MacDONALD v. MOOSE

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United States Court of Appeals,Fourth Circuit.

William Scott MacDONALD, Petitioner–Appellant, v. Tim MOOSE, Respondent–Appellee, Keith Holder, Probation Officer, Respondent.

No. 11–7427.

Decided: March 12, 2013

Before MOTZ, KING, and DIAZ, Circuit Judges. ARGUED:Benjamin E. Rosenberg, Dechert, LLP, New York, New York, for Appellant. Robert H. Anderson, III, Office of the Attorney General of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia, for Appellee. ON BRIEF:Joshua D.N. Hess, Dechert, LLP, San Francisco, California, for Appellant. Kenneth T. Cuccinelli, II, Attorney General of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia, for Appellee. Rebecca K. Glenberg, American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia Foundation, Inc ., Richmond, Virginia; Susan L. Sommer, Gregory R. Nevins, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc., New York, New York, for Amici Supporting Appellant.

OPINION

In 2005, William Scott MacDonald was convicted after a bench trial in the Circuit Court of the City of Colonial Heights, Virginia, of two offenses: the misdemeanor offense of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, in contravention of Virginia Code section 18.2–371; and the felony offense of violating the Commonwealth's criminal solicitation statute, found in section 18.2–29. The criminal solicitation statute provides that “[a]ny person age eighteen or older who commands, entreats, or otherwise attempts to persuade another person under age eighteen to commit [a predicate felony, i.e.,] a felony other than murder,” shall be guilty of a felony. Va.Code § 18.2–29.

The predicate felony for MacDonald's criminal solicitation offense was the Commonwealth's “Crimes Against Nature” statute, which criminalizes, inter alia, “carnal knowledge” by one person of another by the anus or mouth, an act commonly known as sodomy. Va.Code § 18.2–361(A). MacDonald was sentenced to ten years in prison (with nine years suspended) for criminal solicitation, plus twelve months on the misdemeanor offense. Upon release, MacDonald was placed on probation and compelled to register as a sex offender.

In 2009, after failing to obtain relief on direct appeal and in state postconviction proceedings, MacDonald filed a 28 U.S.C. § 2254 petition in the Eastern District of Virginia. MacDonald alleged, among other things, that his criminal solicitation conviction, insofar as it was predicated on the anti-sodomy provision of Virginia Code section 18.2–361(A), contravened the Constitution. More specifically, MacDonald contended that the predicate anti-sodomy provision had been rendered invalid by the Supreme Court's decision in Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558, 123 S.Ct. 2472, 156 L.Ed.2d 508 (2003) (striking down Texas anti-sodomy statute as facially violative of Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause). The district court rejected MacDonald's constitutional challenges to section 18.2–361(A) and dismissed his § 2254 petition. See MacDonald v. Holder, No. 1:09–cv–01047, 2011 WL 4498973 (E.D.Va. Sept.26, 2011) (the “Opinion”).1

On October 24, 2011, MacDonald filed a timely notice of appeal. He thereafter requested the issuance of a certificate of appealability (“COA”) from this Court. See 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(1)(A). We granted his COA request on April 17, 2012, identifying the issue for appeal as whether Virginia Code section 18 .2–361(A) is unconstitutional either facially or as applied in MacDonald's case, in light of the Supreme Court's Lawrence decision. The COA circumscribes this appeal to an examination of the constitutionality of a single aspect of section 18.2–361(A), which provides:

If any person ․ carnally knows any male or female person by the anus or by or with the mouth, or voluntarily submits to such carnal knowledge, he or she shall be guilty of a [felony.]

We herein use the term “anti-sodomy provision” to refer to the foregoing portion of section 18.2–361(A).2 As explained below, we are constrained to vacate the district court's judgment and remand for an award of habeas corpus relief on the ground that the anti-sodomy provision facially violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

I.

MacDonald was forty-seven years old at the time of the events giving rise to his state court convictions.3 On the evening of September 23, 2004, MacDonald telephoned seventeen-year-old Amanda Johnson, a young woman he had met through a mutual acquaintance. MacDonald and Johnson arranged to meet that night at a Home Depot parking lot in Colonial Heights. When they arrived at the parking lot, MacDonald got into the backseat of Johnson's vehicle and they drove to the nearby home of Johnson's grandmother. Johnson went into her grandmother's residence to retrieve a book, and when she returned to the vehicle MacDonald asked her to “suck his dick.” J .A. 51. MacDonald also suggested that they have sex in a shed in Johnson's grandmother's yard. Johnson declined both proposals, however, and she drove MacDonald back to the Home Depot parking lot.

