104, 110 (1972), itis safe to assume that the vast majority of people who are ordered by the police to "disperse and remove themselves from the area" will have little difficulty understanding how to comply. App. to Pet. for Cert. 61a.212
Assuming that we are also obligated to consider whether the ordinance places individuals on notice of what conduct might subject them to such an order, respondents in this facial challenge bear the weighty burden of establishing that the statute is vague in all its applications, "in the sense that no standard of conduct is specified at all." Coates v. Cincinnati, 402 U. S. 611, 614 (1971). I subscribe to the view of retired Justice White—"If any fool would know that a particular category of conduct would be within the reach of the statute, if there is an unmistakable core that a reasonable person would know is forbidden by the law, the enactment is not unconstitutional on its face." Kolender, 461 U. S., at 370-371 (dissenting opinion). This is certainly such a case. As the Illinois Supreme Court recognized, "persons of ordinary intelligence may maintain a common and accepted  meaning of the word `loiter.' " 177 Ill. 2d, at 451, 687 N. E. 2d, at 61.213
Justice Stevens' contrary conclusion is predicated primarily on the erroneous assumption that the ordinance proscribes large amounts of constitutionally protected and/or innocent conduct. See ante, at 55, 56-57, 60. As already explained, supra, at 102-106, the ordinance does not proscribe constitutionally protected conduct—there is no fundamental right to loiter. It is also anomalous to characterize loitering as "innocent" conduct when it has been disfavored throughout American history. When a category of conduct has been consistently criminalized, it can hardly be considered "innocent." Similarly, when a term has long been used to describe criminal conduct, the need to subject it to the "more stringent vagueness test" suggested in Hoffman Estates, 455 U. S., at 499, dissipates, for there is no risk of a trap for the unwary. The term "loiter" is no different from terms such as "fraud," "bribery," and "perjury." We expect people of ordinary intelligence to grasp the meaning of such legal terms despite the fact that they are arguably imprecise.214
The plurality also concludes that the definition of the term loiter—"to remain in any one place with no apparent purpose,"  see 177 Ill.2d, at 445, 687 N. E. 2d, at 58—fails to provide adequate notice. "It is difficult to imagine," the plurality posits, "how any citizen of the city of Chicago standing in a public place . . .would know if he or she had an `apparent purpose.' " Ante, at 56-57. The plurality underestimates the intellectual capacity of the citizens of Chicago. Persons of ordinary intelligence are perfectly capable of evaluating how outsiders perceive their conduct, and here "[i]t is self-evident that there is a whole range of conduct that anyone with at least a semblance of common sense would know is [loitering] and that would be covered by the statute." See Smith v. Goguen, 415 U. S. 566, 584 (1974) (White, J., concurring in judgment). Members of a group standing on the corner staring blankly into space, for example, are likely well aware that passersby would conclude that they have "no apparent purpose." In any event, because this is a facial challenge, the plurality's ability to hypothesize that some individuals, in some circumstances, may be unable to ascertain how their actions appear to outsiders is irrelevant to our analysis. Here, we are asked to determine whether the ordinance is "vague in all of its applications." Hoffman Estates, supra, at 497. The answer is unquestionably no.215
Today, the Court focuses extensively on the "rights" of gang members and their companions. It can safely do so— the people who will have to live with the consequences of  today's opinion do not live in our neighborhoods. Rather, the people who will suffer from our lofty pronouncements are people like Ms. Susan Mary Jackson; people who have seen their neighborhoods literally destroyed by gangs and violence and drugs. They are good, decent people who must struggle to overcome their desperate situation, against all odds, in order to raise their families, earn a living, and remain good citizens. As one resident described: "There is only about maybe one or two percent of the people in the city causing these problems maybe, but it's keeping 98 percent of us in our houses and off the streets and afraid to shop." Transcript 126. By focusing exclusively on the imagined "rights" of the two percent, the Court today has denied our most vulnerable citizens the very thing that Justice Stevens, ante, at 54, elevates above all else—the "`freedom of movement.' " And that is a shame. I respectfully dissent.219
[*] Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed for the United States by Solicitor General Waxman, Deputy Solicitor General Underwood, and James A. Feldman; for the State of Ohio et al. by Betty D. Montgomery, Attorney General of Ohio, Jeffrey S. Sutton, State Solicitor, Robert C. Maier, and David M. Gormley, and by the Attorneys General for their respective jurisdictions as follows: William H. Pryor, Jr., of Alabama, Bruce M. Botelho of Alaska, Grant Woods of Arizona, Daniel E. Lungren of California, Gale A. Norton of Colorado, John M. Bailey of Connecticut, M. Jane Brady of Delaware, Robert A. Butterworth of Florida, Thurbert E. Baker of Georgia, James E. Ryan of Illinois, Jeffrey A. Modisett of Indiana, Carla J. Stovall of Kansas, A. B. Chandler III of Kentucky, Richard P. Ieyoub of Louisiana, J. Joseph Curran, Jr., of Maryland, Frank J. Kelley of Michigan, Hubert H. Humphrey III of Minnesota, Michael C. Moore of Mississippi, Jeremiah W. (Jay) Nixon of Missouri, Joseph P. Mazurek of Montana, Don Stenberg of Nebraska, Frankie Sue Del Papa of Nevada, Dennis C. Vacco of New York, Michael F. Easley of North Carolina, D. Michael Fisher of Pennsylvania, Carlos Lugo-Fiol of Puerto Rico, Jeffrey B. Pine of Rhode Island, Charles M. Condon of South Carolina, Mark Barnett of South Dakota, Jan Graham of Utah, Julio A. Brady of the Virgin Islands, and Mark O. Earley of Virginia; for the Center for the Community Interest by Richard K. Willard and Roger L. Conner; for the Chicago Neighborhood Organizations by Michele L. Odorizzi and Jeffrey W. Sarles; for the Los Angeles County District Attorney by Gil Garcetti pro se, and Brent Dail Riggs; for the National District Attorneys Association et al. by Kristin Linsley Myles, Daniel P. Collins, William L. Murphy, and Wayne W. Schmidt; for the Washington Legal Foundation et al. by Daniel J. Popeo and Richard A. Samp; and for the U. S. Conference of Mayors et al. by Richard Ruda, Miguel A. Estrada, and Mark A. Perry.220
Briefs of amicus curiae urging affirmance were filed for the Chicago Alliance for Neighborhood Safety et al. by Stephen J. Schulhofer and Randolph N. Stone; for the Illinois Attorneys for Criminal Justice by Robert Hirschhorn and Steven A. Greenberg; for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers by David M. Porter; for the National Black Police Association et al. by Elaine R. Jones, Theodore M. Shaw, George H. Kendall, Laura E. Hankins, Marc O. Beem, and Diane F. Klotnia; for the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty et al. by Robert M. Bruskin; and for See Forever/the Maya Angelou Public Charter School et al. by Louis R. Cohen, John Payton, and James Forman, Jr.221
 The findings are quoted in full in the opinion of the Supreme Court of Illinois. 177 Ill. 2d 440, 445, 687 N. E. 2d 53, 58 (1997). Some of the evidence supporting these findings is quoted in Justice Thomas' dissenting opinion. Post, at 100-101.222
 The ordinance states in pertinent part:223
"(a) Whenever a police officer observes a person whom he reasonably believes to be a criminal street gang member loitering in any public place with one or more other persons, he shall order all such persons to disperse and remove themselves from the area. Any person who does not promptly obey such an order is in violation of this section.224
"(b) It shall be an affirmative defense to an alleged violation of this section that no person who was observed loitering was in fact a member of a criminal street gang.225
"(c) As used in this Section:226
"(1) `Loiter' means to remain in any one place with no apparent purpose.227
"(2) `Criminal street gang' means any ongoing organization, association in fact or group of three or more persons, whether formal or informal, having as one of its substantial activities the commission of one or more of the criminal acts enumerated in paragraph (3), and whose members individually or collectively engage in or have engaged in a pattern of criminal gang activity.228
. . . . .229
"(5) `Public place' means the public way and any other location open to the public, whether publicly or privately owned.230
"(e) Any person who violates this Section is subject to a fine of not less than $100 and not more than $500 for each offense, or imprisonment for not more than six months, or both.231
"In addition to or instead of the above penalties, any person who violates this section may be required to perform up to 120 hours of community service pursuant to section 1-4—120 of this Code." Chicago Municipal Code § 8-4—015 (added June 17, 1992), reprinted in App. to Pet. for Cert. 61a—63a.232
 As the Illinois Supreme Court noted, during the hearings preceding the adoption of the ordinance, "representatives of the Chicago law and police departments informed the city counsel that any limitations on the discretion police have in enforcing the ordinance would be best developed through police policy, rather than placing such limitations into the ordinance itself." 177 Ill. 2d, at 446, 687 N. E. 2d, at 58-59.233
 Presumably, these officers would also be able to arrest all nongang members who violate the ordinance.234
 Tr. of Oral Arg. 22-23.235
 The city began enforcing the ordinance on the effective date of the general order in August 1992 and stopped enforcing it in December 1995, when it was held invalid in Chicago v. Youkhana, 277 Ill. App. 3d 101, 660 N. E. 2d 34 (1995). Tr. of Oral Arg. 43.236
 Brief for Petitioner 16. There were 5,251 arrests under the ordinance in 1993, 15,660 in 1994, and 22,056 in 1995. City of Chicago, R. Daley & T. Hillard, Gang and Narcotic Related Violent Crime: 1993-1997, p. 7 (June 1998).237
The city believes that the ordinance resulted in a significant decline in gang-related homicides. It notes that in 1995, the last year the ordinance was enforced, the gang-related homicide rate fell by 26%. In 1996, after the ordinance had been held invalid, the gang-related homicide rate rose 11%. Pet. for Cert. 9, n. 5. However, gang-related homicides fell by 19% in 1997, over a year after the suspension of the ordinance. Daley & Hillard, at 5. Given the myriad factors that influence levels of violence, it is difficult to evaluate the probative value of this statistical evidence, or to reach any firm conclusion about the ordinance's efficacy. Cf. Harcourt, Reflecting on the Subject: A Critique of the Social Influence Conception of Deterrence, the Broken Windows Theory, and Order-Maintenance Policing New York Style, 97 Mich. L. Rev. 291, 296 (1998) (describing the "hotly contested debate raging among . . . experts over the causes of the decline in crime in New York City and nationally").238
 See Poulos, Chicago's Ban on Gang Loitering: Making Sense of Vagueness and Overbreadth in Loitering Laws, 83 Calif. L. Rev. 379, 384, n. 26 (1995).239
 Chicago v. Youkhana, Nos. 93 MCI 293363 et al. (Ill. Cir. Ct., Cook Cty., Sept. 29, 1993), App. to Pet. for Cert. 45a. The court also concluded that the ordinance improperly authorized arrest on the basis of a person's status instead of conduct and that it was facially overbroad under the First Amendment to the Federal Constitution and Art. I, § 5, of the Illinois Constitution. Id., at 59a.240
 Chicago v. Youkhana, 277 Ill. App. 3d 101, 660 N. E. 2d 34 (1995).241
 Chicago v. Ramsey, Nos. 1-93-4125 et al. (Ill. App., Dec. 29, 1995), App. to Pet. for Cert. 39a.242
 Chicago v. Morales, Nos. 1-93-4039 et al. (Ill. App., Dec. 29, 1995), App. to Pet. for Cert. 37a.243
 Chicago v. Youkhana, 277 Ill. App. 3d, at 106, 660 N. E. 2d, at 38; id., at 112, 660 N. E. 2d, at 41; id., at 113, 660 N. E. 2d, at 42.244
 "The ordinance defines `loiter' to mean `to remain in any one place with no apparent purpose.' Chicago Municipal Code § 8-4—015(c)(1) (added June 17, 1992). People with entirely legitimate and lawful purposes will not always be able to make their purposes apparent to an observing police officer. For example, a person waiting to hail a taxi, resting on a corner during a jog, or stepping into a doorway to evade a rain shower has a perfectly legitimate purpose in all these scenarios; however, that purpose will rarely be apparent to an observer." 177 Ill. 2d, at 451— 452, 687 N. E. 2d, at 60-61.245
 It stated: "Although the proscriptions of the ordinance are vague, the city council's intent in its enactment is clear and unambiguous. The city has declared gang members a public menace and determined that gang members are too adept at avoiding arrest for all the other crimes they commit. Accordingly, the city council crafted an exceptionally broad ordinance which could be used to sweep these intolerable and objectionable gang members from the city streets." Id., at 458, 687 N. E. 2d, at 64.246
 Brief for Petitioner 14.247
 In fact the city already has several laws that serve this purpose. See, e. g., Ill. Comp. Stat., ch. 720 §§ 5/12-6 (1998) (intimidation); 570/405.2 (streetgang criminal drug conspiracy); 147/1 et seq. (Illinois Streetgang Terrorism Omnibus Prevention Act); 5/25-1 (mob action). Deputy Superintendent Cooper, the only representative of the police department at the Committee on Police and Fire hearing on the ordinance, testified that, of the kinds of behavior people had discussed at the hearing, "90 percent of those instances are actually criminal offenses where people, in fact, can be arrested." Record, Appendix II to plaintiff's Memorandum in Opposition to Motion to Dismiss 182 (Tr. of Proceedings, Chicago City Council Committee on Police and Fire, May 18, 1992).248
 Brief for Petitioner 17.249
 See Brief for United States as Amicus Curiae 23: "We do not doubt that, under the Due Process Clause, individuals in this country have significant liberty interests in standing on sidewalks and in other public places, and in traveling, moving, and associating with others." The city appears to agree, at least to the extent that such activities include "social gatherings." Brief for Petitioner 21, n. 13. Both Justice Scalia, post, at 83-86 (dissenting opinion), and Justice Thomas, post, at 102-106 (dissenting opinion), not only disagree with this proposition, but also incorrectly assume (as the city does not, see Brief for Petitioner 44) that identification of an obvious liberty interest that is impacted by a statute is equivalent to finding a violation of substantive due process. See n. 35, infra.250
 Petitioner cites historical precedent against recognizing what it describes as the "fundamental right to loiter." Brief for Petitioner 12. While antiloitering ordinances have long existed in this country, their pedigree does not ensure their constitutionality. In 16th-century England, for example, the "`Slavery acts' " provided for a 2-year enslavement period for anyone who "`liveth idly and loiteringly, by the space of three days.' " Note, Homelessness in a Modern Urban Setting, 10 Ford. Urb. L. J. 749, 754, n. 17 (1982). In Papachristou we noted that many American vagrancy laws were patterned on these "Elizabethan poor laws." 405 U. S., at 161-162. These laws went virtually unchallenged in this country until attorneys became widely available to the indigent following our decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U. S. 335 (1963). See Recent Developments, Constitutional Attacks on Vagrancy Laws, 20 Stan. L. Rev. 782, 783 (1968). In addition, vagrancy laws were used after the Civil War to keep former slaves in a state of quasi slavery. In 1865, for example, Alabama broadened its vagrancy statute to include "`any runaway, stubborn servant or child' " and "`a laborer or servant who loiters away his time, or refuses to comply with any contract for a term of service without just cause.' " T. Wilson, Black Codes of the South 76 (1965). The Reconstruction-era vagrancy laws had especially harsh consequences on African-American women and children. L. Kerber, No Constitutional Right to be Ladies: Women and the Obligations of Citizenship 50-69 (1998). Neither this history nor the scholarly compendia in Justice Thomas' dissent, post, at 102-106, persuades us that the right to engage in loitering that is entirely harmless in both purpose and effect is not a part of the liberty protected by the Due Process Clause.251
