Griswold v. Connecticut
381 U.S. 479 (1965)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965)

Griswold v. Connecticut

No. 496

Argued March 29-30, 1965

Decided June 7, 1965

381 U.S. 479

Syllabus

Appellants, the Executive Director of the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut, and its medical director, a licensed physician, were convicted as accessories for giving married persons information and medical advice on how to prevent conception and, following examination, prescribing a contraceptive device or material for the wife's use. A Connecticut statute makes it a crime for any person to use any drug or article to prevent conception. Appellants claimed that the accessory statute, as applied, violated the Fourteenth Amendment. An intermediate appellate court and the State's highest court affirmed the judgment.

Held:

1. Appellants have standing to assert the constitutional rights of the married people. Tileston v. Ullman, 318 U. S. 44, distinguished. P. 381 U. S. 481.

2. The Connecticut statute forbidding use of contraceptives violates the right of marital privacy which is within the penumbra of specific guarantees of the Bill of Rights. Pp. 381 U. S. 481-486.

151 Conn. 544, 200 A.2d 479, reversed.

Page 381 U. S. 480

Primary Holding
A right to privacy can be inferred from several amendments in the Bill of Rights, and this right prevents states from making the use of contraception by married couples illegal.
Facts
In 1879, Connecticut passed a law that banned the use of any drug, medical device, or other instrument in furthering contraception. Although the law was rarely enforced, courts had resisted challenges to bans on contraception, most notably in the Supreme Court's 1961 decision in Poe v. Ullman.

A gynecologist at the Yale School of Medicine, C. Lee Buxton, opened a birth control clinic in New Haven in conjunction with Estelle Griswold, who was the head of Planned Parenthood in Connecticut. They were arrested and convicted of violating the law, and their convictions were affirmed by higher state courts. However, this was part of their plan to use the clinic to challenge the constitutionality of the statute under the Fourteenth Amendment, on which grounds they appealed to the the Supreme Court.

Procedural History

Connecticut Supreme Court - 200 A.2d 479 (Conn. 1964)

Affirmed. The trial court properly ruled that the defendants violated the Connecticut law against providing assistance to women seeking contraception.

Opinions

Majority

  • William Orville Douglas (Author)
  • Earl Warren
  • Tom C. Clark
  • William Joseph Brennan, Jr.
  • Arthur Joseph Goldberg

Since the right to privacy is not mentioned in the Constitution, Douglas needed to find another basis for it. He argued somewhat vaguely that the "penumbras" surrounding many of the constitutional amendments, like the Fifth Amendment's protection against self-incrimination, suggested that the right to privacy from the state can be inferred as something that the Constitution is intended to protect.

Concurrence

  • Arthur Joseph Goldberg (Author)
  • Earl Warren
  • William Joseph Brennan, Jr.

Rather than finding that the right to privacy was contained in imaginary penumbras, Goldberg located it in the Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments.

Concurrence

  • John Marshall Harlan II (Author)

Harlan found that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protects the right to privacy.

Concurrence

  • Byron Raymond White (Author)

This opinion agreed with Goldberg and especially Harlan that the Fourteenth Amendment was the proper basis for the decision.

Dissent

  • Hugo Lafayette Black (Author)
  • Potter Stewart

Unpersuaded by the loose reasoning of the majority, Black felt that there was no way to infer that the Constitution contained a right to privacy. He also dismissed the views of the concurrences that it could be found in the Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments.

Dissent

  • Potter Stewart (Author)
  • Hugo Lafayette Black

Despite his personal view that the law was "uncommonly silly," Stewart felt that the Court had no choice but to find it constitutional.

Case Commentary

The fact that this law applied to married couples probably made the case particularly sympathetic to the Court. The decision seemed to contort its logic to reach the desired result, creating a murky notion of "penumbras" from which one can infer the right of privacy as implicit among the freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. Griswold would lay the foundation for a series of other cases on individual freedoms related to sex, marriage, and family, and it would leave an impact on landmark decisions such as Roe v. Wade and Lawrence v. Texas.

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