Nearly three months later, in December 2004, MacDonald filed a report with the Colonial Heights police maintaining that Johnson had abducted and sexually assaulted him. MacDonald thereafter met with and was interviewed by Detective Stephanie Early. MacDonald advised Early that, sometime in September, Johnson had paged him and asked that he meet her in the Home Depot parking lot. MacDonald stated that, once they met, he got into Johnson's car and she drove them away. When MacDonald asked Johnson where she was going, she did not respond. MacDonald told her, “[T]his has got to stop, lose my number, I'm married, don't call me anymore.” J.A. 59. MacDonald also advised Detective Early that he and Johnson stopped at a location on Canterbury Lane in Colonial Heights, and “at that point Ms. Johnson forcibly removed his penis from his pants and performed oral sex against his will.” Id. MacDonald acknowledged that he knew Johnson was only seventeen years old.

Soon thereafter, Detective Early met with and interviewed Johnson, who gave a sharply conflicting account of what had occurred. Crediting Johnson's version of the events, Early secured three arrest warrants for MacDonald, charging: (1) the felony criminal solicitation offense; (2) the misdemeanor offense of contributing to the delinquency of a minor; and (3) the misdemeanor offense of “knowingly giv[ing] a false report as to the commission of a crime to the Police with the intent to mislead,” in violation of Virginia Code section 18.2–461. See J.A. 4–6. MacDonald was arrested on January 25, 2005. He was prosecuted in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court of Colonial Heights on the false police report charge, and in the circuit court on the other two charges.

On May 25, 2005, MacDonald pleaded guilty to filing a false police report, in connection with his false complaint to Detective Early. As a result, he was sentenced to twelve months in jail, with six months suspended. On June 7, 2005, MacDonald moved in the circuit court to dismiss the criminal solicitation charge on the ground that the predicate felony—the anti-sodomy provision—violated his due process rights. Relying on Lawrence v. Texas, MacDonald asserted that the Supreme Court had invalidated all state statutes that prohibit “consensual sodomy between individuals with the capacity to consent.” J.A. 24. A bench trial was conducted in the circuit court on July 12, 2005, where Johnson, Early, MacDonald, and MacDonald's wife testified.4 After the trial had concluded, on July 25, 2005, the circuit court denied the motion to dismiss, ruling that the anti-sodomy provision was not being unconstitutionally applied to MacDonald. The following day, the court found MacDonald guilty of solicitation to commit a felony (i.e., the anti-sodomy provision), and deferred ruling on the misdemeanor offense of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. On August 2, 2005, the circuit court convicted MacDonald of the misdemeanor offense, and it sentenced him on both offenses.

II.

A.

MacDonald appealed his circuit court convictions to the Court of Appeals of Virginia. In doing so, he argued that, in light of Lawrence v. Texas, the anti-sodomy provision was facially invalid “insofar as it relates to consensual sodomy between unrelated individuals who have reached the age of consent,” by infringing on the liberty interests protected by “the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.” S.J.A. 14. MacDonald thus maintained that the anti-sodomy provision could not serve as a predicate felony for the criminal solicitation offense.

In January 2007, the state court of appeals ruled that MacDonald lacked “standing to assert [the facial due process claim]” and dismissed his appeal. See MacDonald v. Commonwealth, No.1939–05–2, 2007 WL 43635 (Va.Ct.App. Jan.9, 2007). In that regard, the court relied on its ruling in McDonald v. Commonwealth, 48 Va.App. 325, 630 S.E.2d 754 (Va.Ct.App.2006).5 The previous appeal related to other criminal proceedings involving petitioner MacDonald, specifically his prior convictions on four counts of violating Virginia's anti-sodomy provision, twice each with two young women who were sixteen and seventeen years old. There, the court of appeals had rejected MacDonald's Fourteenth Amendment due process claims, holding that, because his offenses involved minors, his as-applied claim failed and he thus lacked standing to pursue a facial challenge. See McDonald, 630 S.E.2d at 756 (citing Ulster Cnty. v. Allen, 442 U.S. 140, 154–55, 99 S.Ct. 2213, 60 L.Ed.2d 777 (1979) (“As a general rule, if there is no constitutional defect in the application of the statute to a litigant, he does not have standing to argue that it would be unconstitutional if applied to third parties in hypothetical situations.”)).6 In the present case, on September 7, 2007, the Supreme Court of Virginia summarily denied MacDonald's pro se petition for appeal, and then, on November 9, 2007, denied his petition for rehearing.7

B.