 The freewheeling and hypothetical character of Justice Scalia's discussion of liberty is epitomized by his assumption that citizens of Chicago, who were once "free to drive about the city" at whatever speed they wished, were the ones who decided to limit that freedom by adopting a speed limit. Post, at 73. History tells quite a different story.252
In 1903, the Illinois Legislature passed "An Act to regulate the speed of automobiles and other horseless conveyances upon the public streets, roads, and highways of the state of Illinois." That statute, with some exceptions, set a speed limit of 15 miles per hour. See Christy v. Elliott, 216 Ill. 31, 74 N. E. 1035 (1905). In 1900, there were 1,698,575 citizens of Chicago, 1 Twelfth Census of the United States 430 (1900) (Table 6), but only 8,000 cars (both private and commercial) registered in the entire United States. See Ward's Automotive Yearbook 230 (1990). Even though the number of cars in the country had increased to 77,400 by 1905, ibid., it seems quite clear that it was pedestrians, rather than drivers, who were primarily responsible for Illinois' decision to impose a speed limit.253
 The burden of the first portion of Justice Scalia's dissent is virtually a facial challenge to the facial challenge doctrine. See post, at 74-83. He first lauds the "clarity of our general jurisprudence" in the method for assessing facial challenges and then states that the clear import of our cases is that, in order to mount a successful facial challenge, a plaintiff must "establish that no set of circumstances exists under which the Act would be valid." See post, at 78-79 (emphasis deleted); United States v. Salerno, 481 U. S. 739, 745 (1987). To the extent we have consistently articulated a clear standard for facial challenges, it is not the Salerno formulation, which has never been the decisive factor in any decision of this Court, including Salerno itself (even though the defendants in that case did not claim that the statute was unconstitutional as applied to them, see id., at 745, n. 3, the Court nevertheless entertained their facial challenge). Since we, like the Illinois Supreme Court, conclude that vagueness permeates the ordinance, a facial challenge is appropriate.254
We need not, however, resolve the viability of Salerno `s dictum, because this case comes to us from a state—not a federal—court. When asserting a facial challenge, a party seeks to vindicate not only his own rights, but those of others who may also be adversely impacted by the statute in question. In this sense, the threshold for facial challenges is a species of third party (jus tertii) standing, which we have recognized as a prudential doctrine and not one mandated by Article III of the Constitution. See Secretary of State of Md. v. Joseph H. Munson Co., 467 U. S. 947, 955 (1984). When a state court has reached the merits of a constitutional claim, "invoking prudential limitations on [the respondent's] assertion of jus tertii would serve no functional purpose." City of Revere v. Massachusetts Gen. Hospital, 463 U. S. 239, 243 (1983) (internal quotation marks omitted).255
Whether or not it would be appropriate for federal courts to apply the Salerno standard in some cases—a proposition which is doubtful—state courts need not apply prudential notions of standing created by this Court. See ASARCO Inc. v. Kadish, 490 U. S. 605, 618 (1989). Justice Scalia's assumption that state courts must apply the restrictive Salerno test is incorrect as a matter of law; moreover it contradicts "essential principles of federalism." See Dorf, Facial Challenges to State and Federal Statutes, 46 Stan. L. Rev. 235, 284 (1994).256
 The Solicitor General, while supporting the city's argument that the ordinance is constitutional, appears to recognize that the ordinance cannot be read literally without invoking intractable vagueness concerns. "[T]he purpose simply to stand on a corner cannot be an `apparent purpose' under the ordinance; if it were, the ordinance would prohibit nothing at all." Brief for United States as Amicus Curiae 12-13.257
 177 Ill. 2d, at 452, 687 N. E. 2d, at 61. One of the trial courts that invalidated the ordinance gave the following illustration: "Suppose a group of gang members were playing basketball in the park, while waiting for a drug delivery. Their apparent purpose is that they are in the park to play ball. The actual purpose is that they are waiting for drugs. Under this definition of loitering, a group of people innocently sitting in a park discussing their futures would be arrested, while the `basketball players' awaiting a drug delivery would be left alone." Chicago v. Youkhana, Nos. 93 MCI 293363 et al. (Ill. Cir. Ct., Cook Cty., Sept. 29, 1993), App. to Pet. for Cert. 48a—49a.258
 See, e. g., Tacoma v. Luvene, 118 Wash. 2d 826, 827 P. 2d 1374 (1992) (upholding ordinance criminalizing loitering with purpose to engage in drug-related activities); People v. Superior Court, 46 Cal. 3d 381, 394-395, 758 P. 2d 1046, 1052 (1988) (upholding ordinance criminalizing loitering for the purpose of engaging in or soliciting lewd act).259
 See, e. g., State v. Richard, 108 Nev. 626, 627, n. 2, 836 P. 2d 622, 623, n. 2 (1992) (striking down statute that made it unlawful "for any person to loiter or prowl upon the property of another without lawful business with the owner or occupant thereof").260
 Brief for Petitioner 31.261
 In this way, the ordinance differs from the statute upheld in Colten v. Kentucky, 407 U. S. 104, 110 (1972). There, we found that the illegality of the underlying conduct was clear. "Any person who stands in a group of persons along a highway where the police are investigating a traffic violation and seeks to engage the attention of an officer issuing a summons should understand that he could be convicted under . . . Kentucky's statute if he fails to obey an order to move on." Ibid.262
 "Literally read . . . this ordinance says that a person may stand on a public sidewalk in Birmingham only at the whim of any police officer of that city. The constitutional vice of so broad a provision needs no demonstration." 382 U. S.,at 90.263
 As we have noted in a similar context: "If petitioners were held guilty of violating the Georgia statute because they disobeyed the officers, this case falls within the rule that a generally worded statute which is construed to punish conduct which cannot constitutionally be punished is unconstitutionally vague to the extent that it fails to give adequate warning of the boundary between the constitutionally permissible and constitutionally impermissible applications of the statute." Wright v. Georgia, 373 U. S. 284, 292 (1963).264
 This critical fact distinguishes this case from Boos v. Barry, 485 U. S. 312, 329-330 (1988). There, we noted that the text of the relevant statute, read literally,may have been void for vagueness both on notice and on discretionary enforcement grounds. We then found, however, that the Court of Appeals had "provided a narrowing construction that alleviates both of these difficulties." Ibid.265
 It is possible to read the mandatory language of the ordinance and conclude that it affords the police no discretion, since it speaks with the mandatory "shall." However, not even the city makes this argument, which flies in the face of common sense that all police officers must use some discretion in deciding when and where to enforce city ordinances.266
 Justice Thomas' dissent overlooks the important distinction between this ordinance and those that authorize the police "to order groups of individuals who threaten the public peace to disperse." See post, at 107.267
 Not all of the respondents in this case, for example, are gang members. The city admits that it was unable to prove that Morales is a gang member but justifies his arrest and conviction by the fact that Morales admitted "that he knew he was with criminal street gang members." Reply Brief for Petitioner 23, n. 14. In fact, 34 of the 66 respondents in this case were charged in a document that only accused them of being in the presence of a gang member. Tr. of Oral Arg. 34, 58.268
 This conclusion makes it unnecessary to reach the question whether the Illinois Supreme Court correctly decided that the ordinance is invalid as a deprivation of substantive due process. For this reason, Justice Thomas, see post, at 102-106, and Justice Scalia, see post, at 85-86, are mistaken when they assert that our decision must be analyzed under the framework for substantive due process set out in Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U. S. 702 (1997).269
 In other words, a facial attack, since it requires unconstitutionality in all circumstances, necessarily presumes that the litigant presently before the court would be able to sustain an as-applied challenge. See Hoffman Estates v. Flipside, Hoffman Estates, Inc., 455 U. S. 489, 495 (1982) ("A plaintiff who engages in some conduct that is clearly proscribed cannot complain of the vagueness of the law as applied to the conduct of others. A court should therefore examine the complainant's conduct before analyzing other hypothetical applications of the law"); Parker v. Levy, 417 U. S. 733, 756 (1974) ("One to whose conduct a statute clearly applies may not successfully challenge it for vagueness").270
The plurality asserts that in United States v. Salerno, 481 U. S. 739 (1987), which I discuss in text immediately following this footnote, the Court "entertained" a facial challenge even though "the defendants . . . did not claim that the statute was unconstitutional as applied to them." Ante, at 55, n. 22. That is not so. The Court made it absolutely clear in Salerno that a facial challenge requires the assertion that "no set of circumstances exists under which the Act would be valid," 481 U. S., at 745 (emphasis added). The footnoted statement upon which the plurality relies ("Nor have respondents claimed that the Act is unconstitutional because of the way it was applied to the particular facts of their case," id., at 745, n. 3) was obviously meant to convey the fact that the defendants were not making, in addition to their facial challenge, an alternative as-applied challenge—i. e., asserting that even if the statute was not unconstitutional in all its applications it was at least unconstitutional in its particular application to them.271
 Salerno, a criminal case, repudiated the Court's statement in Kolender v. Lawson, 461 U. S. 352, 359, n. 8 (1983), to the effect that a facial challenge to a criminal statute could succeed "even when [the statute] could conceivably have had some valid application." Kolender seems to have confused the standard for First Amendment overbreadth challenges with the standard governing facial challenges on all other grounds. See ibid. (citing the Court's articulation of the standard for First Amendment overbreadth challenges from Hoffman Estates, supra, at 494). As Salerno noted, supra, at 745, the overbreadth doctrine is a specialized exception to the general rule for facial challenges, justified in light of the risk that an overbroad statute will chill free expression. See, e. g., Broadrick v. Oklahoma, 413 U. S. 601, 612 (1973).272
 The plurality asserts that the Salerno standard for facial challenge "has never been the decisive factor in any decision of this Court." Ante, at 55, n. 22. It means by that only this: in rejecting a facial challenge, the Court has never contented itself with identifying only one situation in which the challenged statute would be constitutional, but has mentioned several. But that is not at all remarkable, and casts no doubt upon the validity of the principle that Salerno and these many other cases enunciated. It is difficult to conceive of a statute that would be constitutional in only a single application—and hard to resist mentioning more than one.273
The plurality contends that it does not matter whether the Salerno standard is federal law, since facial challenge is a species of third-party standing, and federal limitations upon third-party standing do not apply in an appeal from a state decision which takes a broader view, as the Illinois Supreme Court's opinion did here. Ante, at 55-56, n. 22. This is quite wrong. Disagreement over the Salerno rule is not a disagreement over the "standing" question whether the person challenging the statute can raise the rights of third parties: under both Salerno and the plurality's rule he can. The disagreement relates to how many third-party rights he must prove to be infringed by the statute before he can win: Salerno says "all" (in addition to his own rights), the plurality says "many." That is not a question of standing but of substantive law. The notion that, if Salerno is the federal rule (a federal statute is not totally invalid unless it is invalid in all its applications), it can be altered by a state court (a federal statute is totally invalid if it is invalid in many of its applications), and that that alteration must be accepted by the Supreme Court of the United States is, to put it as gently as possible, remarkable.274
 See, e. g., Abdullah v. Commissioner of Ins. of Commonwealth of Mass., 84 F. 3d 18, 20 (CA1 1996); Deshawn E. v. Safir, 156 F. 3d 340, 347 (CA2 1998); Artway v. Attorney Gen. of State of N. J., 81 F. 3d 1235, 1252, n. 13 (CA3 1996); Manning v. Hunt, 119 F. 3d 254, 268-269 (CA4 1997); Causeway Medical Suite v. Ieyoub, 109 F. 3d 1096, 1104 (CA5), cert. denied, 522 U. S. 943 (1997); Aronson v. Akron, 116 F. 3d 804, 809 (CA6 1997); Government Suppliers Consolidating Servs., Inc. v. Bayh, 975 F. 2d 1267, 1283 (CA7 1992), cert.denied, 506 U. S. 1053 (1993);Woodis v. Westark Community College, 160 F. 3d 435, 438-439 (CA8 1998); Roulette v.Seattle, 97 F. 3d 300, 306 (CA9 1996); Public Lands Council v. Babbitt, 167 F. 3d 1287, 1293 (CA10 1999); Dimmitt v. Clearwater, 985 F. 2d 1565, 1570— 1571 (CA11 1993); Time Warner Entertainment Co. v. FCC, 93 F. 3d 957, 972 (CADC 1996).275
 With apologies for taking creative license with the work of Messrs. Bernstein, Sondheim, and Laurents. West Side Story, copyright 1959.276
 The plurality's explanation for ignoring these laws is that many of them carried severe penalties and, during the Reconstruction era, they had "harsh consequences on African-American women and children." Ante, at 54, n. 20. Those severe penalties and those harsh consequences are certainly regrettable, but they in no way lessen (indeed, the harshness of penalty tends to increase) the capacity of these laws to prove that loitering was never regarded as a fundamental liberty.277
 Ante, at 53, n. 19. The plurality bases its assertion of apparent concession upon a footnote in Part I of petitioner's brief which reads: "Of course, laws regulating social gatherings affect a liberty interest, and thus are subject to review under the rubric of substantive due process . . . . We address that doctrine in Part II below." Brief for Petitioner 21-22, n. 13. If a careless reader were inclined to confuse the term "social gatherings" in this passage with "loitering," his confusion would be eliminated by pursuing the reference to Part II of the brief, which says, in its introductory paragraph: "[A]s we explain below, substantive due process does not support the court's novel holding that the Constitution secures the right to stand still on the public way even when one is not engaged in speech, assembly, or other conduct that enjoys affirmative constitutional protection." Id., at 39.278
 The plurality says, ante, at 64, n. 35, that since it decides the case on the basis of procedural due process rather than substantive due process, I am mistaken in analyzing its opinion "under the framework for substantive due process set out in Washington v. Glucksberg. " Ibid. But I am not analyzing it under that framework. I am simply assuming that when the plurality says (as an essential part of its reasoning) that "the right to loiter for innocent purposes is . . . a part of the liberty protected by the Due Process Clause" it does not believe that the same word ("liberty") means one thing for purposes of substantive due process and something else for purposes of procedural due process. There is no authority for that startling proposition. See Board of Regents of State Colleges v. Roth, 408 U. S. 564, 572-575 (1972) (rejecting procedural-due-process claim for lack of "liberty" interest, and citing substantive-due-process cases).279
