Poe v. Ullman
367 U.S. 497 (1961)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Poe v. Ullman, 367 U.S. 497 (1961)

Poe v. Ullman

No. 60 Argued March 1-2, 1961

Decided June 19, 1961*

367 U.S. 497

Syllabus

These are appeals from a decision of the Supreme Court of Errors of Connecticut affirming dismissals of complaints in three cases in which the plaintiffs sued for declaratory judgments that certain Connecticut statutes which prohibit the use of contraceptive devices and the giving of medical advice on their use violate the Fourteenth Amendment by depriving the plaintiffs of life and property without due process of law. The complaints alleged that two plaintiffs who were married women needed medical advice on the use of such devices for the protection of their health, but that a physician, who was the plaintiff in the third case, was deterred from giving such advice because the State's Attorney intended to prosecute offenses against the State's laws and he claimed that the giving of such advice and the use of such devices were forbidden by state statutes. However, it appeared that the statutes in question had been enacted in 1879, and that no one ever had been prosecuted thereunder except two doctors and a nurse, who were charged with operating a birth control clinic, and that the information against them had been dismissed after the State Supreme Court had sustained the legislation in 1940 on an appeal from a demurrer to the information.

Held: The appeals are dismissed, because the records in these cases do not present controversies justifying the adjudication of a constitutional issue. Pp. 367 U. S. 498-509.

147 Conn. 48,156 A. 2d 508, appeal dismissed.

Page 367 U. S. 498

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Primary Holding

The ripeness doctrine prevents bringing claims to challenge criminal statutes that are not enforced.

Facts

Paul and Pauline Poe, a married couple, decided to use contraceptives to prevent a fourth pregnancy after their first three children had died in infancy. Another woman, Jane Doe, sought to obtain access to contraceptives in order to forestall a second pregnancy that could be life-threatening. Since the late 1800s, Connecticut had prohibited the distribution and use of medical advice on contraceptives, although these laws were not regularly forced.. The Poes and Doe argued that the laws violated the Fourteenth Amendment.

Opinions

Plurality

  • Felix Frankfurter (Author)
  • Earl Warren
  • Tom C. Clark
  • Charles Evans Whittaker

Only once since 1940 had the laws giving rise to this claim been enforced. The plaintiffs in this case have not been charged or threatened with being charged with a violation. Since there is no immediate injury, there is no standing to confer jurisdiction.

Dissent

  • William Orville Douglas (Author)

The plaintiffs should not be forced to break the law to get this vital information, even though the statutes are not regularly enforced. Courts should not require an actual arrest or prosecution before they review the constitutional rights at issue.

Dissent

  • John Marshall Harlan II (Author)

Dissent

  • Potter Stewart (Author)

Dissent

  • Hugo Lafayette Black (Author)

Concurrence

  • William Joseph Brennan, Jr. (Author)

Case Commentary

A criminal law will not be ready for judicial review until it has been enforced, but the Court refused to delineate a broader standard to measure ripeness across more contexts.

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