On September 16, 2009, MacDonald, again proceeding pro se, filed his 28 U.S.C. § 2254 petition in the Eastern District of Virginia. Therein, MacDonald theorized that his conviction was “in violation of the ex post facto guarantee of the U.S. Constitution because [the anti-sodomy provision] is Facially Unconstitutional and also because it carries punishments that are in direct conflict with Equal Protection of the Law.” J.A. 292. MacDonald maintained, as he had at each previous opportunity, that the Lawrence decision invalidated all state anti-sodomy provisions, and that the Supreme Court “acted in accordance with numerous prior precedents that struck down laws impinging upon the liberty guarantees of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.” Id. at 301. The district court, “[i]n deference to petitioner's pro se status,” trifurcated MacDonald's constitutional challenges into (1) an ex post facto claim; (2) a facial due process attack; and (3) an as-applied due process challenge to the anti-sodomy provision. See Opinion 5.8

In its Opinion, the district court dismissed MacDonald's ex post facto claim “to the extent that [it] differs from the facial attack,” as procedurally barred under the rule of Slayton v. Parrigan, 215 Va. 27, 205 S.E.2d 680, 682 (Va.1974). See Opinion 6; see also supra note 6. Proceeding to MacDonald's facial due process challenge, the district court employed the deferential § 2254(d) standard of review to withhold relief. See infra Part III. The court concluded that the Virginia Court of Appeals had reasonably applied Ulster County to decide that MacDonald lacked standing to pursue such a claim because his conduct was not constitutionally protected. See Opinion 8. Finally, determining that the anti-sodomy provision was constitutional as applied to MacDonald, the district court endorsed the state court's rationale that, because the Commonwealth had properly treated seventeen-year-olds as children, and because the Lawrence decision had stressed that “[t]he present case does not involve minors,” 539 U.S. at 578, the anti-sodomy provision could constitutionally serve as a predicate offense under the solicitation statute. See Opinion 8–9. The district court further explained,

The Court of Appeals of Virginia's determination is based on clearly established federal law. Virginia considers persons aged sixteen and seventeen to be children, and the Supreme Court in Lawrence explicitly stated that the ruling did not apply to sexual acts involving children. Thus, the holding that Va.Code § 18.2–361 is not unconstitutional as applied to MacDonald is not contrary to, or an unreasonabl[e] application of, federal law.

Id. at 9 (citations omitted).

III.

The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”) governs a federal court's handling of a 28 U.S.C. § 2254 petition filed by a state prisoner. We review de novo a district court's denial of a § 2254 petition. See Deyton v. Keller, 682 F.3d 340, 343 (4th Cir.2012). Pursuant to AEDPA, however, when a habeas petitioner's constitutional claim has been “adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings,” we may not grant relief unless the state court's adjudication “resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States,” or “resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).

IV.

A.

In this appeal, MacDonald pursues both facial and as-applied due process challenges to the anti-sodomy provision. He contends not only that the anti-sodomy provision was unconstitutional as applied to him, but also that Lawrence v. Texas compels the facial invalidation of the anti-sodomy provision under the Fourteenth Amendment.9 Even though, as the Supreme Court of Virginia emphasized, Lawrence did not involve minors, MacDonald argues that “[t]he Lawrence Court did not preserve those applications of Texas's [sodomy] law to the extent that it would apply to ‘minors' or in any other circumstance. It invalidated the law in toto.” Br. of Appellant 10. MacDonald maintains that he possesses standing to pursue his facial challenge under the Due Process Clause because the anti-sodomy provision was rendered unconstitutional by Lawrence. He relies on established Supreme Court authority for the proposition that standing exists

“where the statute in question has already been declared unconstitutional in the vast majority of its intended applications, and it can fairly be said that it was not intended to stand as valid, on the basis of fortuitous circumstances, only in a fraction of cases it was originally designed to cover.”

Br. of Appellant 14 (quoting United States v. Raines, 362 U.S. 17, 23, 80 S.Ct. 519, 4 L.Ed.2d 524 (1960)).

MacDonald next asserts that the Virginia courts have impermissibly interpreted Lawrence as authorizing them to recast the anti-sodomy provision—which by its terms bans all sodomy offenses—and apply the provision solely to sodomy offenses that involve minors. In explaining his position, MacDonald contends that

[t]he courts' re-writing of the [anti-sodomy provision] wrongly “substitute [s] the judicial for the legislative department of the government” and creates a “dangerous” precedent to encourage legislatures to “ ‘set a net large enough to catch all possible offenders, and leave it to the courts to step inside’ to announce to whom the statute may be applied.”

Br. of Appellant at 17–18 (quoting Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of N. New Eng., 546 U.S. 320, 330, 126 S.Ct. 961, 163 L.Ed.2d 812 (2006)). MacDonald further argues that the Virginia courts' rewriting of the anti-sodomy provision was contrary to the intent of Virginia's General Assembly, because the judicially rewritten statute is at odds with other Virginia criminal statutes regulating the sexual conduct of persons over eighteen with younger persons. Cf. Va.Code § 18.2–63 (prohibiting carnal knowledge of a child between thirteen and fifteen); Va.Code § 18.2–370 (prohibiting persons over eighteen from certain “indecent” acts with children under fifteen, including soliciting sodomy).