The plurality's opinion seeks to have it both ways, invoking the Fourteenth Amendment's august protection of "liberty" in defining the standard of certainty that it sets, but then, in identifying the conduct protected by that high standard, ignoring our extensive case law defining "liberty," and substituting, instead, all "harmless and innocent" conduct, ante, at 58.280
 I call it a "suggestion" because the plurality says only that the terms of the dispersal order "compound the inadequacy of the notice," and acknowledges that they "might not render the ordinance unconstitutionally vague if the definition of the forbidden conduct were clear." Ante, at 59, 59-60. This notion that a prescription ("Disperse!") which is itself not unconstitutionally vague can somehow contribute to the unconstitutional vagueness of the entire scheme is full of mystery—suspending, as it does, the metaphysical principle that nothing can confer what it does not possess (nemo dat qui non habet) .281
 "Administrative interpretation and implementation of a regulation are . .. highly relevant to our [vagueness] analysis, for `[i]n evaluating a facial challenge to a state law, a federal court must . . . consider any limiting construction that a state court or enforcement agency has proffered.' " Ward v.Rock Against Racism, 491 U. S.781, 795-796 (1989) (emphasis added) (quoting Hoffman Estates, 455 U. S., at 494, n. 5). See also id., at 504 (administrative regulations "will often suffice to clarify a standard with an otherwise uncertain scope").282
 Justice Breyer asserts that "one always has some apparent purpose," so that the policeman must "interpret the words `no apparent purpose' as meaning `no apparent purpose except for . . . .' " Ante, at 70. It is simply not true that "one always has some apparent purpose"—and especially not true that one always has some apparent purpose in remaining at rest, for the simple reason that one often (indeed, perhaps usually) has no actual purpose in remaining at rest. Remaining at rest will be a person's normal state, unless he has a purpose which causes him to move. That is why one frequently reads of a person's "wandering aimlessly" (which is worthy of note) but not of a person's "sitting aimlessly" (which is not remarkable at all). And that is why a synonym for "purpose" is "motive": that which causes one to move.283
 The Court speculates that a police officer may exercise his discretion to enforce the ordinance and direct dispersal when (in the Court's view) the ordinance is inapplicable—viz., where there is an apparent purpose, but it is an unlawful one. See ante, at 62. No one in his right mind would read the phrase "without any apparent purpose" to mean anything other than "without any apparent lawful purpose." The implication that acts referred to approvingly in statutory language are "lawful" acts is routine. The Court asserts that the Illinois Supreme Court has forced it into this interpretive inanity because, since it "has not placed any limiting construction on the language in the ordinance, we must assume that the ordinance means what it says . . . ." Ante, at 63. But the Illinois Supreme Court did not mention this particular interpretive issue, which has nothing to do with giving the ordinance a "limiting" interpretation, and everything to do with giving it its ordinary legal meaning.284
 The opinion that Justice Breyer relies on, Coates v. Cincinnati, 402 U. S. 611 (1971), discussed ante, at 72-73, did not say that the ordinance there at issue gave adequate notice but did not provide adequate standards for the police. It invalidated that ordinance on both inadequatenotice and inadequate-enforcement-standard grounds, because First Amendment rights were implicated. It is common ground, however, that the present case does not implicate the First Amendment, see ante, at 52-53 (plurality opinion); ante, at 72 (Breyer, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment).285
 In 1996 alone, gangs were involved in 225 homicides, which was 28 percent of the total homicides committed in the city. Chicago Police Department, Gang and Narcotic Related Violent Crime, City of Chicago: 1993-1997 (June 1998). Nationwide, law enforcement officials estimate that as many as 31,000 street gangs, with 846,000 members, exist. U. S. Dept. of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Highlights of the 1996 National Youth Gang Survey (OJJDP Fact Sheet, No. 86, Nov. 1998).286
 See,e. g., Act for the Restraint of idle and disorderly Persons (1784) (reprintedin 2 First Laws of the State of North Carolina 508-509 (J. Cushing comp. 1984)); Act for restraining, correcting, suppressing and punishing Rogues, Vagabonds, common Beggars, and other lewd, idle, dissolute, profane and disorderly Persons; and for setting them to work (reprintedin First Laws of the State of Connecticut 206-210 (J.Cushing comp. 1982));Act for suppressing and punishing of Rogues, Vagabonds, common Beggars and other idle, disorderly and lewd persons (1788) (reprinted in First Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts 347-349 (J.Cushing comp. 1981));Act for better securing the payment of levies and restraint of vagrants, and for making provisions for the poor (1776) (reprinted in First Laws of the State of Virginia 44-45 (J. Cushing comp. 1982)); Act for the better ordering of the Police of the Town of Providence, of the Work-House in said Town (1796) (reprinted in 2 First Laws of the State of Rhode Island 362-367 (J. Cushing comp. 1983)); Act for the Promotion of Industry, and for the Suppression of Vagrants and Other Idle and Disorderly Persons (1787) (reprinted in First Laws of the State of South Carolina, Part 2, 431-433 (J. Cushing comp. 1981)); An act for the punishment of vagabond and other idle and disorderly persons (1764) (reprinted in First Laws of the State of Georgia 431-433 (J. Cushing comp. 1981)); Laws of the Colony of New York 4, ch. 1021 (1756); 1 Laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, ch. DLV (1767) (An Act to prevent the mischiefs arising from the increase of vagabonds, and other idle and disorderly persons, within this province); Laws of the State of Vermont § 10 (1797).287
 See, e. g., Kan. Stat., ch. 161, § 1 (1855); Ky. Rev. Stat., ch. CIV, § 1 (1852); Pa. Laws, ch. 664, § V (1853); N. Y. Rev. Stat., ch. XX, § 1 (1859); Ill. Stat., ch. 30, § CXXXVIII (1857). During the 19th century, this Court acknowledged the States' power to criminalize vagrancy on several occasions. See Mayor of New York v. Miln, 11 Pet. 102, 148 (1837); Passenger Cases, 7 How. 283, 425 (1849) (opinion of Wayne, J.); Prigg v. Pennsylvania, 16 Pet. 539, 625 (1842).288
 See generally C. Tiedeman, Limitations of Police Power in the United States 116-117 (1886) ("The vagrant has been very appropriately described as the chrysalis of every species of criminal. A wanderer through the land, without home ties, idle, and without apparent means of support, what but criminality is to be expected from such a person? If vagrancy could be successfully combated . . . the infractions of the law would be reduced to a surprisingly small number; and it is not to be wondered at that an effort is so generally made to suppress vagrancy"). See also R. I. Gen. Stat., ch. 232, § 24 (1872); Ill. Rev. Stat., ch. 38, § 270 (1874); Conn. Gen. Stat., ch. 3, § 7 (1875); N. H. Gen. Laws, ch. 269, § 17 (1878); Cal. Penal Code § 647 (1885); Ohio Rev. Stat., Tit. 1, ch. 8, §§ 6994, 6995 (1886); Colo. Rev. Stat., ch. 36, § 1362 (1891); Del. Rev. Stat., ch. 92, Vol. 12, p. 962 (1861); Ky. Stat., ch. 132, § 4758 (1894); Ill. Rev. Stat., ch. 38, § 270 (1895); Ala. Code, ch. 199, § 5628 (1897); Ariz. Rev. Stat., Tit. 17, § 599 (1901); N. Y. Crim. Code § 887 (1902); Pa. Stat. §§ 21409, 21410 (1920); Ky. Stat. § 4758-1 (1922); Ala. Code, ch. 244, § 5571 (1923); Kan. Rev. Stat. § 21-2402 (1923); Ill. Stat. Ann., § 606 (1924); Ariz. Rev. Stat., ch. 111, § 4868 (1928); Cal. Penal Code, Pt. 1, Tit. 15, ch. 2, § 647 (1929); Pa. Stat. Ann., Tit. 18, § 2032 (Purdon 1945); Kan. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 21-2409 (1949); N. Y. Crim. Code § 887 (1952); Colo. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 40-8-20 (1954); Cal. Penal Code § 647 (1953); 1 Ill. Rev. Stat., ch. 38, § 578 (1953); Ky. Rev. Stat. § 436.520 (1953); 5 Ala. Code, Tit. 14, § 437 (1959); Pa. Stat. Ann., Tit. 18, § 2032 (Purdon 1963); Kan. Stat. Ann. § 21-2409 (1964).289
 The other cases upon which the plurality relies concern the entirely distinct right to interstate and international travel. See Williams v. Fears, 179 U. S. 270, 274-275 (1900); Kent v. Dulles, 357 U. S. 116 (1958). The plurality claims that dicta in those cases articulating a right of free movement, see Williams, supra, at 274; Kent, supra, at 125, also supports an individual's right to "remain in a public place of his choice." Ironically, Williams rejected the argument that a tax on persons engaged in the business of importing out-of-state labor impeded the freedom of transit, so the precise holding in that case does not support, but undermines, the plurality's view. Similarly, the precise holding in Kent did not bear on a constitutional right to travel; instead, the Court held only that Congress had not authorized the Secretary of State to deny certain passports. Furthermore, the plurality's approach distorts the principle articulated in those cases, stretching it to a level of generality that permits the Court to disregard the relevant historical evidence that should guide the analysis. Michael H. v. Gerald D., 491 U. S. 110, 127, n. 6 (1989) (plurality opinion).290
 See, e. g., Ark. Code Ann. § 12-8-106(b) (Supp. 1997) ("The Department of Arkansas State Police shall be conservators of the peace"); Del. Code Ann., Tit. IX, § 1902 (1989) ("All police appointed under this section shall see that the peace and good order of the State . . . be duly kept"); Ill. Comp. Stat., ch. 65, § 5/11-1-2(a) (1998) ("Police officers in municipalities shall be conservators of the peace"); La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 40:1379 (West 1992) ("Police employees . . .shall . . . keep the peace and good order"); Mo. Rev. Stat. § 85.561 (1998) ("[M]embers of the police department shall be conservators of the peace, and shall be active and vigilant in the preservation of good order within the city"); N. H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 105:3 (1990) ("All police officers are, by virtue of their appointment, constables and conservators of the peace"); Ore. Rev. Stat. § 181.110 (1997) ("Police to preserve the peace, to enforce the law and to prevent and detect crime"); 351 Pa. Code, Tit. 351, § 5.5-200 (1998) ("The Police Department . . . shall preserve the public peace, prevent and detect crime, police the streets and highways and enforce traffic statutes, ordinances and regulations relating thereto"); Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Ann., Art. 2.13 (Vernon 1977) ("It is the duty of every peace officer to preserve the peace within his jurisdiction"); Vt. Stat. Ann., Tit. 24, § 299 (1992) ("A sheriff shall preserve the peace, and suppress, with force and strong hand, if necessary, unlawful disorder"); Va. Code Ann. § 15.2-1704(A) (Supp. 1998) ("The police force . . . is responsible for the prevention and detection of crime, the apprehension of criminals, the safeguard of life and property, the preservation of peace and the enforcement of state and local laws, regulations, and ordinances").291
 For example, the following statutes provide a criminal penalty for the failure to obey a dispersal order: Ala. Code § 13A-11-6 (1994); Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 13-2902(A)(2) (1989); Ark. Code Ann. § 5-71-207(a)(6) (1993); Cal. Penal Code Ann. § 727 (West 1985); Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-9-107(b) (1997); Del. Code Ann., Tit. 11, § 1321 (1995); Ga. Code Ann. § 16-11-36 (1996); Guam Code Ann., Tit. 9, § 61.10(b) (1996); Haw. Rev. Stat. § 7111102 (1993); Idaho Code § 18-6410 (1997); Ill. Comp. Stat., ch. 720, § 5/251(e) (1998); Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 525.060, 525.160 (Baldwin 1990); Me. Rev. Stat. Ann., Tit. 17A, § 502 (1983); Mass. Gen. Laws, ch. 269, § 2 (1992); Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.523 (1991); Minn. Stat. § 609.715 (1998); Miss. Code Ann. § 97-35-7(1) (1994); Mo. Rev. Stat. § 574.060 (1994); Mont. Code Ann. § 45-8-102 (1997); Nev. Rev. Stat. § 203.020 (1995); N. H. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 644:1, 644:2(II)(e) (1996); N. J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:33-1(b) (West 1995); N. Y. Penal Law § 240.20(6) (McKinney 1989); N. C. Gen. Stat. § 14-288.5(a) (1999); N. D. Cent. Code § 12.1-25-04 (1997); Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 2917.13(A)(2) (1997); Okla. Stat., Tit. 21, § 1316 (1991); Ore. Rev. Stat. § 166.025(1)(e) (1997); 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5502 (1983); R. I. Gen. Laws § 11-38-2 (1994); S. C. Code Ann. § 16-7-10(a) (1985); S. D. Codified Laws § 22-10-11 (1998); Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-17-305(2) (1997); Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 42.03(a)(2) (1994); Utah Code Ann. § 76-9-104 (1995); Vt. Stat. Ann., Tit. 13, § 901 (1998); Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-407 (1996); V. I. Code Ann., Tit. 5, § 4022 (1997); Wash. Rev. Code § 9A.84.020 (1994); W. Va. Code § 61-6-1 (1997); Wis. Stat. § 947.06(3) (1994).292
 See also Ind. Code § 36-8-3-10(a) (1993) ("The police department shall, within the city: (1) preserve peace; (2) prevent offenses; (3) detect and arrest criminals; (4) suppress riots, mobs, and insurrections; (5) disperse unlawful and dangerous assemblages and assemblages that obstruct the free passage of public streets, sidewalks, parks, and places . . ."); Okla. Stat., Tit. 19, § 516 (1991) ("It shall be the duty of the sheriff . . . to keep and preserve the peace of their respective counties, and to quiet and suppress all affrays, riots and unlawful assemblies and insurrections . . .").293
 The plurality suggests, ante, at 59, that dispersal orders are, by their nature, vague. The plurality purports to distinguish its sweeping condemnation of dispersal orders from Colten v.Kentucky, 407 U. S. 104 (1972), but I see no principled ground for doing so. The logical implication of the plurality's assertion is that the police can never issue dispersal orders. For example, in the plurality's view, itis apparently unconstitutional for a police officer to ask a group of gawkers to move along in order to secure a crime scene.294
 For example, a 1764 Georgia law declared that "all able bodied persons . . . who shall be found loitering . . . , all other idle vagrants, or disorderly persons wandering abroad without betaking themselves to some lawful employment or honest labor, shall be deemed and adjudged vagabonds," and required the apprehension of "any such vagabond . . . found within any county in this State, wandering, strolling, loitering about" (reprinted in First Laws of the State of Georgia, Part 1, 376-377 (J. Cushing comp. 1981)). See also, e. g., Digest of Laws of Pennsylvania 829 (F. Brightly 8th ed. 1853) ("The following described persons shall be liable to the penalties imposed by law upon vagrants . . . . All persons who shall . . . be found loitering"); Ky. Rev. Stat., ch. CIV, § 1, p. 69 (1852) ("If any able bodied person be found loitering or rambling about, . . . he shall be taken and adjudged to be a vagrant, and guilty of a high misdemeanor").295
 The Court asserts that we cannot second-guess the Illinois Supreme Court's conclusion that the definition "`provides absolute discretion to police officers to decide what activities constitute loitering,' "ante, at 61 (quoting 177 Ill.2d, at 457, 687 N. E. 2d, at 63). While we are bound by a state court's construction of a statute, the Illinois court "did not, strictly speaking, construe the [ordinance] in the sense of defining the meaning of a particular statutory word or phase. Rather, it merely characterized [its] `practical effect' . . . .This assessment does not bind us." Wisconsin v. Mitchell, 508 U. S. 476, 484 (1993).
