Griswold v. Connecticut

Griswold v. Connecticut

Argued March 29, 1965
Decided June 7, 1965
Full case name Estelle T. Griswold and C. Lee Buxton v. Connecticut

381 U.S. 479 (more)

85 S. Ct. 1678; 14 L. Ed. 2d 510; 1965 U.S. LEXIS 2282
Prior history Defendants convicted, Circuit Court for the Sixth Circuit, 1-2-62; affirmed, Circuit Court, Appellate Division, 1-7-63; affirmed, 200 A.2d 479 (Conn. 1964)
Subsequent history None
A Connecticut law criminalizing the use of contraceptives violated the right to marital privacy. Connecticut Supreme Court reversed.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Douglas, joined by Warren, Clark, Brennan, Goldberg
Concurrence Goldberg, joined by Warren, Brennan
Concurrence Harlan
Concurrence White
Dissent Black, joined by Stewart
Dissent Stewart, joined by Black
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amends. I, III, IV, V, IX, XIV; Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 53-32, 54–196 (rev. 1958)

Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965),[1] is a landmark case in the United States in which the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the Constitution protected a right to privacy. The case involved a Connecticut "Comstock law" that prohibited any person from using "any drug, medicinal article or instrument for the purpose of preventing conception." By a vote of 7–2, the Supreme Court invalidated the law on the grounds that it violated the "right to marital privacy", establishing the basis for the right to privacy with respect to intimate practices. This and other cases view the right to privacy as a right to "protect[ion] from governmental intrusion."

Although the Bill of Rights does not explicitly mention "privacy", Justice William O. Douglas wrote for the majority that the right was to be found in the "penumbras" and "emanations" of other constitutional protections, such as the self-incrimination clause of the Fifth Amendment. Justice Arthur Goldberg wrote a concurring opinion in which he used the Ninth Amendment in support of the Supreme Court's ruling. Justice Arthur Goldberg and Justice John Marshall Harlan II wrote concurring opinions in which they argued that privacy is protected by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Justice Byron White also wrote a concurrence based on the due process clause.


Estelle Griswold standing outside the Planned Parenthood clinic in April, 1963, which was closed pending a decision of the U.S. Supreme Court regarding a Connecticut state law forbidding the sale or use of contraceptives.[2]

Griswold v. Connecticut originated as a prosecution under the Connecticut Comstock Act of 1879. The law made it illegal to use of "any drug, medicinal article, or instrument for the purpose of preventing conception(...)” and subject to be “(...) fined not less than fifty dollars or imprisoned not less than sixty days nor more than one year or be both fined and imprisoned."[1] By the 1950s, Massachusetts and Connecticut were the only two states that still had such statutes, although they were almost never enforced.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, physicians in the United States largely avoided the publication of any material related to birth control, even when they often recommended or at least gave advice regarding it to their married patients. Then in 1914, Margaret Sanger openly challenged the public consensus against contraception.[3] She influenced the Connecticut Birth Control League (CBCL), and helped to develop the eventual concept of the Planned Parenthood clinics.

The first Planned Parenthood clinic in Connecticut opened in 1935 in Hartford. It provided services to women who had no access to a gynecologist, including information about artificial contraception and other methods to plan the growth of their families. Several clinics were opened in Connecticut over the following years, including the Waterbury clinic that led to the legal dispute. In 1939, this clinic was compelled to enforce the 1879 anti-contraception law on poor women patients. This caught the attention of the CBCL leaders, who remarked on the importance of birth control for cases in which the lives of the patients depended upon it.[4]

During the 1940s, several cases arose from the provision of contraception by the Waterbury clinic, leading to legal challenges to the constitutionality of the Comstock law, but these failed on technical grounds. In Tileston v. Ullman (1943), a doctor and mother challenged the law on the grounds that a ban on contraception could, in certain sexual situations, threaten the lives and well-being of patients. The U.S. Supreme Court dismissed the appeal on the grounds that the plaintiff lacked standing to sue on behalf of his patients. Yale School of Medicine gynecologist C. Lee Buxton and his patients brought a second challenge to the law in Poe v. Ullman (1961). The Supreme Court again dismissed the appeal, on the grounds that the case was not ripe: the plaintiffs had not been charged or threatened with prosecution, so there was no actual controversy for the Court to resolve.

The polemic around Poe led to the appeal in Griswold v. Connecticut, primarily based on the dissent of Justice John Marshall Harlan II in Poe, one of the most cited dissents in Supreme Court history.

"(T)he full scope of the liberty guaranteed by the Due Process Clause cannot be found in or limited by the precise terms of the specific guarantees elsewhere provided in the Constitution. This 'liberty' is not a series of isolated points pricked out in terms of the taking of property; the freedom of speech, press, and religion; the right to keep and bear arms; the freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures; and so on. It is a rational continuum which, broadly speaking, includes a freedom from all substantial arbitrary impositions and purposeless restraints." – Justice John Marshall Harlan II, dissent in Poe v. Ullman.[5]

He argued, foremost, that the Supreme Court should have heard the case rather than dismissing it. Thereafter, he indicated his support for a broad interpretation of the due process clause. On the basis of this interpretation, Harlan concluded that the Connecticut statute violated the Constitution.