More particularly, Virginia Code section 18.2–370(A) prohibits any person over eighteen from proposing certain sexual conduct (including sodomy) to “any child under the age of 15 years.” The foregoing provision, MacDonald maintains, was plainly not intended to criminalize activity with minors fifteen or older. He thus contends that Virginia's judicial rewriting of the anti-sodomy provision, rendering it applicable to the solicitation of sodomy from a minor under eighteen, runs afoul of the age specification (“any child under the age of 15 years”) embedded in section 18.2–370(A). MacDonald further asserts that the judicial redrafting of the anti-sodomy provision by the Virginia courts contravened his due process rights because he did not have—and could not have had—fair notice that the anti-sodomy provision would be construed in a way that renders it applicable to his conduct.

The Commonwealth responds to MacDonald's contentions by maintaining that Lawrence did not “establish the unconstitutionality of solicitation statutes generally ․, or MacDonald's solicitation in particular.” Br. of Appellee 8. Positing that Lawrence simply does not apply to statutes that criminalize sodomy involving a minor, Virginia emphasizes the district court's determination that the anti-sodomy provision is constitutional as applied to MacDonald. The Commonwealth then asserts that MacDonald lacks standing to pursue a facial challenge to the anti-sodomy provision under the Supreme Court's Ulster County decision, because the provision can be constitutionally applied in various circumstances, including those underlying this appeal.10

B.

1.

Put succinctly, the Ulster County decision does not operate to deny standing for MacDonald to pursue a facial due process challenge to the anti-sodomy provision. Under the Article III case-or-controversy requirement, a litigant must assert a concrete interest of his own. See Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560–61, 112 S.Ct. 2130, 119 L.Ed.2d 351 (1992) (explaining that Article III requires (1) that the plaintiff has suffered an “invasion of a legally protected interest,” (2) that there is a causal connection between the injury “fairly traceable” to the challenged action; and (3) that it is likely that the injury will be “redressed by a favorable decision” (citations omitted)). The Virginia courts ruled that MacDonald had not asserted his own concrete interest in his facial challenge, but rather was pursuing the interests of third parties, in that the anti-sodomy provision is constitutional as applied to him. Under that theory, MacDonald could only pursue a facial challenge to the anti-sodomy provision as it applies to others. This determination of the jurisdictional predicate for standing to sue relied entirely on an unfavorable legal resolution of the merits of MacDonald's as-applied constitutional claim. In turn, our resolution of MacDonald's as-applied claim informs—at least under the theories propounded by the state and district courts—whether MacDonald possesses standing to assert a facial challenge to the anti-sodomy provision.

In Ulster County, the Supreme Court assessed a habeas petition filed by three state prisoners, challenging a New York statute that permitted a jury to presume that two firearms found in the vehicle in which they were riding had been jointly possessed by them all. The Second Circuit declared the statute facially unconstitutional, emphasizing its broad reach in potentially applying the presumption to vehicle occupants “ ‘who may not know they are riding with a gun’ “ or “ ‘who may be aware of the presence of the gun but not permitted access to it.’ “ 442 U.S. at 146 (quoting Allen v. Cnty. Court, Ulster Cnty., 568 F.2d 998, 1007 (2d Cir.1977)).

The Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals, however, ruling that the Second Circuit had unnecessarily addressed the issue of the statute's facial invalidity. According to the Court, the presumption was constitutionally applied to the three Ulster County petitioners, in that the firearms had been discovered in a handbag belonging to the vehicle's fourth occupant—a sixteen-year-old female. The Court explained the applicable principle as this:

A party has standing to challenge the constitutionality of a statute only insofar as it has an adverse impact on his own rights. As a general rule, if there is no constitutional defect in the application of the statute to a litigant, he does not have standing to argue that it would be unconstitutional if applied to third parties in hypothetical situations.

Ulster Cnty., 442 U.S. at 154–55. The Court's ruling on standing to pursue a facial challenge, as in this case, depended on an unfavorable threshold resolution of an as-applied challenge. If the statute had been unconstitutionally applied to the petitioners in Ulster County, their own rights would have been adversely affected, and, therefore, reaching the merits of their facial challenge may have been appropriate.

Because, as we explain below, the anti-sodomy provision is unconstitutional when applied to any person, the state court of appeals and the district court were incorrect in deeming the anti-sodomy provision to be constitutional as applied to MacDonald. MacDonald is thus asserting his own concrete injury, and the state court's standing determination, as endorsed by the district court, was contrary to and involved an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States.11

2.

In Lawrence, the Supreme Court plainly held that statutes criminalizing private acts of consensual sodomy between adults are inconsistent with the protections of liberty assured by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. 539 U.S. at 578. The statute declared invalid in Lawrence provided that “[a] person commits an offense if he engages in deviate sexual intercourse with another individual of the same sex.” Id. at 563. The conduct for which the Lawrence defendants were prosecuted qualified as “deviate sexual intercourse,” in that it amounted to “contact between any part of the genitals of one person and the mouth or anus of another person,” that is, sodomy. Id. The Supreme Court granted certiorari on three issues: (1) whether the criminalization of strictly homosexual sodomy violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; (2) more broadly, whether criminalization of sodomy per se between consenting adults contravened the fundamental liberty and privacy interests protected by the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause; and (3) whether Bowers v. Hardwick, 478 U.S. 186, 106 S.Ct. 2841, 92 L.Ed.2d 140 (1986), which upheld against facial challenge a Georgia statute criminalizing all sodomy, should be overruled.