We have just read a few cases that illustrate the concept of legality in terms of the legal institutions that define crimes, the importance of notice, and the dangers of vagueness. Legality, however, goes beyond these somewhat procedural issues to implicate questions of substance: what conduct can a just society legally punish in the first place? Our next case, Lawrence v. Texas, grapples with this question.
Supreme Court of United States.
CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS OF TEXAS, FOURTEENTH DISTRICT
   KENNEDY, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which STEVENS, SOUTER, GINSBURG, and BREYER, JJ., joined. O'CONNOR, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 579. SCALIA, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST, C. J., and THOMAS, J., joined, post, p. 586. THOMAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 605.
Paul M. Smith argued the cause for petitioners. With him on the briefs were William M. Hohengarten, Daniel Mach, Mitchell Katine, Ruth E. Harlow, Patricia M. Logue, and Susan L. Sommer.
Charles A. Rosenthal, Jr., argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief were William J. Delmore III and Scott A. Durfee.[*]
 JUSTICE KENNEDY delivered the opinion of the Court.
Liberty protects the person from unwarranted government intrusions into a dwelling or other private places. In our tradition the State is not omnipresent in the home. And there are other spheres of our lives and existence, outside the home, where the State should not be a dominant presence. Freedom extends beyond spatial bounds. Liberty presumes an autonomy of self that includes freedom of thought, belief, expression, and certain intimate conduct. The instant case involves liberty of the person both in its spatial and in its more transcendent dimensions.
The question before the Court is the validity of a Texas statute making it a crime for two persons of the same sex to engage in certain intimate sexual conduct.
In Houston, Texas, officers of the Harris County Police Department were dispatched to a private residence in response to a reported weapons disturbance. They entered an apartment where one of the petitioners, John Geddes Lawrence,  resided. The right of the police to enter does not seem to have been questioned. The officers observed Lawrence and another man, Tyron Garner, engaging in a sexual act. The two petitioners were arrested, held in custody overnight, and charged and convicted before a Justice of the Peace.
The complaints described their crime as "deviate sexual intercourse, namely anal sex, with a member of the same sex (man)." App. to Pet. for Cert. 127a, 139a. The applicable state law is Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 21.06(a) (2003). It provides: "A person commits an offense if he engages in deviate sexual intercourse with another individual of the same sex." The statute defines "[d]eviate sexual intercourse" as follows:
3"(A) any contact between any part of the genitals of one person and the mouth or anus of another person; or"(B) the penetration of the genitals or the anus of another person with an object." § 21.01(1).
The petitioners exercised their right to a trial de novo in Harris County Criminal Court. They challenged the statute as a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and of a like provision of the Texas Constitution. Tex. Const., Art. 1, § 3a. Those contentions were rejected. The petitioners, having entered a plea of nolo contendere, were each fined $200 and assessed court costs of $141.25. App. to Pet. for Cert. 107a-110a.
The Court of Appeals for the Texas Fourteenth District considered the petitioners' federal constitutional arguments under both the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. After hearing the case en banc the court, in a divided opinion, rejected the constitutional arguments and affirmed the convictions. 41 S. W. 3d 349 (2001). The majority opinion indicates that the Court of Appeals considered our decision in Bowers v. Hardwick, 478 U. S. 186 (1986), to be controlling on the federal due process aspect of the case. Bowers then being authoritative, this was proper.
 We granted certiorari, 537 U. S. 1044 (2002), to consider three questions:
51. Whether petitioners' criminal convictions under the Texas "Homosexual Conduct" law—which criminalizes sexual intimacy by same-sex couples, but not identical behavior by different-sex couples—violate the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of equal protection of the laws.2. Whether petitioners' criminal convictions for adult consensual sexual intimacy in the home violate their vital interests in liberty and privacy protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.3. Whether Bowers v. Hardwick, supra, should be overruled? See Pet. for Cert. i.
The petitioners were adults at the time of the alleged offense. Their conduct was in private and consensual.
We conclude the case should be resolved by determining whether the petitioners were free as adults to engage in the private conduct in the exercise of their liberty under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. For this inquiry we deem it necessary to reconsider the Court's holding in Bowers.
There are broad statements of the substantive reach of liberty under the Due Process Clause in earlier cases, including Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U. S. 510 (1925), and Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U. S. 390 (1923); but the most pertinent beginning point is our decision in Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U. S. 479 (1965).
In Griswold the Court invalidated a state law prohibiting the use of drugs or devices of contraception and counseling or aiding and abetting the use of contraceptives. The Court described the protected interest as a right to privacy and  placed emphasis on the marriage relation and the protected space of the marital bedroom. Id., at 485.
After Griswold it was established that the right to make certain decisions regarding sexual conduct extends beyond the marital relationship. In Eisenstadt v. Baird, 405 U. S. 438 (1972), the Court invalidated a law prohibiting the distribution of contraceptives to unmarried persons. The case was decided under the Equal Protection Clause, id., at 454; but with respect to unmarried persons, the Court went on to state the fundamental proposition that the law impaired the exercise of their personal rights, ibid. It quoted from the statement of the Court of Appeals finding the law to be in conflict with fundamental human rights, and it followed with this statement of its own:
"It is true that in Griswold the right of privacy in question inhered in the marital relationship. . . . If the right of privacy means anything, it is the right of the individual, married or single, to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child." Id., at 453.
The opinions in Griswold and Eisenstadt were part of the background for the decision in Roe v. Wade, 410 U. S. 113 (1973). As is well known, the case involved a challenge to the Texas law prohibiting abortions, but the laws of other States were affected as well. Although the Court held the woman's rights were not absolute, her right to elect an abortion did have real and substantial protection as an exercise of her liberty under the Due Process Clause. The Court cited cases that protect spatial freedom and cases that go well beyond it. Roe recognized the right of a woman to make certain fundamental decisions affecting her destiny and confirmed once more that the protection of liberty under the Due Process Clause has a substantive dimension of fundamental significance in defining the rights of the person.
 In Carey v. Population Services Int'l, 431 U. S. 678 (1977), the Court confronted a New York law forbidding sale or distribution of contraceptive devices to persons under 16 years of age. Although there was no single opinion for the Court, the law was invalidated. Both Eisenstadt and Carey, as well as the holding and rationale in Roe, confirmed that the reasoning of Griswold could not be confined to the protection of rights of married adults. This was the state of the law with respect to some of the most relevant cases when the Court considered Bowers v. Hardwick.
The facts in Bowers had some similarities to the instant case. A police officer, whose right to enter seems not to have been in question, observed Hardwick, in his own bedroom, engaging in intimate sexual conduct with another adult male. The conduct was in violation of a Georgia statute making it a criminal offense to engage in sodomy. One difference between the two cases is that the Georgia statute prohibited the conduct whether or not the participants were of the same sex, while the Texas statute, as we have seen, applies only to participants of the same sex. Hardwick was not prosecuted, but he brought an action in federal court to declare the state statute invalid. He alleged he was a practicing homosexual and that the criminal prohibition violated rights guaranteed to him by the Constitution. The Court, in an opinion by Justice White, sustained the Georgia law. Chief Justice Burger and Justice Powell joined the opinion of the Court and filed separate, concurring opinions. Four Justices dissented. 478 U. S., at 199 (opinion of Blackmun, J., joined by Brennan, Marshall, and Stevens, JJ.); id., at 214 (opinion of Stevens, J.,joined by Brennan and Marshall, JJ.).
The Court began its substantive discussion in Bowers as follows: "The issue presented is whether the Federal Constitution confers a fundamental right upon homosexuals to engage in sodomy and hence invalidates the laws of the many States that still make such conduct illegal and have done so  for a very long time." Id., at 190. That statement, we now conclude, discloses the Court's own failure to appreciate the extent of the liberty at stake. To say that the issue in Bowers was simply the right to engage in certain sexual conduct demeans the claim the individual put forward, just as it would demean a married couple were it to be said marriage is simply about the right to have sexual intercourse. The laws involved in Bowers and here are, to be sure, statutes that purport to do no more than prohibit a particular sexual act. Their penalties and purposes, though, have more far-reaching consequences, touching upon the most private human conduct, sexual behavior, and in the most private of places, the home. The statutes do seek to control a personal relationship that, whether or not entitled to formal recognition in the law, is within the liberty of persons to choose without being punished as criminals.
This, as a general rule, should counsel against attempts by the State, or a court, to define the meaning of the relationship or to set its boundaries absent injury to a person or abuse of an institution the law protects. It suffices for us to acknowledge that adults may choose to enter upon this relationship in the confines of their homes and their own private lives and still retain their dignity as free persons. When sexuality finds overt expression in intimate conduct with another person, the conduct can be but one element in a personal bond that is more enduring. The liberty protected by the Constitution allows homosexual persons the right to make this choice.
Having misapprehended the claim of liberty there presented to it, and thus stating the claim to be whether there is a fundamental right to engage in consensual sodomy, the Bowers Court said: "Proscriptions against that conduct have ancient roots." Id., at 192. In academic writings, and in many of the scholarly amicus briefs filed to assist the Court in this case, there are fundamental criticisms of the historical premises relied upon by the majority and concurring opinions  in Bowers. Brief for Cato Institute as Amicus Curiae 16-17; Brief for American Civil Liberties Union et al. as Amici Curiae 15-21; Brief for Professors of History et al. as Amici Curiae 3-10. We need not enter this debate in the attempt to reach a definitive historical judgment, but the following considerations counsel against adopting the definitive conclusions upon which Bowers placed such reliance.
At the outset it should be noted that there is no longstanding history in this country of laws directed at homosexual conduct as a distinct matter. Beginning in colonial times there were prohibitions of sodomy derived from the English criminal laws passed in the first instance by the Reformation Parliament of 1533. The English prohibition was understood to include relations between men and women as well as relations between men and men. See, e. g., King v. Wiseman, 92 Eng. Rep. 774, 775 (K. B. 1718) (interpreting "mankind" in Act of 1533 as including women and girls). Nineteenth-century commentators similarly read American sodomy, buggery, and crime-against-nature statutes as criminalizing certain relations between men and women and between men and men. See, e. g., 2 J. Bishop, Criminal Law § 1028 (1858); 2 J. Chitty, Criminal Law 47-50 (5th Am. ed. 1847); R. Desty, A Compendium of American Criminal Law 143 (1882); J. May, The Law of Crimes § 203 (2d ed. 1893). The absence of legal prohibitions focusing on homosexual conduct may be explained in part by noting that according to some scholars the concept of the homosexual as a distinct category of person did not emerge until the late 19th century. See, e. g., J. Katz, The Invention of Heterosexuality 10 (1995); J. D'Emilio & E. Freedman, Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America 121 (2d ed. 1997) ("The modern terms homosexuality and heterosexuality do not apply to an era that had not yet articulated these distinctions"). Thus early American sodomy laws were not directed at homosexuals as such but instead sought to prohibit nonprocreative sexual activity more generally. This does not suggest approval of  homosexual conduct. It does tend to show that this particular form of conduct was not thought of as a separate category from like conduct between heterosexual persons.
Laws prohibiting sodomy do not seem to have been enforced against consenting adults acting in private. A substantial number of sodomy prosecutions and convictions for which there are surviving records were for predatory acts against those who could not or did not consent, as in the case of a minor or the victim of an assault. As to these, one purpose for the prohibitions was to ensure there would be no lack of coverage if a predator committed a sexual assault that did not constitute rape as defined by the criminal law. Thus the model sodomy indictments presented in a 19th-century treatise, see 2 Chitty, supra, at 49, addressed the predatory acts of an adult man against a minor girl or minor boy. Instead of targeting relations between consenting adults in private, 19th-century sodomy prosecutions typically involved relations between men and minor girls or minor boys, relations between adults involving force, relations between adults implicating disparity in status, or relations between men and animals.
To the extent that there were any prosecutions for the acts in question, 19th-century evidence rules imposed a burden that would make a conviction more difficult to obtain even taking into account the problems always inherent in prosecuting consensual acts committed in private. Under then-prevailing standards, a man could not be convicted of sodomy based upon testimony of a consenting partner, because the partner was considered an accomplice. A partner's testimony, however, was admissible if he or she had not consented to the act or was a minor, and therefore incapable of consent. See, e. g., F. Wharton, Criminal Law 443 (2d ed. 1852); 1 F. Wharton, Criminal Law 512 (8th ed. 1880). The rule may explain in part the infrequency of these prosecutions. In all events that infrequency makes it difficult to say that society approved of a rigorous and systematic  punishment of the consensual acts committed in private and by adults. The longstanding criminal prohibition of homosexual sodomy upon which the Bowers decision placed such reliance is as consistent with a general condemnation of nonprocreative sex as it is with an established tradition of prosecuting acts because of their homosexual character.
The policy of punishing consenting adults for private acts was not much discussed in the early legal literature. We can infer that one reason for this was the very private nature of the conduct. Despite the absence of prosecutions, there may have been periods in which there was public criticism of homosexuals as such and an insistence that the criminal laws be enforced to discourage their practices. But far from possessing "ancient roots," Bowers, 478 U. S., at 192, American laws targeting same-sex couples did not develop until the last third of the 20th century. The reported decisions concerning the prosecution of consensual, homosexual sodomy between adults for the years 1880-1995 are not always clear in the details, but a significant number involved conduct in a public place. See Brief for American Civil Liberties Union et al. as Amici Curiae 14-15, and n. 18.
It was not until the 1970's that any State singled out same-sex relations for criminal prosecution, and only nine States have done so. See 1977 Ark. Gen. Acts no. 828; 1983 Kan. Sess. Laws p. 652; 1974 Ky. Acts p. 847; 1977 Mo. Laws p. 687; 1973 Mont. Laws p. 1339; 1977 Nev. Stats. p. 1632; 1989 Tenn. Pub. Acts ch. 591; 1973 Tex. Gen. Laws ch. 399; see also Post v. State, 715 P. 2d 1105 (Okla. Crim. App. 1986) (sodomy law invalidated as applied to different-sex couples). Post-Bowers even some of these States did not adhere to the policy of suppressing homosexual conduct. Over the course of the last decades, States with same-sex prohibitions have moved toward abolishing them. See, e. g., Jegley v. Picado, 349 Ark. 600, 80 S. W. 3d 332 (2002); Gryczan v. State, 283 Mont. 433, 942 P. 2d 112 (1997); Campbell v. Sundquist, 926 S. W. 2d 250 (Tenn. App. 1996); Commonwealth v. Wasson,  842 S. W. 2d 487 (Ky. 1992); see also 1993 Nev. Stats. p. 518 (repealing Nev. Rev. Stat. § 201.193).
In summary, the historical grounds relied upon in Bowers are more complex than the majority opinion and the concurring opinion by Chief Justice Burger indicate. Their historical premises are not without doubt and, at the very least, are overstated.