After Poe was handed down on June 1961, the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut (PPLC) decided to challenge the law again. PPLC Executive Director Estelle Griswold[6] and Dr. Buxton (PPLC medical volunteer),[7] opened a birth control clinic in New Haven, Connecticut.[2] The clinic opened in November 1, 1961, and that same day received its first ten patients and dozens of appointment requests from married women who wanted birth control advice and prescriptions. Griswold and Buxton were arrested, tried, found guilty, and fined $100 each.[8] The conviction was upheld by the Appellate Division of the Circuit Court, and by the Connecticut Supreme Court.[9]

Court's decision on relationship with the right to privacy

See also: Penumbra (law)

Griswold appealed her conviction to the United States Supreme Court, arguing that the Connecticut statute was in breach of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which states, "no state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law ... nor deny any person the equal protection of the laws," (Amendment 14 Section 1).[10] By a 7–2 majority, the Supreme Court concluded that the Connecticut statute was unconstitutional.

Justice William O. Douglas recognized that for the majority, the right to privacy, even when not explicitly included in the Bill of Rights, was to be found in the "penumbras" and "emanations" of other constitutional protections, such as the self-incrimination clause of the Fifth Amendment. The right to privacy is seen as a right to "protect[ion] from governmental intrusion." Justice Arthur Goldberg wrote a concurring opinion in which he used the Ninth Amendment in support of the Supreme Court's ruling. Justice Arthur Goldberg and Justice John Marshall Harlan II wrote concurring opinions in which they argued that privacy is protected by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Justice Byron White also wrote a concurring opinion based on the due process clause.

Justices Hugo Black and Potter Stewart filed dissenting opinions. Justice Black argued that the right to privacy is nowhere to be found in the Constitution. Furthermore, he criticized the interpretations of the Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments of his fellow justices. Justice Stewart called the Connecticut statute "an uncommonly silly law" but argued that it was nevertheless constitutional.

The final decision of the court was later used in other cases related to sexual practices and other personal, often considered private, decisions for the American citizens.


Later decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court extended the principles of Griswold beyond its particular facts.

Right to birth control for unmarried couples, 1972

Eisenstadt v. Baird (1972) extended its holding to unmarried couples, whereas the "right of privacy" in Griswold was said to only apply to marital relationships.[11] The argument in Eisenstadt was that it was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to deny unmarried couples the right to use contraception when married couples did have that right (under Griswold).[12] Writing for the majority, Justice Brennan wrote that Massachusetts could not enforce the law against married couples because of Griswold v. Connecticut, so the law worked "irrational discrimination" if not extended to unmarried couples as well.

Right to abortion for any woman, 1973

The reasoning and language of both Griswold and Eisenstadt were cited in the concurring opinion by Associate Justice Potter Stewart in support of Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973).[13] The decision in Roe struck down a Texas law that criminalized aiding a woman in getting an abortion.[14] The Court ruled that this law was a violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The law was struck down, legalizing abortion for any woman for any reason, up through the first trimester, with possible restrictions for maternal health in the second (the midpoint of which is the approximate time of fetal viability), and possibly illegal in the third with exception for the mother's health, which the court defined broadly in Doe v. Bolton.

Right to homosexual contact, 2003

Lawrence v. Texas (2003) struck down a Texas state law that prohibited certain forms of intimate sexual contact between members of the same sex. Without stating a standard of review in the majority opinion, the court overruled Bowers v. Hardwick (1986), declaring that the "Texas statute furthers no legitimate state interest which can justify its intrusion into the personal and private life of the individual." Justice O'Connor, who wrote a concurring opinion, framed it as an issue of rational basis review. Justice Kennedy's majority opinion, based on the liberty interest protected in the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, stated that the Texas anti-sodomy statute touched "upon the most private human conduct, sexual behavior, and in the most private of places, the home," and attempted to "control a personal relationship that ... is within the liberty of persons to choose without being punished." Thus, the Court held that adults are entitled to participate in private, consensual sexual conduct. While the opinion in Lawrence was framed in terms of the right to liberty, Kennedy described the "right to privacy" found in Griswold as the "most pertinent beginning point" in the evolution of the concepts embodied in Lawrence.[15] Griswold was also cited in a chain of cases that led the Supreme Court to legalize same sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges.

See also


  1. 1 2 Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965).
  2. 1 2 Garrow, David J. (Spring 2011). "Human Rights Hero. The Legacy of Griswold V. Connecticut." (PDF). Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities.
  3. Johnson, John W. (2005). Griswold V. Connecticut. University of Kansas. pp. 8–10. ISBN 0-7006-1378-1.
  4. Johnson, John W. (2005). Griswold V. Connecticut. University of Kansas. pp. Chapter 2. ISBN 0-7006-1378-1.
  5. Johnson, John W. (2005). Griswold V. Connecticut. University Press of Kansas. pp. Chapter 5. ISBN 0-7006-1378-1.
  6. "Estelle Griswold". Connecticut Women's Hall of Fame.
  7. "1965 Griswold v. Connecticut Contraception as a right of privacy? The Supreme Court says, 'Yes!'". Action Speaks Radio. 2012.
  8. Alex McBride (December 2006). "EXPANDING CIVIL RIGHTS Landmark Cases Griswold v. Connecticut (1965)". PBS.
  9. Laura Carroll (July 2012). The Baby Matrix. LiveTrue Books. ISBN 0-615-64299-3.
  10. "Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution -- Ratified 1868". 2007.
  11. Frances Kissling, Jonathan D. Moreno; The Nation (March 22, 2012). "The Nation: Still Fighting 'Eisenstadt v. Baird'".
  12. Sheraden Seward Keywords. "Griswold v. Connecticut (1965)". Arizona State University.
  13. Cornell University Law School. "Roe v. Wade (No. 70-18) 314 F.Supp. 1217, affirmed in part and reversed in part. STEWART, J., Concurring Opinion SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES".
  14. University of Missouri-Kansas City (January 22, 1973). "ROE v. WADE 410 U.S. 113 (1973)".
  15. Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003).

Further reading

External links

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