On the third question, relating to Bowers v. Hardwick, the Court readily concluded that “[t]he rationale of Bowers does not withstand careful analysis․ Bowers was not correct when it was decided, and it is not correct today․ Bowers v. Hardwick should be and now is overruled.” Lawrence, 539 U.S. at 577–78.12 Though acknowledging the equal protection argument as “tenable,” the Court premised its constitutional holding on the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, surmising that if it were to invalidate the statute “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.” Id. at 574–75 (emphasis added). The Court underscored that, although the conduct proscribed by the Texas statute might be sincerely condemned by many as immoral, “[t]hese considerations do not answer the question before us․ 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.” Id. at 571. The Lawrence Court thus recognized that the facial due process challenge in Bowers was wrongly decided. Because the invalid Georgia statute in Bowers is materially indistinguishable from the anti-sodomy provision being challenged here, the latter provision likewise does not survive the Lawrence decision.13

The Commonwealth's efforts to diminish the pertinence of Lawrence in connection with MacDonald's challenge to the anti-sodomy provision—an enactment in no way dissimilar to the Texas and Georgia statutes deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court—runs counter to Martin v. Ziherl, 269 Va. 35, 607 S.E.2d 367 (Va.2005). In that case, the Supreme Court of Virginia evaluated the constitutionality of a state statute having nothing to do with sodomy, but instead outlawing ordinary sexual intercourse between unmarried persons. The state supreme court nonetheless acknowledged that Lawrence was sufficiently applicable to require the statute's invalidation.

The Martin decision reversed the trial court's judgment against the plaintiff, who sought damages because the defendant had infected her with herpes. The defendant had demurred to Martin's motion for judgment, pointing out that Virginia law barred tort recovery for injuries sustained while participating in an illegal activity. In its ruling, the state supreme court concluded that there was “no relevant distinction between the circumstances in Lawrence ” and those in Martin, recognizing that, “but for the nature of the sexual act, the provisions of [the challenged statute] are identical to those of the Texas statute which Lawrence determined to be unconstitutional.” Martin, 607 S.E.2d at 370 & n*.14 The anti-sodomy provision, of course, prohibits the same sexual act targeted by the Texas statute that failed constitutional muster in Lawrence.

Although both parties in the Martin case were adults, there is no valid reason why the logic of that ruling should not have applied with equal force to the ruling of the Court of Appeals of Virginia in MacDonald's case. It is not sufficient that the Martin plaintiff was doubtlessly more deserving of the court's sympathy than MacDonald. True enough, the Supreme Court implied in Lawrence that a state could, consistently with the Constitution, criminalize sodomy between an adult and a minor. See Lawrence, 539 U.S. at 572 (documenting “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)); id. at 573 (pointing out that, in thirteen states where sodomy was yet proscribed, “there is a pattern of nonenforcement with respect to consenting adults acting in private” (emphasis added)); id. at 578 (“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.” (emphasis added)). The Court's ruminations concerning the circumstances under which a state might permissibly outlaw sodomy, however, no doubt contemplated deliberate action by the people's representatives, rather than by the judiciary.

Recently, we had occasion to consider a facial challenge to a much different statute, but the analysis in that case informs the issue presented here. See United States v. Moore, 666 F.3d 313 (4th Cir.2012). Moore, who had been convicted under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) for being a felon in possession of a firearm, asserted a facial challenge to § 922(g) under the Second Amendment and the Supreme Court's decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570, 128 S.Ct. 2783, 171 L.Ed.2d 637 (2008).15 We explained that, “[u]nder the well recognized standard for assessing a facial challenge to the constitutionality of a statute, the Supreme Court has long declared that a statute cannot be held unconstitutional if it has constitutional application.” Moore, 666 F.3d at 318 (citations omitted). Moore contended that the Supreme Court's decision in Heller, which struck down the District of Columbia's general prohibition on the possession of handguns, rendered § 922(g)'s firearm restriction violative of the Second Amendment. The Heller Court took care to observe however, that certain prohibitions on handgun possession, such as the possession of firearms by felons, are “presumptively lawful.” 554 U.S. at 627 & n. 26. Seizing upon that language, we readily rejected Moore's Second Amendment facial challenge to § 922(g).