It must be acknowledged, of course, that the Court in Bowers was making the broader point that for centuries there have been powerful voices to condemn homosexual conduct as immoral. The condemnation has been shaped by religious beliefs, conceptions of right and acceptable behavior, and respect for the traditional family. For many persons these are not trivial concerns but profound and deep convictions accepted as ethical and moral principles to which they aspire and which thus determine the course of their lives. These considerations do not answer the question before us, however. The issue is whether the majority may use the power of the State to enforce these views on the whole society through operation of the criminal law. "Our obligation is to define the liberty of all, not to mandate our own moral code." Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, 505 U. S. 833, 850 (1992).
Chief Justice Burger joined the opinion for the Court in Bowers and further explained his views as follows: "Decisions of individuals relating to homosexual conduct have been subject to state intervention throughout the history of Western civilization. Condemnation of those practices is firmly rooted in Judeao-Christian moral and ethical standards." 478 U. S., at 196. As with Justice White's assumptions about history, scholarship casts some doubt on the sweeping nature of the statement by Chief Justice Burger as it pertains to private homosexual conduct between consenting adults. See, e. g., Eskridge, Hardwick and Historiography, 1999 U. Ill. L. Rev. 631, 656. In all events we think that our laws and traditions in the past half century are of  most relevance here. These references show an emerging awareness that liberty gives substantial protection to adult persons in deciding how to conduct their private lives in matters pertaining to sex. "[H]istory and tradition are the starting point but not in all cases the ending point of the substantive due process inquiry." County of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U. S. 833, 857 (1998) (Kennedy, J., concurring).
This emerging recognition should have been apparent when Bowers was decided. In 1955 the American Law Institute promulgated the Model Penal Code and made clear that it did not recommend or provide for "criminal penalties for consensual sexual relations conducted in private." ALI, Model Penal Code § 213.2, Comment 2, p. 372 (1980). It justified its decision on three grounds: (1) The prohibitions undermined respect for the law by penalizing conduct many people engaged in; (2) the statutes regulated private conduct not harmful to others; and (3) the laws were arbitrarily enforced and thus invited the danger of blackmail. ALI, Model Penal Code, Commentary 277-280 (Tent. Draft No. 4, 1955). In 1961 Illinois changed its laws to conform to the Model Penal Code. Other States soon followed. Brief for Cato Institute as Amicus Curiae 15-16.
In Bowers the Court referred to the fact that before 1961 all 50 States had outlawed sodomy, and that at the time of the Court's decision 24 States and the District of Columbia had sodomy laws. 478 U. S., at 192-193. Justice Powell pointed out that these prohibitions often were being ignored, however. Georgia, for instance, had not sought to enforce its law for decades. Id., at 197-198, n. 2 ("The history of nonenforcement suggests the moribund character today of laws criminalizing this type of private, consensual conduct").
The sweeping references by Chief Justice Burger to the history of Western civilization and to Judeo-Christian moral and ethical standards did not take account of other authorities pointing in an opposite direction. A committee advising the British Parliament recommended in 1957 repeal of laws  punishing homosexual conduct. The Wolfenden Report: Report of the Committee on Homosexual Offenses and Prostitution (1963). Parliament enacted the substance of those recommendations 10 years later. Sexual Offences Act 1967, § 1.
Of even more importance, almost five years before Bowers was decided the European Court of Human Rights considered a case with parallels to Bowers and to today's case. An adult male resident in Northern Ireland alleged he was a practicing homosexual who desired to engage in consensual homosexual conduct. The laws of Northern Ireland forbade him that right. He alleged that he had been questioned, his home had been searched, and he feared criminal prosecution. The court held that the laws proscribing the conduct were invalid under the European Convention on Human Rights. Dudgeon v. United Kingdom, 45 Eur. Ct. H. R. (1981) ¶ 52. Authoritative in all countries that are members of the Council of Europe (21 nations then, 45 nations now), the decision is at odds with the premise in Bowers that the claim put forward was insubstantial in our Western civilization.
In our own constitutional system the deficiencies in Bowers became even more apparent in the years following its announcement. The 25 States with laws prohibiting the relevant conduct referenced in the Bowers decision are reduced now to 13, of which 4 enforce their laws only against homosexual conduct. In those States where sodomy is still proscribed, whether for same-sex or heterosexual conduct, there is a pattern of nonenforcement with respect to consenting adults acting in private. The State of Texas admitted in 1994 that as of that date it had not prosecuted anyone under those circumstances. State v. Morales, 869 S. W. 2d 941, 943.
Two principal cases decided after Bowers cast its holding into even more doubt. In Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, 505 U. S. 833 (1992), the Court reaffirmed the substantive force of the liberty protected by the Due Process Clause. The Casey decision again confirmed  that our laws and tradition afford constitutional protection to personal decisions relating to marriage, procreation, contraception, family relationships, child rearing, and education. Id., at 851. In explaining the respect the Constitution demands for the autonomy of the person in making these choices, we stated as follows:
"These matters, involving the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy, are central to the liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State." Ibid.
Persons in a homosexual relationship may seek autonomy for these purposes, just as heterosexual persons do. The decision in Bowers would deny them this right.
The second post-Bowers case of principal relevance is Romer v. Evans, 517 U. S. 620 (1996). There the Court struck down class-based legislation directed at homosexuals as a violation of the Equal Protection Clause. Romer invalidated an amendment to Colorado's Constitution which named as a solitary class persons who were homosexuals, lesbians, or bisexual either by "orientation, conduct, practices or relationships," id., at 624 (internal quotation marks omitted), and deprived them of protection under state antidiscrimination laws. We concluded that the provision was "born of animosity toward the class of persons affected" and further that it had no rational relation to a legitimate governmental purpose. Id., at 634.
As an alternative argument in this case, counsel for the petitioners and some amici contend that Romer provides the basis for declaring the Texas statute invalid under the Equal Protection Clause. That is a tenable argument, but we conclude  the instant case requires us to address whether Bowers itself has continuing validity. Were we to hold the statute invalid under the Equal Protection Clause some might question whether a prohibition would be valid if drawn differently, say, to prohibit the conduct both between same-sex and different-sex participants.
Equality of treatment and the due process right to demand respect for conduct protected by the substantive guarantee of liberty are linked in important respects, and a decision on the latter point advances both interests. If protected conduct is made criminal and the law which does so remains unexamined for its substantive validity, its stigma might remain even if it were not enforceable as drawn for equal protection reasons. When homosexual conduct is made criminal by the law of the State, that declaration in and of itself is an invitation to subject homosexual persons to discrimination both in the public and in the private spheres. The central holding of Bowers has been brought in question by this case, and it should be addressed. Its continuance as precedent demeans the lives of homosexual persons.
The stigma this criminal statute imposes, moreover, is not trivial. The offense, to be sure, is but a class C misdemeanor, a minor offense in the Texas legal system. Still, it remains a criminal offense with all that imports for the dignity of the persons charged. The petitioners will bear on their record the history of their criminal convictions. Just this Term we rejected various challenges to state laws requiring the registration of sex offenders. Smith v. Doe, 538 U. S. 84 (2003); Connecticut Dept. of Public Safety v. Doe, 538 U. S. 1 (2003). We are advised that if Texas convicted an adult for private, consensual homosexual conduct under the statute here in question the convicted person would come within the registration laws of at least four States were he or she to be subject to their jurisdiction. Pet. for Cert. 13, and n. 12 (citing Idaho Code §§ 18-8301 to 18-8326 (Cum. Supp. 2002); La. Code Crim. Proc. Ann. §§ 15:540-15:549  (West 2003); Miss. Code Ann. §§ 45-33-21 to 45-33-57 (Lexis 2003); S. C. Code Ann. §§ 23-3-400 to 23-3-490 (West 2002)). This underscores the consequential nature of the punishment and the state-sponsored condemnation attendant to the criminal prohibition. Furthermore, the Texas criminal conviction carries with it the other collateral consequences always following a conviction, such as notations on job application forms, to mention but one example.
The foundations of Bowers have sustained serious erosion from our recent decisions in Casey and Romer. When our precedent has been thus weakened, criticism from other sources is of greater significance. In the United States criticism of Bowers has been substantial and continuing, disapproving of its reasoning in all respects, not just as to its historical assumptions. See, e. g., C. Fried, Order and Law: Arguing the Reagan Revolution—A Firsthand Account 81-84 (1991); R. Posner, Sex and Reason 341-350 (1992). The courts of five different States have declined to follow it in interpreting provisions in their own state constitutions parallel to the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, see Jegley v. Picado, 349 Ark. 600, 80 S. W. 3d 332 (2002); Powell v. State, 270 Ga. 327, 510 S. E. 2d 18, 24 (1998); Gryczan v. State, 283 Mont. 433, 942 P. 2d 112 (1997); Campbell v. Sundquist, 926 S. W. 2d 250 (Tenn. App. 1996); Commonwealth v. Wasson, 842 S. W. 2d 487 (Ky. 1992).
To the extent Bowers relied on values we share with a wider civilization, it should be noted that the reasoning and holding in Bowers have been rejected elsewhere. The European Court of Human Rights has followed not Bowers but its own decision in Dudgeon v. United Kingdom. See P. G. & J. H. v. United Kingdom, App. No. 00044787/98, ¶ 56 (Eur. Ct. H. R., Sept. 25, 2001); Modinos v. Cyprus, 259 Eur. Ct. H. R. (1993); Norris v. Ireland, 142 Eur. Ct. H. R. (1988). Other nations, too, have taken action consistent with an affirmation of the protected right of homosexual adults to engage in intimate, consensual conduct. See Brief for Mary  Robinson et al. as Amici Curiae 11-12. The right the petitioners seek in this case has been accepted as an integral part of human freedom in many other countries. There has been no showing that in this country the governmental interest in circumscribing personal choice is somehow more legitimate or urgent.
The doctrine of stare decisis is essential to the respect accorded to the judgments of the Court and to the stability of the law. It is not, however, an inexorable command. Payne v. Tennessee, 501 U. S. 808, 828 (1991) ("Stare decisis is not an inexorable command; rather, it `is a principle of policy and not a mechanical formula of adherence to the latest decision' " (quoting Helvering v. Hallock, 309 U. S. 106, 119 (1940))). In Casey we noted that when a court is asked to overrule a precedent recognizing a constitutional liberty interest, individual or societal reliance on the existence of that liberty cautions with particular strength against reversing course. 505 U. S., at 855-856; see also id., at 844 ("Liberty finds no refuge in a jurisprudence of doubt"). The holding in Bowers, however, has not induced detrimental reliance comparable to some instances where recognized individual rights are involved. Indeed, there has been no individual or societal reliance on Bowers of the sort that could counsel against overturning its holding once there are compelling reasons to do so. Bowers itself causes uncertainty, for the precedents before and after its issuance contradict its central holding.
The rationale of Bowers does not withstand careful analysis. In his dissenting opinion in Bowers Justice Stevens came to these conclusions:
"Our prior cases make two propositions abundantly clear. First, the fact that the governing majority in a State has traditionally viewed a particular practice as immoral is not a sufficient reason for upholding a law prohibiting the practice; neither history nor tradition could save a law prohibiting miscegenation from constitutional  attack. Second, individual decisions by married persons, concerning the intimacies of their physical relationship, even when not intended to produce offspring, are a form of `liberty' protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Moreover, this protection extends to intimate choices by unmarried as well as married persons." 478 U. S., at 216 (footnotes and citations omitted).
JUSTICE STEVENS' analysis, in our view, should have been controlling in Bowers and should control here.
Bowers was not correct when it was decided, and it is not correct today. It ought not to remain binding precedent. Bowers v. Hardwick should be and now is overruled.
The present case does not involve minors. It does not involve persons who might be injured or coerced or who are situated in relationships where consent might not easily be refused. It does not involve public conduct or prostitution. It does not involve whether the government must give formal recognition to any relationship that homosexual persons seek to enter. The case does involve two adults who, with full and mutual consent from each other, engaged in sexual practices common to a homosexual lifestyle. The petitioners are entitled to respect for their private lives. The State cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime. Their right to liberty under the Due Process Clause gives them the full right to engage in their conduct without intervention of the government. "It is a promise of the Constitution that there is a realm of personal liberty which the government may not enter." Casey, supra, at 847. The Texas statute furthers no legitimate state interest which can justify its intrusion into the personal and private life of the individual.
Had those who drew and ratified the Due Process Clauses of the Fifth Amendment or the Fourteenth Amendment known the components of liberty in its manifold possibilities, they might have been more specific. They did not presume  to have this insight. They knew times can blind us to certain truths and later generations can see that laws once thought necessary and proper in fact serve only to oppress. As the Constitution endures, persons in every generation can invoke its principles in their own search for greater freedom.
The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Texas Fourteenth District is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.
JUSTICE O'CONNOR, concurring in the judgment.
The Court today overrules Bowers v. Hardwick, 478 U. S. 186 (1986). I joined Bowers, and do not join the Court in overruling it. Nevertheless, I agree with the Court that Texas' statute banning same-sex sodomy is unconstitutional. See Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 21.06 (2003). Rather than relying on the substantive component of the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause, as the Court does, I base my conclusion on the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.
The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment "is essentially a direction that all persons similarly situated should be treated alike." Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center, Inc., 473 U. S. 432, 439 (1985); see also Plyler v. Doe, 457 U. S. 202, 216 (1982). Under our rational basis standard of review, "legislation is presumed to be valid and will be sustained if the classification drawn by the statute is rationally related to a legitimate state interest." Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center, supra, at 440; see also Department of Agriculture v. Moreno, 413 U. S. 528, 534 (1973); Romer v. Evans, 517 U. S. 620, 632-633 (1996); Nordlinger v. Hahn, 505 U. S. 1, 11-12 (1992).
Laws such as economic or tax legislation that are scrutinized under rational basis review normally pass constitutional muster, since "the Constitution presumes that even improvident decisions will eventually be rectified by the  democratic processes." Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center, supra, at 440; see also Fitzgerald v. Racing Assn. of Central Iowa, ante, p. 103; Williamson v. Lee Optical of Okla., Inc., 348 U. S. 483 (1955). We have consistently held, however, that some objectives, such as "a bare . . . desire to harm a politically unpopular group," are not legitimate state interests. Department of Agriculture v. Moreno, supra, at 534. See also Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center, supra, at 446-447; Romer v. Evans, supra, at 632. When a law exhibits such a desire to harm a politically unpopular group, we have applied a more searching form of rational basis review to strike down such laws under the Equal Protection Clause.
We have been most likely to apply rational basis review to hold a law unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause where, as here, the challenged legislation inhibits personal relationships. In Department of Agriculture v. Moreno, for example, we held that a law preventing those households containing an individual unrelated to any other member of the household from receiving food stamps violated equal protection because the purpose of the law was to "`discriminate against hippies.'" 413 U. S., at 534. The asserted governmental interest in preventing food stamp fraud was not deemed sufficient to satisfy rational basis review. Id., at 535-538. In Eisenstadt v. Baird, 405 U. S. 438, 447-455 (1972), we refused to sanction a law that discriminated between married and unmarried persons by prohibiting the distribution of contraceptives to single persons. Likewise, in Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center, supra, we held that it was irrational for a State to require a home for the mentally disabled to obtain a special use permit when other residences—like fraternity houses and apartment buildings—did not have to obtain such a permit. And in Romer v. Evans, we disallowed a state statute that "impos[ed] a broad and undifferentiated disability on a single named group"—specifically, homosexuals. 517 U. S., at 632.
