We’re in Louis’s apartment. Louis opens the door and lets Joe inside. Louis, who seems cold and distant, is surrounded by a stack of papers. He asks Joe, “Have you no sense of decency?”
Louis’s quote, from Joseph Welch, an opponent of Joseph McCarthy’s, suggests that Joe has abandoned his fundamental human decency in working with Cohn.
Louis explodes that he’s been researching Joe’s court decisions during the Reagan years. Louis finds these decisions barbaric. They’ve been used to favor big business, to prevent sick people from suing the corporations that made them sick, to ban gay people from the military and other organizations, and more. In one decision, Joe argued that homosexuals have no constitutional protection under the law—something Louis calls “legal fag-bashing.” Joe protests that he’s just following the law, not practicing morality.
This is one of the most revealing interactions between Louis and Joe. Joe proves that he’s a conservative through and through—he doesn’t see himself as acting out of hatred against homosexuals; instead, he honestly thinks that he made the right legal ruling. This ties in with Martin Heller’s remarks about packing the courts with conservative justices—because of the strong influence of conservatism on politics and the legal system, the country as a whole becomes more homophobic.
Louis tells Joe that his “Have you no sense of decency?” quote comes from Joseph N. Welch, the lawyer who defeated Joseph McCarthy in court. Louis then attacks Joe for being friends with Roy Cohn, and asks him if he had sex with Cohn. Joe, furious, punches Louis, and when Louis continues to yell at him, punches him again and again.
Louis already knew that Joe was conservative, and didn’t seem to mind too much, but the knowledge of Joe’s closeness with Cohn feels like a huge betrayal to Louis—not just because of Cohn’s despicable politics, but also because Louis suspects that Joe was his lover.
Joe stands over Louis, horrified with what he’s just done. He asks Louis if he’s all right. Louis mutters that he can’t see, due to the blood on his face. When Joe offers to find Louis a towel, Louis tells him to leave immediately—Louis deserves to bleed anyway.
Louis is now enduring pain, just as Prior told him to do. It’s as if he’s getting closer to his beloved Prior in finally suffering for his principles.