The Lawrence Court, as in Heller, struck down a specific statute as unconstitutional while reserving judgment on more carefully crafted enactments yet to be challenged. The salient difference between § 922(g) and the anti-sodomy provision, however, is that § 922(g), in a relatively narrow fashion, regulates the possession of firearms by felons, while the anti-sodomy provision, like the statute in Lawrence, applies without limits. Thus, although the Virginia General Assembly might be entitled to enact a statute specifically outlawing sodomy between an adult and an older minor, it has not seen fit to do so.16 The anti-sodomy provision does not mention the word “minor,” nor does it remotely suggest that the regulation of sexual relations between adults and children had anything to do with its enactment. In these circumstances, a judicial reformation of the anti-sodomy provision to criminalize MacDonald's conduct in this case, and to do so in harmony with Lawrence, requires a drastic action that runs afoul of the Supreme Court's decision in Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, 546 U.S. 320, 126 S.Ct. 961, 163 L.Ed.2d 812 (2006).

In Ayotte, the Court recognized the important principle that, “[g]enerally speaking, when confronting a constitutional flaw in a statute, we try to limit the solution to the problem. We prefer, for example, to enjoin only the unconstitutional applications of a statute while leaving other applications in force, or to sever its problematic portions while leaving the remainder intact.” 546 U.S. at 328–29. The Court also acknowledged, however, the dangers of too much meddling:

[M]indful that our constitutional mandate and institutional competence are limited, we restrain ourselves from rewriting state law to conform it to constitutional requirements even as we strive to salvage it․ [M]aking distinctions in a murky constitutional context, or where line-drawing is inherently complex, may call for a far more serious invasion of the legislative domain then we ought to undertake․ All the while, we are wary of legislatures who would rely on our intervention, for it would certainly be dangerous if the legislature could set a net large enough to catch all possible offenders, and leave it to the courts to step inside to announce to whom the statute may be applied. This would, to some extent, substitute the judicial for the legislative department of the government.

Id. at 329–30 (citations, alterations, and internal quotation marks omitted); see also Reno v. Am. Civil Liberties Union, 521 U.S. 844, 884–85, 117 S.Ct. 2329, 138 L.Ed.2d 874 (1997) (explaining, in upholding facial constitutional challenge, that “[t]his Court ‘will not rewrite ․ law to conform it to constitutional requirements' “ (quoting Virginia v. Am. Booksellers Ass'n, Inc., 484 U.S. 383, 397, 108 S.Ct. 636, 98 L.Ed.2d 782 (1988))); United States v. Nat'l Treasury Emp. Union, 513 U.S. 454, 479, 115 S.Ct. 1003, 130 L.Ed.2d 964 (1995) (recognizing “[o]ur obligation to avoid judicial legislation”); Aptheker v. Sec'y of State, 378 U.S. 500, 515, 84 S.Ct. 1659, 12 L.Ed.2d 992 (1964) (warning against judicial rewriting of statute to “save it against constitutional attack”).

It is accurate for us to observe that facial constitutional challenges to state statutes are generally disfavored, see Wash. State Grange v. Wash. State Republican Party, 552 U.S. 442, 450–51, 128 S.Ct. 1184, 170 L.Ed.2d 151 (2008), and the general rule when a defect appears is “partial, rather than facial, invalidation,” see Ayotte, 546 U.S. at 329. We are confident, however, that we adhere to the Supreme Court's holding in Lawrence by concluding that the anti-sodomy provision, prohibiting sodomy between two persons without any qualification, is facially unconstitutional.17

A consequence of the Ayotte decision could be that a statute closely related to the anti-sodomy provision—for example, Virginia Code section 18.2–361(B), which criminalizes incestuous sodomy involving both minors and adults—might well survive review under Lawrence, as may that part of section 18.2–361(A) that outlaws bestiality. See supra note 2. The anti-sodomy provision itself, however, which served as the basis for MacDonald's criminal solicitation conviction, cannot be squared with Lawrence without the sort of judicial intervention that the Supreme Court condemned in Ayotte.

V.

Pursuant to the foregoing, we reverse the judgment of the district court and remand for an award of habeas corpus relief.

REVERSED AND REMANDED

In concluding that Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558, 123 S.Ct. 2472, 156 L.Ed.2d 508 (2003), invalidated sodomy laws only as applied to private consenting adults, the Virginia Court of Appeals did not reach a decision that “was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.” Harrington v. Richter, ––– U.S. ––––, –––– – ––––, 131 S.Ct. 770, 786–87, 178 L.Ed.2d 624 (2011). The majority ultimately may be proven right that the Virginia “anti-sodomy provision facially violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.” Maj. Op. at 4. But because the matter is not beyond doubt after Lawrence, and because the district court was bound to give Virginia courts the benefit of that doubt on federal collateral review, I respectfully dissent.1

I.

While we review a district court's denial of habeas relief de novo, Wolfe v. Johnson, 565 F.3d 140, 160 (4th Cir.2009), in adjudicating a federal petition for habeas relief from a state court conviction, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”) “limit[s] the federal courts' power to issue a writ to exceptional circumstances” where the state court decision on the merits “ ‘resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States.’ “ Richardson v. Branker, 668 F.3d 128, 138 (4th Cir.2012) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)). “If this standard is difficult to meet, that is because it was meant to be.” Harrington, 131 S.Ct. at 786.