 The statute at issue here makes sodomy a crime only if a person "engages in deviate sexual intercourse with another individual of the same sex." Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 21.06(a) (2003). Sodomy between opposite-sex partners, however, is not a crime in Texas. That is, Texas treats the same conduct differently based solely on the participants. Those harmed by this law are people who have a same-sex sexual orientation and thus are more likely to engage in behavior prohibited by § 21.06.
The Texas statute makes homosexuals unequal in the eyes of the law by making particular conduct—and only that conduct—subject to criminal sanction. It appears that prosecutions under Texas' sodomy law are rare. See State v. Morales, 869 S. W. 2d 941, 943 (Tex. 1994) (noting in 1994 that § 21.06 "has not been, and in all probability will not be, enforced against private consensual conduct between adults"). This case shows, however, that prosecutions under § 21.06 do occur. And while the penalty imposed on petitioners in this case was relatively minor, the consequences of conviction are not. It appears that petitioners' convictions, if upheld, would disqualify them from or restrict their ability to engage in a variety of professions, including medicine, athletic training, and interior design. See, e. g., Tex. Occ. Code Ann. § 164.051(a)(2)(B) (2003 Pamphlet) (physician); § 451.251(a)(1) (athletic trainer); § 1053.252(2) (interior designer). Indeed, were petitioners to move to one of four States, their convictions would require them to register as sex offenders to local law enforcement. See, e. g., Idaho Code § 18-8304 (Cum. Supp. 2002); La. Stat. Ann. § 15:542 (West Cum. Supp. 2003); Miss. Code Ann. § 45-33-25 (West 2003); S. C. Code Ann. § 23-3-430 (West Cum. Supp. 2002); cf. ante, at 575-576.
And the effect of Texas' sodomy law is not just limited to the threat of prosecution or consequence of conviction. Texas' sodomy law brands all homosexuals as criminals, thereby making it more difficult for homosexuals to be treated in the same manner as everyone else. Indeed, Texas  itself has previously acknowledged the collateral effects of the law, stipulating in a prior challenge to this action that the law "legally sanctions discrimination against [homosexuals] in a variety of ways unrelated to the criminal law," including in the areas of "employment, family issues, and housing." State v. Morales, 826 S. W. 2d 201, 203 (Tex. App. 1992).
Texas attempts to justify its law, and the effects of the law, by arguing that the statute satisfies rational basis review because it furthers the legitimate governmental interest of the promotion of morality. In Bowers, we held that a state law criminalizing sodomy as applied to homosexual couples did not violate substantive due process. We rejected the argument that no rational basis existed to justify the law, pointing to the government's interest in promoting morality. 478 U. S., at 196. The only question in front of the Court in Bowers was whether the substantive component of the Due Process Clause protected a right to engage in homosexual sodomy. Id., at 188, n. 2. Bowers did not hold that moral disapproval of a group is a rational basis under the Equal Protection Clause to criminalize homosexual sodomy when heterosexual sodomy is not punished.
This case raises a different issue than Bowers: whether, under the Equal Protection Clause, moral disapproval is a legitimate state interest to justify by itself a statute that bans homosexual sodomy, but not heterosexual sodomy. It is not. Moral disapproval of this group, like a bare desire to harm the group, is an interest that is insufficient to satisfy rational basis review under the Equal Protection Clause. See, e. g., Department of Agriculture v. Moreno, 413 U. S., at 534; Romer v. Evans, 517 U. S., at 634-635. Indeed, we have never held that moral disapproval, without any other asserted state interest, is a sufficient rationale under the Equal Protection Clause to justify a law that discriminates among groups of persons.
 Moral disapproval of a group cannot be a legitimate governmental interest under the Equal Protection Clause because legal classifications must not be "drawn for the purpose of disadvantaging the group burdened by the law." Id., at 633. Texas' invocation of moral disapproval as a legitimate state interest proves nothing more than Texas' desire to criminalize homosexual sodomy. But the Equal Protection Clause prevents a State from creating "a classification of persons undertaken for its own sake." Id., at 635. And because Texas so rarely enforces its sodomy law as applied to private, consensual acts, the law serves more as a statement of dislike and disapproval against homosexuals than as a tool to stop criminal behavior. The Texas sodomy law "raise[s] the inevitable inference that the disadvantage imposed is born of animosity toward the class of persons affected." Id., at 634.
Texas argues, however, that the sodomy law does not discriminate against homosexual persons. Instead, the State maintains that the law discriminates only against homosexual conduct. While it is true that the law applies only to conduct, the conduct targeted by this law is conduct that is closely correlated with being homosexual. Under such circumstances, Texas' sodomy law is targeted at more than conduct. It is instead directed toward gay persons as a class. "After all, there can hardly be more palpable discrimination against a class than making the conduct that defines the class criminal." Id., at 641 (SCALIA, J., dissenting) (internal quotation marks omitted). When a State makes homosexual conduct criminal, and not "deviate sexual intercourse" committed by persons of different sexes, "that declaration in and of itself is an invitation to subject homosexual persons to discrimination both in the public and in the private spheres." Ante, at 575.
Indeed, Texas law confirms that the sodomy statute is directed toward homosexuals as a class. In Texas, calling a person a homosexual is slander per se because the word "homosexual"  "impute[s] the commission of a crime." Plumley v. Landmark Chevrolet, Inc., 122 F. 3d 308, 310 (CA5 1997) (applying Texas law); see also Head v. Newton, 596 S. W. 2d 209, 210 (Tex. App. 1980). The State has admitted that because of the sodomy law, being homosexual carries the presumption of being a criminal. See State v. Morales, 826 S. W. 2d, at 202-203 ("[T]he statute brands lesbians and gay men as criminals and thereby legally sanctions discrimination against them in a variety of ways unrelated to the criminal law"). Texas' sodomy law therefore results in discrimination against homosexuals as a class in an array of areas outside the criminal law. See ibid. In Romer v. Evans, we refused to sanction a law that singled out homosexuals "for disfavored legal status." 517 U. S., at 633. The same is true here. The Equal Protection Clause "`neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.'" Id., at 623 (quoting Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U. S. 537, 559 (1896) (Harlan, J., dissenting)).
A State can of course assign certain consequences to a violation of its criminal law. But the State cannot single out one identifiable class of citizens for punishment that does not apply to everyone else, with moral disapproval as the only asserted state interest for the law. The Texas sodomy statute subjects homosexuals to "a lifelong penalty and stigma. A legislative classification that threatens the creation of an underclass . . . cannot be reconciled with" the Equal Protection Clause. Plyler v. Doe, 457 U. S., at 239 (Powell, J., concurring).
Whether a sodomy law that is neutral both in effect and application, see Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U. S. 356 (1886), would violate the substantive component of the Due Process Clause is an issue that need not be decided today. I am confident, however, that so long as the Equal Protection Clause requires a sodomy law to apply equally to the private consensual conduct of homosexuals and heterosexuals alike, such a  law would not long stand in our democratic society. In the words of Justice Jackson:
"The framers of the Constitution knew, and we should not forget today, that there is no more effective practical guaranty against arbitrary and unreasonable government than to require that the principles of law which officials would impose upon a minority be imposed generally. Conversely, nothing opens the door to arbitrary action so effectively as to allow those officials to pick and choose only a few to whom they will apply legislation and thus to escape the political retribution that might be visited upon them if larger numbers were affected." Railway Express Agency, Inc. v. New York, 336 U. S. 106, 112-113 (1949) (concurring opinion).
That this law as applied to private, consensual conduct is unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause does not mean that other laws distinguishing between heterosexuals and homosexuals would similarly fail under rational basis review. Texas cannot assert any legitimate state interest here, such as national security or preserving the traditional institution of marriage. Unlike the moral disapproval of same-sex relations—the asserted state interest in this case— other reasons exist to promote the institution of marriage beyond mere moral disapproval of an excluded group.
A law branding one class of persons as criminal based solely on the State's moral disapproval of that class and the conduct associated with that class runs contrary to the values of the Constitution and the Equal Protection Clause, under any standard of review. I therefore concur in the Court's judgment that Texas' sodomy law banning "deviate sexual intercourse" between consenting adults of the same sex, but not between consenting adults of different sexes, is unconstitutional.
 JUSTICE SCALIA, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE and JUSTICE THOMAS join, dissenting.
"Liberty finds no refuge in a jurisprudence of doubt." Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, 505 U. S. 833, 844 (1992). That was the Court's sententious response, barely more than a decade ago, to those seeking to overrule Roe v. Wade, 410 U. S. 113 (1973). The Court's response today, to those who have engaged in a 17-year crusade to overrule Bowers v. Hardwick, 478 U. S. 186 (1986), is very different. The need for stability and certainty presents no barrier.
Most of the rest of today's opinion has no relevance to its actual holding—that the Texas statute "furthers no legitimate state interest which can justify" its application to petitioners under rational-basis review. Ante, at 578 (overruling Bowers to the extent it sustained Georgia's antisodomy statute under the rational-basis test). Though there is discussion of "fundamental proposition[s]," ante, at 565, and "fundamental decisions," ibid., nowhere does the Court's opinion declare that homosexual sodomy is a "fundamental right" under the Due Process Clause; nor does it subject the Texas law to the standard of review that would be appropriate (strict scrutiny) if homosexual sodomy were a "fundamental right." Thus, while overruling the outcome of Bowers, the Court leaves strangely untouched its central legal conclusion: "[R]espondent would have us announce . . . a fundamental right to engage in homosexual sodomy. This we are quite unwilling to do." 478 U. S., at 191. Instead the Court simply describes petitioners' conduct as "an exercise of their liberty"—which it undoubtedly is—and proceeds to apply an unheard-of form of rational-basis review that will have far-reaching implications beyond this case. Ante, at 564.
I begin with the Court's surprising readiness to reconsider a decision rendered a mere 17 years ago in Bowers v. Hardwick.  I do not myself believe in rigid adherence to stare decisis in constitutional cases; but I do believe that we should be consistent rather than manipulative in invoking the doctrine. Today's opinions in support of reversal do not bother to distinguish—or indeed, even bother to mention— the paean to stare decisis coauthored by three Members of today's majority in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. There, when stare decisis meant preservation of judicially invented abortion rights, the widespread criticism of Roe was strong reason to reaffirm it:
"Where, in the performance of its judicial duties, the Court decides a case in such a way as to resolve the sort of intensely divisive controversy reflected in Roe[,] . . . its decision has a dimension that the resolution of the normal case does not carry. . . . [T]o overrule under fire in the absence of the most compelling reason . . . would subvert the Court's legitimacy beyond any serious question." 505 U. S., at 866-867.
Today, however, the widespread opposition to Bowers, a decision resolving an issue as "intensely divisive" as the issue in Roe, is offered as a reason in favor of overruling it. See ante, at 576-577. Gone, too, is any "enquiry" (of the sort conducted in Casey) into whether the decision sought to be overruled has "proven `unworkable,'" Casey, supra, at 855.
Today's approach to stare decisis invites us to overrule an erroneously decided precedent (including an "intensely divisive" decision) if: (1) its foundations have been "ero[ded]" by subsequent decisions, ante, at 576; (2) it has been subject to "substantial and continuing" criticism, ibid.; and (3) it has not induced "individual or societal reliance" that counsels against overturning, ante, at 577. The problem is that Roe itself—which today's majority surely has no disposition to overrule—satisfies these conditions to at least the same degree as Bowers.
 (1) A preliminary digressive observation with regard to the first factor: The Court's claim that Planned Parenthood v. Casey, supra, "casts some doubt" upon the holding in Bowers (or any other case, for that matter) does not withstand analysis. Ante, at 571. As far as its holding is concerned, Casey provided a less expansive right to abortion than did Roe, which was already on the books when Bowers was decided. And if the Court is referring not to the holding of Casey, but to the dictum of its famed sweet-mystery-of-life passage, ante, at 574 ("`At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life'"): That "casts some doubt" upon either the totality of our jurisprudence or else (presumably the right answer) nothing at all. I have never heard of a law that attempted to restrict one's "right to define" certain concepts; and if the passage calls into question the government's power to regulate actions based on one's self-defined "concept of existence, etc.," it is the passage that ate the rule of law.
I do not quarrel with the Court's claim that Romer v. Evans, 517 U. S. 620 (1996), "eroded" the "foundations" of Bowers' rational-basis holding. See Romer, supra, at 640-643 (Scalia, J., dissenting). But Roe and Casey have been equally "eroded" by Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U. S. 702, 721 (1997), which held that only fundamental rights which are "`deeply rooted in this Nation's history and tradition' " qualify for anything other than rational-basis scrutiny under the doctrine of "substantive due process." Roe and Casey, of course, subjected the restriction of abortion to heightened scrutiny without even attempting to establish that the freedom to abort was rooted in this Nation's tradition.
(2) Bowers, the Court says, has been subject to "substantial and continuing [criticism], disapproving of its reasoning in all respects, not just as to its historical assumptions." Ante, at 576. Exactly what those nonhistorical criticisms are, and whether the Court even agrees with them, are left  unsaid, although the Court does cite two books. See ibid. (citing C. Fried, Order and Law: Arguing the Reagan Revolution —A Firsthand Account 81-84 (1991); R. Posner, Sex and Reason 341-350 (1992)). Of course, Roe too (and by extension Casey) had been (and still is) subject to unrelenting criticism, including criticism from the two commentators cited by the Court today. See Fried, supra, at 75 ("Roe was a prime example of twisted judging"); Posner, supra, at 337 ("[The Court's] opinion in Roe... fails to measure up to professional expectations regarding judicial opinions"); Posner, Judicial Opinion Writing, 62 U. Chi. L. Rev. 1421, 1434 (1995) (describing the opinion in Roe as an "embarrassing performanc[e]").