The majority elides this burden altogether, passing upon the constitutionality of the Virginia anti-sodomy provision as if it were presented in the first instance. In doing so, my colleagues fail to account for the rigor of federal habeas review, which is not intended to be “a substitute for ordinary error correction through appeal.” Id. Because MacDonald's conviction does not rise to the level of an “extreme malfunction[ ] in the state criminal justice system[ ],” id. (quoting Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 332 n. 5, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979) (Stevens, J., concurring)), I would affirm the district court's judgment.

II.

A.

The majority grants MacDonald federal habeas relief on the basis that the Virginia anti-sodomy provision2 facially violates the Due Process Clause. The Virginia Court of Appeals, citing its own precedent, concluded that Lawrence did not facially invalidate all sodomy statutes,3 but rather only the application of such statutes to private, consensual sexual activity among adults. See MacDonald v. Commonwealth, No.1939–05–2, 2007 WL 43635, at *1 (Va.Ct.App. Jan.9, 2007) (citing McDonald v. Commonwealth, 48 Va.App. 325, 630 S.E.2d 754, 756–57 (Va.App.2006)). Accordingly, the Virginia Court of Appeals concluded that the Virginia anti-sodomy provision was constitutional as applied to MacDonald because his sexual conduct involved a minor. Id.

The majority appears to disagree with this “as-applied” interpretation of Lawrence on two unrelated grounds. First, Lawrence overruled Bowers v. Hardwick, 478 U.S. 186, 106 S.Ct. 2841, 92 L.Ed.2d 140 (1986), which dismissed a facial challenge to the constitutionality of a sodomy law. Because the Virginia anti-sodomy provision is indistinguishable from the statute in question in Bowers, the majority reasons that MacDonald's facial challenge must succeed just as—according to Lawrence—the facial challenge in Bowers should have. Second, the majority contends that allowing the Virginia anti-sodomy provision to apply to minors would entail rewriting the statute in a manner forbidden by Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of N. New Eng., 546 U.S. 320, 126 S.Ct. 961, 163 L.Ed.2d 812 (2006). I address each ground in turn.

B.

In Lawrence, Texas police officers responding to an alleged weapons disturbance entered a private residence where two men were engaged in a sexual act. Lawrence, 539 U.S. at 562–63. The state charged the men with violating a Texas sodomy statute criminalizing “any contact between any part of the genitals of one person and the mouth or anus of another person.” Id. at 563 (citing Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 21.01).

Overruling Bowers, Lawrence explained that decisions made in private by consenting adults “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.” Id. at 578 (quoting Bowers, 478 U.S. at 216 (Stevens, J., dissenting)). In the penultimate paragraph of the opinion, however, Lawrence prefaced its holding with the following qualification:

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.

Id.

The majority characterizes this segment of the opinion as “ruminations concerning the circumstances under which a state might permissibly outlaw sodomy” that “no doubt contemplated deliberate action by the people's representatives, rather than by the judiciary .” Maj. Op. at 19. I do not see how the majority can be so certain. If anything, the commentary on what “the present case does not involve” is characteristic of an as-applied ruling, particularly because the Court used the words “this case,” not “this statute,” to limit its holding. See Lawrence, 539 U.S. at 578.

This language arguably confines the scope of constitutional protection to private sexual intimacy between consenting adults. In fact, the Court repeatedly emphasized these distinctions throughout its historical and legal analysis of sodomy laws. See id. at 567–69, 571–73. In defending its view that sodomy laws were never applied to private sexual conduct among consenting adults, Lawrence recounted the historical enforcement of sodomy statutes:

Laws prohibiting sodomy do not seem to have been enforced against consenting adults acting in private. A substantial number of sodomy prosecutions ․ 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․ 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.

Id. at 569 (emphasis added). This historical discussion also evinces an as-applied ruling to private consenting adults, for it is only relevant inasmuch as it identifies the valid applications of sodomy laws outside this zone of constitutionally protected liberty.

In any event, in order for MacDonald to prevail on his federal habeas petition, it must be clear that Lawrence facially invalidated all sodomy statutes. See Harrington, 131 S.Ct. at 786–87. Nowhere in the opinion does the Court do that. The majority nevertheless infers the unconstitutionality of Virginia's anti-sodomy provision from the fact that Lawrence expressly overruled Bowers. Again, this is a bridge too far. If it is difficult to discern from the Lawrence opinion whether it invalidated all sodomy statutes, it is even more of a stretch to do so by negative inference from the case it overturned.