(3) That leaves, to distinguish the rock-solid, unamendable disposition of Roe from the readily overrulable Bowers, only the third factor. "[T]here has been," the Court says, "no individual or societal reliance on Bowers of the sort that could counsel against overturning its holding...." Ante, at 577. It seems to me that the "societal reliance" on the principles confirmed in Bowers and discarded today has been overwhelming. Countless judicial decisions and legislative enactments have relied on the ancient proposition that a governing majority's belief that certain sexual behavior is "immoral and unacceptable" constitutes a rational basis for regulation. See, e. g., Williams v. Pryor, 240 F. 3d 944, 949 (CA11 2001) (citing Bowers in upholding Alabama's prohibition on the sale of sex toys on the ground that "[t]he crafting and safeguarding of public morality . . . indisputably is a legitimate government interest under rational basis scrutiny"); Milner v. Apfel, 148 F. 3d 812, 814 (CA7 1998) (citing Bowers for the proposition that "[l]egislatures are permitted to legislate with regard to morality . . . rather than confined  to preventing demonstrable harms"); Holmes v. California Army National Guard, 124 F. 3d 1126, 1136 (CA9 1997) (relying on Bowers in upholding the federal statute and regulations banning from military service those who engage in homosexual conduct); Owens v. State, 352 Md. 663, 683, 724 A. 2d 43, 53 (1999) (relying on Bowers in holding that "a person has no constitutional right to engage in sexual intercourse, at least outside of marriage"); Sherman v. Henry, 928 S. W. 2d 464, 469-473 (Tex. 1996) (relying on Bowers in rejecting a claimed constitutional right to commit adultery). We ourselves relied extensively on Bowers when we concluded, in Barnes v. Glen Theatre, Inc., 501 U. S. 560, 569 (1991), that Indiana's public indecency statute furthered "a substantial government interest in protecting order and morality," ibid. (plurality opinion); see also id., at 575 (Scalia, J., concurring in judgment). State laws against bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication, bestiality, and obscenity are likewise sustainable only in light of Bowers' validation of laws based on moral choices. Every single one of these laws is called into question by today's decision; the Court makes no effort to cabin the scope of its decision to exclude them from its holding. See ante, at 572 (noting "an emerging awareness that liberty gives substantial protection to adult persons in deciding how to conduct their private lives in matters pertaining to sex" (emphasis added)). The impossibility of distinguishing homosexuality from other traditional "morals" offenses is precisely why Bowers rejected the rational-basis challenge. "The law," it said, "is constantly based on notions of morality, and if all laws representing essentially moral choices are to be invalidated under the Due Process Clause, the courts will be very busy indeed." 478 U. S., at 196.
 What a massive disruption of the current social order, therefore, the overruling of Bowers entails. Not so the overruling of Roe, which would simply have restored the regime that existed for centuries before 1973, in which the permissibility of, and restrictions upon, abortion were determined legislatively State by State. Casey, however, chose to base its stare decisis determination on a different "sort" of reliance. "[P]eople," it said, "have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail." 505 U. S., at 856. This falsely assumes that the consequence of overruling Roe would have been to make abortion unlawful. It would not; it would merely have permitted  the States to do so. Many States would unquestionably have declined to prohibit abortion, and others would not have prohibited it within six months (after which the most significant reliance interests would have expired). Even for persons in States other than these, the choice would not have been between abortion and childbirth, but between abortion nearby and abortion in a neighboring State.
To tell the truth, it does not surprise me, and should surprise no one, that the Court has chosen today to revise the standards of stare decisis set forth in Casey. It has thereby exposed Casey's extraordinary deference to precedent for the result-oriented expedient that it is.
Having decided that it need not adhere to stare decisis, the Court still must establish that Bowers was wrongly decided and that the Texas statute, as applied to petitioners, is unconstitutional.
Texas Penal Code Ann. § 21.06(a) (2003) undoubtedly imposes constraints on liberty. So do laws prohibiting prostitution, recreational use of heroin, and, for that matter, working more than 60 hours per week in a bakery. But there is no right to "liberty" under the Due Process Clause, though today's opinion repeatedly makes that claim. Ante, at 567 ("The liberty protected by the Constitution allows homosexual persons the right to make this choice"); ante, at 574 ("`These matters . . . are central to the liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment' "); ante, at 578 ("Their right to liberty under the Due Process Clause gives them the full right to engage in their conduct without intervention of the government"). The Fourteenth Amendment expressly allows States to deprive their citizens of "liberty," so long as "due process of law" is provided:
"No state shall . . . deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." Amdt. 14 (emphasis added).
 Our opinions applying the doctrine known as "substantive due process" hold that the Due Process Clause prohibits States from infringing fundamental liberty interests, unless the infringement is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest. Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U. S., at 721. We have held repeatedly, in cases the Court today does not overrule, that only fundamental rights qualify for this so-called "heightened scrutiny" protection—that is, rights which are "`deeply rooted in this Nation's history and tradition,'" ibid. See Reno v. Flores, 507 U. S. 292, 303 (1993) (fundamental liberty interests must be "so rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people as to be ranked as fundamental" (internal quotation marks and citations omitted)); United States v. Salerno, 481 U. S. 739, 751 (1987) (same). See also Michael H. v. Gerald D., 491 U. S. 110, 122 (1989) ("[W]e have insisted not merely that the interest denominated as a `liberty' be `fundamental' . . . but also that it be an interest traditionally protected by our society"); Moore v. East Cleveland, 431 U. S. 494, 503 (1977) (plurality opinion); Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U. S. 390, 399 (1923) (Fourteenth Amendment protects "those privileges long recognized at common law as essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men" (emphasis added)). All other liberty interests may be abridged or abrogated pursuant to a validly enacted state law if that law is rationally related to a legitimate state interest.
 Bowers held, first, that criminal prohibitions of homosexual sodomy are not subject to heightened scrutiny because they do not implicate a "fundamental right" under the Due Process Clause, 478 U. S., at 191-194. Noting that "[p]roscriptions against that conduct have ancient roots," id., at 192, that "[s]odomy was a criminal offense at common law and was forbidden by the laws of the original 13 States when they ratified the Bill of Rights," ibid., and that many States had retained their bans on sodomy, id., at 193, Bowers concluded that a right to engage in homosexual sodomy was not "`deeply rooted in this Nation's history and tradition,'" id., at 192.
The Court today does not overrule this holding. Not once does it describe homosexual sodomy as a "fundamental right" or a "fundamental liberty interest," nor does it subject the Texas statute to strict scrutiny. Instead, having failed to establish that the right to homosexual sodomy is "`deeply rooted in this Nation's history and tradition,'" the Court concludes that the application of Texas's statute to petitioners' conduct fails the rational-basis test, and overrules Bowers' holding to the contrary, see id., at 196. "The Texas statute furthers no legitimate state interest which can justify its intrusion into the personal and private life of the individual." Ante, at 578.
I shall address that rational-basis holding presently. First, however, I address some aspersions that the Court casts upon Bowers' conclusion that homosexual sodomy is not a "fundamental right"—even though, as I have said, the Court does not have the boldness to reverse that conclusion.
The Court's description of "the state of the law" at the time of Bowers only confirms that Bowers was right. Ante, at 566. The Court points to Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U. S. 479, 481-482 (1965). But that case expressly disclaimed any reliance on the doctrine of "substantive due  process," and grounded the so-called "right to privacy" in penumbras of constitutional provisions other than the Due Process Clause. Eisenstadt v. Baird, 405 U. S. 438 (1972), likewise had nothing to do with "substantive due process"; it invalidated a Massachusetts law prohibiting the distribution of contraceptives to unmarried persons solely on the basis of the Equal Protection Clause. Of course Eisenstadt contains well-known dictum relating to the "right to privacy," but this referred to the right recognized in Griswold —a right penumbral to the specific guarantees in the Bill of Rights, and not a "substantive due process" right.
Roe v. Wade recognized that the right to abort an unborn child was a "fundamental right" protected by the Due Process Clause. 410 U. S., at 155. The Roe Court, however, made no attempt to establish that this right was "`deeply rooted in this Nation's history and tradition' "; instead, it based its conclusion that "the Fourteenth Amendment's concept of personal liberty . . . is broad enough to encompass a woman's decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy" on its own normative judgment that antiabortion laws were undesirable. See id., at 153. We have since rejected Roe's holding that regulations of abortion must be narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest, see Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U. S., at 876 ( joint opinion of O'CONNOR, KENNEDY, and SOUTER, JJ.); id., at 951-953 (Rehnquist, C. J., concurring in judgment in part and dissenting in part)—and thus, by logical implication, Roe's holding that the right to abort an unborn child is a "fundamental right." See 505 U. S., at 843-912 ( joint opinion of O'CONNOR, KENNEDY, and SOUTER, JJ.) (not once describing abortion as a "fundamental right" or a "fundamental liberty interest").
After discussing the history of antisodomy laws, ante, at 568-571, the Court proclaims that, "it should be noted that there is no longstanding history in this country of laws directed at homosexual conduct as a distinct matter," ante,  at 568. This observation in no way casts into doubt the "definitive [historical] conclusio[n]," ibid., on which Bowers relied: that our Nation has a longstanding history of laws prohibiting sodomy in general—regardless of whether it was performed by same-sex or opposite-sex couples:
"It is obvious to us that neither of these formulations would extend a fundamental right to homosexuals to engage in acts of consensual sodomy. Proscriptions against that conduct have ancient roots. Sodomy was a criminal offense at common law and was forbidden by the laws of the original 13 States when they ratified the Bill of Rights. In 1868, when the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified, all but 5 of the 37 States in the Union had criminal sodomy laws. In fact, until 1961, all 50 States outlawed sodomy, and today, 24 States and the District of Columbia continue to provide criminal penalties for sodomy performed in private and between consenting adults. Against this background, to claim that a right to engage in such conduct is `deeply rooted in this Nation's history and tradition' or `implicit in the concept of ordered liberty' is, at best, facetious." 478 U. S., at 192-194 (citations and footnotes omitted; emphasis added).
It is (as Bowers recognized) entirely irrelevant whether the laws in our long national tradition criminalizing homosexual sodomy were "directed at homosexual conduct as a distinct matter." Ante, at 568. Whether homosexual sodomy was prohibited by a law targeted at same-sex sexual relations or by a more general law prohibiting both homosexual and heterosexual sodomy, the only relevant point is that it was criminalized—which suffices to establish that homosexual sodomy is not a right "deeply rooted in our Nation's history and tradition." The Court today agrees that homosexual sodomy was criminalized and thus does not dispute the facts on which Bowers actually relied.
 Next the Court makes the claim, again unsupported by any citations, that "[l]aws prohibiting sodomy do not seem to have been enforced against consenting adults acting in private." Ante, at 569. The key qualifier here is "acting in private"—since the Court admits that sodomy laws were enforced against consenting adults (although the Court contends that prosecutions were "infrequen[t]," ibid.). I do not know what "acting in private" means; surely consensual sodomy, like heterosexual intercourse, is rarely performed on stage. If all the Court means by "acting in private" is "on private premises, with the doors closed and windows covered," it is entirely unsurprising that evidence of enforcement would be hard to come by. (Imagine the circumstances that would enable a search warrant to be obtained for a residence on the ground that there was probable cause to believe that consensual sodomy was then and there occurring.) Surely that lack of evidence would not sustain the proposition that consensual sodomy on private premises with the doors closed and windows covered was regarded as a "fundamental right," even though all other consensual sodomy was criminalized. There are 203 prosecutions for consensual, adult homosexual sodomy reported in the West Reporting system and official state reporters from the years 1880-1995. See W. Eskridge, Gaylaw: Challenging the Apartheid of the Closet 375 (1999) (hereinafter Gaylaw). There are also records of 20 sodomy prosecutions and 4 executions during the colonial period. J. Katz, Gay/Lesbian Almanac 29, 58, 663 (1983). Bowers' conclusion that homosexual sodomy is not a fundamental right "deeply rooted in this Nation's history and tradition" is utterly unassailable.
Realizing that fact, the Court instead says: "[W]e think that our laws and traditions in the past half century are of most relevance here. These references show an emerging awareness that liberty gives substantial protection to adult persons in deciding how to conduct their private lives in matters pertaining to sex." Ante, at 571-572 (emphasis  added). Apart from the fact that such an "emerging awareness" does not establish a "fundamental right," the statement is factually false. States continue to prosecute all sorts of crimes by adults "in matters pertaining to sex": prostitution, adult incest, adultery, obscenity, and child pornography. Sodomy laws, too, have been enforced "in the past half century," in which there have been 134 reported cases involving prosecutions for consensual, adult, homosexual sodomy. Gaylaw 375. In relying, for evidence of an "emerging recognition," upon the American Law Institute's 1955 recommendation not to criminalize "`consensual sexual relations conducted in private,'" ante, at 572, the Court ignores the fact that this recommendation was "a point of resistance in most of the states that considered adopting the Model Penal Code." Gaylaw 159.
In any event, an "emerging awareness" is by definition not "deeply rooted in this Nation's history and tradition[s]," as we have said "fundamental right" status requires. Constitutional entitlements do not spring into existence because some States choose to lessen or eliminate criminal sanctions on certain behavior. Much less do they spring into existence, as the Court seems to believe, because foreign nations decriminalize conduct. The Bowers majority opinion never relied on "values we share with a wider civilization," ante, at 576, but rather rejected the claimed right to sodomy on the ground that such a right was not "`deeply rooted in this Nation's history and tradition,'" 478 U. S., at 193-194 (emphasis added). Bowers' rational-basis holding is likewise devoid of any reliance on the views of a "wider civilization," see id., at 196. The Court's discussion of these foreign views (ignoring, of course, the many countries that have retained criminal prohibitions on sodomy) is therefore meaningless dicta. Dangerous dicta, however, since "this Court... should not impose foreign moods, fads, or fashions on Americans." Foster v. Florida, 537 U. S. 990, n. (2002) (Thomas, J., concurring in denial of certiorari).
I turn now to the ground on which the Court squarely rests its holding: the contention that there is no rational basis for the law here under attack. This proposition is so out of accord with our jurisprudence—indeed, with the jurisprudence of any society we know—that it requires little discussion.
The Texas statute undeniably seeks to further the belief of its citizens that certain forms of sexual behavior are "immoral and unacceptable," Bowers, supra, at 196—the same interest furthered by criminal laws against fornication, bigamy, adultery, adult incest, bestiality, and obscenity. Bowers held that this was a legitimate state interest. The Court today reaches the opposite conclusion. The Texas statute, it says, "furthers no legitimate state interest which can justify its intrusion into the personal and private life of the individual," ante, at 578 (emphasis added). The Court embraces instead Justice Stevens' declaration in his Bowers dissent, that "`the fact that the governing majority in a State has traditionally viewed a particular practice as immoral is not a sufficient reason for upholding a law prohibiting the practice,'" ante, at 577. This effectively decrees the end of all morals legislation. If, as the Court asserts, the promotion of majoritarian sexual morality is not even a legitimate state interest, none of the above-mentioned laws can survive rational-basis review.
Finally, I turn to petitioners' equal-protection challenge, which no Member of the Court save Justice O'Connor, ante, at 579 (opinion concurring in judgment), embraces: On its face § 21.06(a) applies equally to all persons. Men and women, heterosexuals and homosexuals, are all subject to its prohibition of deviate sexual intercourse with someone of the same sex. To be sure, § 21.06 does distinguish between the sexes insofar as concerns the partner with whom the sexual  acts are performed: men can violate the law only with other men, and women only with other women. But this cannot itself be a denial of equal protection, since it is precisely the same distinction regarding partner that is drawn in state laws prohibiting marriage with someone of the same sex while permitting marriage with someone of the opposite sex.
The objection is made, however, that the antimiscegenation laws invalidated in Loving v. Virginia, 388 U. S. 1, 8 (1967), similarly were applicable to whites and blacks alike, and only distinguished between the races insofar as the partner was concerned. In Loving, however, we correctly applied heightened scrutiny, rather than the usual rational-basis review, because the Virginia statute was "designed to maintain White Supremacy." Id., at 6, 11. A racially discriminatory purpose is always sufficient to subject a law to strict scrutiny, even a facially neutral law that makes no mention of race. See Washington v. Davis, 426 U. S. 229, 241-242 (1976). No purpose to discriminate against men or women as a class can be gleaned from the Texas law, so rational-basis review applies. That review is readily satisfied here by the same rational basis that satisfied it in Bowers —society's belief that certain forms of sexual behavior are "immoral and unacceptable," 478 U. S., at 196. This is the same justification that supports many other laws regulating sexual behavior that make a distinction based upon the identity of the partner—for example, laws against adultery, fornication, and adult incest, and laws refusing to recognize homosexual marriage.
JUSTICE O'CONNOR argues that the discrimination in this law which must be justified is not its discrimination with regard to the sex of the partner but its discrimination with regard to the sexual proclivity of the principal actor.
"While it is true that the law applies only to conduct, the conduct targeted by this law is conduct that is closely correlated with being homosexual. Under such circumstances, Texas' sodomy law is targeted at more than conduct.  It is instead directed toward gay persons as a class." Ante, at 583.
Of course the same could be said of any law. A law against public nudity targets "the conduct that is closely correlated with being a nudist," and hence "is targeted at more than conduct"; it is "directed toward nudists as a class." But be that as it may. Even if the Texas law does deny equal protection to "homosexuals as a class," that denial still does not need to be justified by anything more than a rational basis, which our cases show is satisfied by the enforcement of traditional notions of sexual morality.
JUSTICE O'CONNOR simply decrees application of "a more searching form of rational basis review" to the Texas statute. Ante, at 580. The cases she cites do not recognize such a standard, and reach their conclusions only after finding, as required by conventional rational-basis analysis, that no conceivable legitimate state interest supports the classification at issue. See Romer v. Evans, 517 U. S., at 635; Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center, Inc., 473 U. S. 432, 448-450 (1985); Department of Agriculture v. Moreno, 413 U. S. 528, 534-538 (1973). Nor does JUSTICE O'CONNOR explain precisely what her "more searching form" of rational-basis review consists of. It must at least mean, however, that laws exhibiting "a desire to harm a politically unpopular group," ante, at 580, are invalid even though there may be a conceivable rational basis to support them.
This reasoning leaves on pretty shaky grounds state laws limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples. JUSTICE O'CONNOR seeks to preserve them by the conclusory statement that "preserving the traditional institution of marriage" is a legitimate state interest. Ante, at 585. But "preserving the traditional institution of marriage" is just a kinder way of describing the State's moral disapproval of same-sex couples. Texas's interest in § 21.06 could be recast in similarly euphemistic terms: "preserving the traditional sexual mores of our society." In the jurisprudence JUSTICE O'CONNOR  has seemingly created, judges can validate laws by characterizing them as "preserving the traditions of society" (good); or invalidate them by characterizing them as "expressing moral disapproval" (bad).
Today's opinion is the product of a Court, which is the product of a law-profession culture, that has largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda, by which I mean the agenda promoted by some homosexual activists directed at eliminating the moral opprobrium that has traditionally attached to homosexual conduct. I noted in an earlier opinion the fact that the American Association of Law Schools (to which any reputable law school must seek to belong) excludes from membership any school that refuses to ban from its job-interview facilities a law firm (no matter how small) that does not wish to hire as a prospective partner a person who openly engages in homosexual conduct. See Romer, supra, at 653.
One of the most revealing statements in today's opinion is the Court's grim warning that the criminalization of homosexual conduct is "an invitation to subject homosexual persons to discrimination both in the public and in the private spheres." Ante, at 575. It is clear from this that the Court has taken sides in the culture war, departing from its role of assuring, as neutral observer, that the democratic rules of engagement are observed. Many Americans do not want persons who openly engage in homosexual conduct as partners in their business, as scoutmasters for their children, as teachers in their children's schools, or as boarders in their home. They view this as protecting themselves and their families from a lifestyle that they believe to be immoral and destructive. The Court views it as "discrimination" which it is the function of our judgments to deter. So imbued is the Court with the law profession's anti-anti-homosexual culture, that it is seemingly unaware that the attitudes of that  culture are not obviously "mainstream"; that in most States what the Court calls "discrimination" against those who engage in homosexual acts is perfectly legal; that proposals to ban such "discrimination" under Title VII have repeatedly been rejected by Congress, see Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 1994, S. 2238, 103d Cong., 2d Sess. (1994); Civil Rights Amendments, H. R. 5452, 94th Cong., 1st Sess. (1975); that in some cases such "discrimination" is mandated by federal statute, see 10 U. S. C. § 654(b)(1) (mandating discharge from the Armed Forces of any service member who engages in or intends to engage in homosexual acts); and that in some cases such "discrimination" is a constitutional right, see Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, 530 U. S. 640 (2000).
Let me be clear that I have nothing against homosexuals, or any other group, promoting their agenda through normal democratic means. Social perceptions of sexual and other morality change over time, and every group has the right to persuade its fellow citizens that its view of such matters is the best. That homosexuals have achieved some success in that enterprise is attested to by the fact that Texas is one of the few remaining States that criminalize private, consensual homosexual acts. But persuading one's fellow citizens is one thing, and imposing one's views in absence of democratic majority will is something else. I would no more require a State to criminalize homosexual acts—or, for that matter, display any moral disapprobation of them—than I would forbid it to do so. What Texas has chosen to do is well within the range of traditional democratic action, and its hand should not be stayed through the invention of a brand-new "constitutional right" by a Court that is impatient of democratic change. It is indeed true that "later generations can see that laws once thought necessary and proper in fact serve only to oppress," ante, at 579; and when that happens, later generations can repeal those laws. But it is the premise of our system that those judgments are to be made  by the people, and not imposed by a governing caste that knows best.
One of the benefits of leaving regulation of this matter to the people rather than to the courts is that the people, unlike judges, need not carry things to their logical conclusion. The people may feel that their disapprobation of homosexual conduct is strong enough to disallow homosexual marriage, but not strong enough to criminalize private homosexual acts—and may legislate accordingly. The Court today pretends that it possesses a similar freedom of action, so that we need not fear judicial imposition of homosexual marriage, as has recently occurred in Canada (in a decision that the Canadian Government has chosen not to appeal). See Halpern v. Toronto, 2003 WL 34950 (Ontario Ct. App.); Cohen, Dozens in Canada Follow Gay Couple's Lead, Washington Post, June 12, 2003, p. A25. At the end of its opinion—after having laid waste the foundations of our rational-basis jurisprudence —the Court says that the present case "does not involve whether the government must give formal recognition to any relationship that homosexual persons seek to enter." Ante, at 578. Do not believe it. More illuminating than this bald, unreasoned disclaimer is the progression of thought displayed by an earlier passage in the Court's opinion, which notes the constitutional protections afforded to "personal decisions relating to marriage, procreation, contraception, family relationships, child rearing, and education," and then declares that "[p]ersons in a homosexual relationship may seek autonomy for these purposes, just as heterosexual persons do." Ante, at 574 (emphasis added). Today's opinion dismantles the structure of constitutional law that has permitted a distinction to be made between heterosexual and homosexual unions, insofar as formal recognition in marriage is concerned. If moral disapprobation of homosexual conduct is "no legitimate state interest" for purposes of proscribing that conduct, ante, at 578; and if, as the Court coos (casting aside all pretense of neutrality), "[w]hen  sexuality finds overt expression in intimate conduct with another person, the conduct can be but one element in a personal bond that is more enduring," ante, at 567; what justification could there possibly be for denying the benefits of marriage to homosexual couples exercising "[t]he liberty protected by the Constitution," ibid.? Surely not the encouragement of procreation, since the sterile and the elderly are allowed to marry. This case "does not involve" the issue of homosexual marriage only if one entertains the belief that principle and logic have nothing to do with the decisions of this Court. Many will hope that, as the Court comfortingly assures us, this is so.
The matters appropriate for this Court's resolution are only three: Texas's prohibition of sodomy neither infringes a "fundamental right" (which the Court does not dispute), nor is unsupported by a rational relation to what the Constitution considers a legitimate state interest, nor denies the equal protection of the laws. I dissent.
JUSTICE THOMAS, dissenting.
I join JUSTICE SCALIA'S dissenting opinion. I write separately to note that the law before the Court today "is . . . uncommonly silly." Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U. S. 479, 527 (1965) (Stewart, J., dissenting). If I were a member of the Texas Legislature, I would vote to repeal it. Punishing someone for expressing his sexual preference through noncommercial consensual conduct with another adult does not appear to be a worthy way to expend valuable law enforcement resources.
Notwithstanding this, I recognize that as a Member of this Court I am not empowered to help petitioners and others similarly situated. My duty, rather, is to "decide cases `agreeably to the Constitution and laws of the United States.'" Id., at 530. And, just like Justice Stewart, I "can find [neither in the Bill of Rights nor any other part of the  Constitution a] general right of privacy," ibid., or as the Court terms it today, the "liberty of the person both in its spatial and more transcendent dimensions," ante, at 562.
[*] Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed for the Alliance of Baptists et al. by Robert A. Long, Jr., and Thomas L. Cubbage III; for the American Psychological Association et al. by David W. Ogden, Paul R. Q. Wolfson, Richard G. Taranto, Nathalie F. P. Gilfoyle, and Carolyn I. Polowy; for the American Public Health Association et al. by Jeffrey S. Trachtman and Norman C. Simon; for the Cato Institute by Robert A. Levy; for Constitutional Law Professors by Pamela S. Karlan and William B. Rubenstein; for the Human Rights Campaign et al. by Walter Dellinger, Pamela Harris, and Jonathan D. Hacker; for the Log Cabin Republicans et al. by C. Martin Meekins; for the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund by David C. Codell, Laura W. Brill, and Wendy R. Weiser; for Professors of History by Roy T. Englert, Jr., Alan Untereiner, and Sherri Lynn Wolson; for the Republican Unity Coalition et al. by Erik S. Jaffe; and for Mary Robinson et al. by Harold Hongju Koh and Joseph F. Tringali.
Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed for the State of Alabama et al. by William H. Pryor, Jr., Attorney General of Alabama, Nathan A. Forrester, Solicitor General, and George M. Weaver, and by the Attorneys General for their respective States as follows: Henry D. McMaster of South Carolina and Mark L. Shurtleff of Utah; for Agudath Israel of America by David Zwiebel; for the American Center for Law and Justice by Jay Alan Sekulow, Stuart J. Roth, Colby M. May, James M. Henderson, Sr., Joel H. Thornton, and Walter M. Weber; for the American Family Association, Inc., et al. by Stephen M. Crampton, Brian Fahling, and Michael J. DePrimo; for the Center for Arizona Policy et al. by Len L. Munsil; for the Center for Law and Justice International by Thomas Patrick Monaghan and John P. Tuskey; for the Center for Marriage Law by Vincent P. McCarthy and Lynn D. Wardle; for the Center for the Original Intent of the Constitution by Michael P. Farris and Jordan W. Lorence; for Concerned Women for America by Janet M. LaRue; for the Family Research Council, Inc., by Robert P. George; for First Principles, Inc., by Ronald D. Ray; for Liberty Counsel by Mathew D. Staver and Rena M. Lindevaldsen; for the Pro Family Law Center et al. by Richard D. Ackerman and Gary G. Kreep; for Public Advocate of the United States et al. by Herbert W. Titus and William J. Olson; for the Texas Eagle Forum et al. by Teresa Stanton Collett; for Texas Legislator Warren Chisum et al. by Kelly Shackelford and Scott Roberts; for the Texas Physicians Resource Council et al. by Glen Lavy; and for United Families International by Paul Benjamin Linton.
Briefs of amici curiae were filed for the American Bar Association by Alfred P. Carlton, Jr., Ruth N. Borenstein, and Beth S. Brinkmann; for the American Civil Liberties Union et al. by Laurence H. Tribe, James D. Esseks, Steven R. Shapiro, and Matthew A. Coles; for the Institute for Justice by William H. Mellor, Clint Bolick, Dana Berliner, and Randy E. Barnett; and for the National Lesbian and Gay Law Association et al. by Chai R. Feldblum, J. Paul Oetken, and Scott Ruskay-Kidd.
 This last-cited critic of Bowers actually writes: "[Bowers] is correct nevertheless that the right to engage in homosexual acts is not deeply rooted in America's history and tradition." Posner, Sex and Reason, at 343.
 While the Court does not overrule Bowers' holding that homosexual sodomy is not a "fundamental right," it is worth noting that the "societal reliance" upon that aspect of the decision has been substantial as well. See 10 U. S. C. § 654(b)(1) ("A member of the armed forces shall be separated from the armed forces . . . if . . . the member has engaged in . . . a homosexual act or acts"); Marcum v. McWhorter, 308 F. 3d 635, 640-642 (CA6 2002) (relying on Bowers in rejecting a claimed fundamental right to commit adultery); Mullins v. Oregon, 57 F. 3d 789, 793-794 (CA9 1995) (relying on Bowers in rejecting a grandparent's claimed "fundamental liberty interes[t]" in the adoption of her grandchildren); Doe v. Wigginton, 21 F. 3d 733, 739-740 (CA6 1994) (relying on Bowers in rejecting a prisoner's claimed "fundamental right" to on-demand HIV testing); Schowengerdt v. United States, 944 F. 2d 483, 490 (CA9 1991) (relying on Bowers in upholding a bisexual's discharge from the armed services); Charles v. Baesler, 910 F. 2d 1349, 1353 (CA6 1990) (relying on Bowers in rejecting fire department captain's claimed "fundamental" interest in a promotion); Henne v. Wright, 904 F. 2d 1208, 1214-1215 (CA8 1990) (relying on Bowers in rejecting a claim that state law restricting surnames that could be given to children at birth implicates a "fundamental right"); Walls v. Petersburg, 895 F. 2d 188, 193 (CA4 1990) (relying on Bowers in rejecting substantive-due-process challenge to a police department questionnaire that asked prospective employees about homosexual activity); High Tech Gays v. Defense Industrial Security Clearance Office, 895 F. 2d 563, 570-571 (CA9 1988) (relying on Bowers' holding that homosexual activity is not a fundamental right in rejecting—on the basis of the rational-basis standard—an equalprotection challenge to the Defense Department's policy of conducting expanded investigations into backgrounds of gay and lesbian applicants for secret and top-secret security clearances).
 The Court is quite right that "`[h]istory and tradition are the starting point but not in all cases the ending point of the substantive due process inquiry,'" ante, at 572. An asserted "fundamental liberty interest" must not only be "`deeply rooted in this Nation's history and tradition,'" Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U. S. 702, 721 (1997), but it must also be "`implicit in the concept of ordered liberty,'" so that "`neither liberty nor justice would exist if [it] were sacrificed,'" ibid.Moreover, liberty interests unsupported by history and tradition, though not deserving of "heightened scrutiny," are still protected from state laws that are not rationally related to any legitimate state interest. Id., at 722. As I proceed to discuss, it is this latter principle that the Court applies in the present case.