The majority also relies on Martin v. Ziherl, 269 Va. 35, 607 S.E.2d 367 (Va.2005), which invalidated the Virginia fornication statute as contrary to Lawrence. Despite the fact that Ziherl involved the private sexual conduct of adults, the majority sees “no valid reason why the logic of that ruling should not have applied with equal force to the ruling of the Court of Appeals of Virginia in MacDonald's case.” Maj. Op. at 18. However, Ziherl undercuts the majority's conclusion entirely, because in that case the Supreme Court of Virginia reached the same “as-applied” interpretation of Lawrence as the Virginia Court of Appeals did in this case, and invalidated the Virginia fornication statute only as applied to the conduct protected by Lawrence:

It is important to note that this case does not involve minors, non-consensual activity, prostitution, or public activity. The Lawrence court indicated that state regulation of that type of activity might support a different result. Our holding, like that of the Supreme Court in Lawrence, addresses only private, consensual conduct between adults and the respective statutes' impact on such conduct.

Ziherl, 607 S.E.2d at 371. Furthermore, Ziherl was a Virginia civil case on direct appeal—a far cry from federal collateral review of a state court conviction—and is not “clearly established” federal law. It has no place in the analysis, and to the extent it does, it undermines the majority's reasoning.

Given the opaque language of Lawrence, I do not share the majority's conviction concerning the facial unconstitutionality of Virginia's anti-sodomy provision. Reasonable jurists could disagree on whether Lawrence represented a facial or an as-applied invalidation of the Texas sodomy statute. In fact, they already have. Compare Massachusetts v. U.S. Dep't of Health & Human Servs. ., 682 F.3d 1, 8 n. 4 (1st Cir.2012) (characterizing Lawrence decision as facial invalidation of statute), and Sylvester v. Fogley, 465 F.3d 851, 857 (8th Cir.2006) (same), with D.L.S. v. Utah, 374 F.3d 971, 975 (10th Cir.2004) (explaining that Lawrence “invalidat[ed] Texas' sodomy statute as applied to consensual, private sex between adults”), and Muth v. Frank, 412 F.3d 808, 812 (7th Cir.2005) (characterizing Lawrence as holding that Texas sodomy statute “was unconstitutional insofar as it applied to the private conduct of two consenting adults”).

C.

The majority also misreads Ayotte, effectively turning the “normal rule” of “partial, rather than facial, invalidation” on its head. Ayotte, 546 U.S. at 329 (quoting Brockett v. Spokane Arcades, Inc., 472 U.S. 491, 504, 105 S.Ct. 2794, 86 L.Ed.2d 394 (1985)). The exception to an as-applied invalidation is just that—an exception to that “normal rule” which, as evidenced by the cases cited by the majority, applies almost exclusively to challenges to overbroad statutes on First Amendment free-speech grounds.

Furthermore, the majority overlooks that Ayotte actually declined to facially invalidate the New Hampshire statute at issue in that case because there was “some dispute as to whether New Hampshire's legislature intended the statute to be susceptible to such [an as-applied] remedy.” Ayotte, 546 U.S. at 331. Concluding “that the lower courts need not have invalidated the law wholesale,” the Court “recognize[d] the possibility of a modest remedy: an injunction prohibiting unconstitutional applications.” Id. at 331–32.

Even if Ayotte were instructive, therefore, it simply invites the next question: “Would the [Virginia] legislature have preferred what is left of its statute to no statute at all?” Id. at 330. The majority wrongly assumes, without the proof required by Ayotte, that the Virginia General Assembly did not intend for its anti-sodomy provision to apply to the conduct that Lawrence arguably exempted from constitutional protection, despite the fact that Lawrence itself acknowledged that “one purpose for the [sodomy laws]” could be to cover “predatory acts against those who could not or did not consent, as in the case of a minor or the victim of an assault.” Lawrence, 539 U.S. at 569.4

In order for the Virginia anti-sodomy provision to escape facial invalidity, it need not criminalize only conduct that falls outside constitutional protection. See United States v. Salerno, 481 U.S. 739, 745, 107 S.Ct. 2095, 95 L.Ed.2d 697 (1987) (“The fact that the [statute] 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.”). Indeed, to suggest that a state must excise the constitutional defects of a statute by legislative revision before enforcing those portions that pass constitutional muster would turn every as-applied ruling into a facial invalidation.

III.

If a federal court is to grant a writ of habeas corpus to a state prisoner incarcerated under Virginia law, it needs to be more than “confident” that the underlying criminal conviction violates the Constitution. The foundation for the issuance of the writ requires a certainty, not just a likelihood, that a state court ruling “reached a decision contrary to clearly established federal law.” See Harrington, 131 S.Ct. at 786–87. Unlike the majority, the district court here remained faithful to that distinction in declining to issue the writ.

I respectfully dissent.

KING, Circuit Judge:

Reversed and remanded by published opinion. Judge KING wrote the majority opinion, in which Judge MOTZ joined. Judge DIAZ wrote a dissenting opinion.

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