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Griswold V. Connecticut Essay, Research Paper

On June 7th 1965, married couples in the State of Connecticut received the right to acquire and benefit from contraceptive devises. In a majority decision by the United States Supreme Court, seven out of the nine judges believed that sections 53-32 and 54-196 of the General Statues of Connecticut, violated the right of privacy guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. The case set precedence by establishing marital (and later constitutional) privacy, and had notable influence on three later controversial ruling=s in Roe v. Wade (1973), Bowers v. Hardwick (1986) and Planned Parenthood of S.E. Pennsylvania v. Casey (1992). The issue at hand was, and is still, one that still causes debate, wether a state has the authority to restrict the use and sale of contraceptives. Though it is not contraceptives, anymore, that is at the heart of the abortion debate, this ruling was the first step to the expectation of constitutional privacy.

Although marital privacy (and later personal privacy when Eisenstadt v. Baird, 1972, extended the rights to unmarried persons ), was at the heart of this ruling, there are many other compelling arguments in ruling this law unconstitutional. To examine these other points, including; freedom of speech/ press, right of association, privacy of the person, due process of law and the violation in restricting education, we must first have an basic understanding of the case itself.

The case rests on the violation of Griswold (the executive director of the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut and Buxton (the Medical director for the Center) of the Connecticut Statute that states:

(53-32) Any person who uses any drug, medical article or instrument for the purpose of preventing conception shall 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. (54-196) Any person who assists, abets, counsels, causes, hires or commands another to commit any offense may be prosecuted and punished as if were the principal offender.

Griswold and Buxton opened the clinic in 1961, in New Haven Connecticut, and were shut down ten days later and fined one-hundred dollars each. They appealed their convictions, stating that the law violated the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Essentially, the clinic operated as a medical advice center, where married persons could get counciling, advice, and instruction on contraception devises. For their advice they charged patients according to their ability to pay.

There was, however, a question to wether Griswold could assert the rights of married couples. But the Supreme Court ruled that she did because under the terms of the statute she could be convicted for offering her services to them and because her relationship with the married couples was a professional one. ACertainly the accessory should have standing to assert that the offense which he is charged with assisting is not, or cannot constitutionally be a crime.@

This was significant because there had been two earlier challanges to the law, but the Court refused to hear them on grounds that it was not clear if they could be prosecuted (1943, 1961).

Nevertheless, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Griswold, and her claim that the state contraceptive law was unconstitutional. However, even those justices that agreed with her argument were not unanimous in their reasons for doing so.

Justice Douglas in the opinion of the court:

Would we allow the police to search the sacred precincts of marital bedrooms for telltale signs of the use of contraceptives? The very idea is repulsive to the notions surrounding the marriage relationship…We deal with a right of privacy older than the Bill of Rights-…Marriage is a coming together for better or for worse, hopefully enduring, and intimate to the degree of being sacred. It is an association that promotes a way of life… Yet it is an association for as noble a purpose as any involved in our prior decisions.

In this context the Court agreed that the law was infringing on the privacy of the marriage. They stated Pierce v. Society of Sisters and Meyer v. State of Nebraska, to defend the judgement.

In Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925), the Court upheld that it was up to parental discretion in what school their child should study; and in Meyer v. State of Nebraska (1923), the right to study a foreign language in school was upheld. In both cases the Court struck down the state laws on the grounds that they violated the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In short, the Court felt in both cases there was a depravation of a persons property, without due process of law. A…the Due Process Clause protects those liberties that are *so rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people as to be ranked as fundamental.@

In Meyer, the Court stated that the right to marry, have a home and bring up children was a part of the Fourteenth Amendment; Athe right of the individual to contract, to engage in any of the common occupations of life, to acquire useful knowledge, to marry, establish a home and bring up children, …to enjoy those privileges long recognized at common law as essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.@ This is the center of the debate in the Griswold case; the defendants were establishing their right to educate married persons, and the married persons were utilizing their right of privacy, in establishing a family, in choosing to use contraceptive devises.

In the both cases: Athe Meyer and Pierce decisions *have respected the private realm of family life which the state cannot enter.@

Another argument that relates to Griswold in the Pierce and Meyer cases, is the precedent that the restriction of education is unconstitutional. If, as in Meyer and Pierce, people have the right to educate and distribute information, Griswold cannot be punished for the education and distribution of information on contraceptives. In addition, the freedom of speech should prevail in this case, as in the precedent West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnett: Aincludes the right to express one=s attitudes or philosophies by members in a group or by affiliation with it by other lawful means.@

Before we begin to look at the dissenting view of the Court, let=s analyze a few other precedents the Court took into account. In, NAACP v. Alabama, NAACP v. Button, and Schare v. Board of Bar Examiners, the court recognized Aprivacy in one=s association@. The Court interpreted this ruling, and established marriage, as already stated by Justice Douglas, an association. In addition, the court argues that: (in NAACP v. Alabama) Awe protected the *freedom to associate and privacy in one=s association=, noting that freedom of association was a peripheral First Amendment right.@ Therefore, as marriage being an association, it must have a certain facet of privacy.

In dissent of these judgements, were justices Black and Steward. They dissent on the belief that there is no specified Aright of privacy@ in the constitution, but a protection of privacy. In addition, they argue that the other justices are taking the due process clause out of context. AI do not believe that we are granted power by the Due Process Clause or any other constitutional provision or provisions to measure constitutionality by our belief that legislation is arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable, or accomplishes no justifiable purpose, or is offensive to our own notions of *civilized standards of conduct=@. In spite of these argument, however, it is stated the belief that Athe law is every bit as offensive to me as it is to my Brethren…@

The relationship between the Court precedents and Griswold are, therefore, sovereignty over the citizens personal decisions. Wether it be the right to educate a child how one wishes (Pierce v. Society of Sisters), the right to study a foreign language (Meyer v. Nebraska), salute a flag (West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnett), or the right of privacy in an association (NAACP v. Alabama), the Supreme Court had previously decided that these personal decisions were embodied in the Constitution under the Fourteenth Amendment.

It should be noted at this point that Eisenstadt v. Baird, decided in 1972, extended the Griswold ruling by striking down state laws that prohibited unmarried persons the access to contraceptive devises. This was somewhat controversial for many believed that if the defendants in Griswold were not married couples, the issue of marital privacy could not have

been looked at, and the ruling would presumably be challenged.

The social and political ramifications of both Griswold and, seven years later, of Eisenstadt, are obvious in the social and political climate of today=s United States. Today there is still an endless debate over the implications that both cases concluded. The cases that followed, including one of the U.S. Supreme Courts most controversial rulings Roe v. Wade, created a timeless debate over the citizens private choice of contraception. AThe overlap between the right to choice and the right to privacy is a recurrent theme, particularly in abortion cases and, on closer inspection, in every other area of reproductive rights and in allied privacy rights as well.@

Since this ruling, the Supreme Court has used judicial review (or the Due Process Clause) to strike down many state laws they found unconstitutional. The Griswold case, in fact, has set a precedence for numerous controversial cases involving privacy issues. Roe v. Wade (1973) is probably the most controversial of these cases. The decision, which was handed down on January 23, 1973, deemed the Texas and Georgia abortion laws unconstitutional. The Texas case, Roe v. Wade, concerned a statute which restricted legal abortions to those deemed necessary to save the woman=s life. The Georgia case, Doe v. Bolton, dealt with a state law permitting abortions only when required by the woman=s health, or to prevent birth of a deformed child, or when pregnancy resulted from rape. The Court=s ruling to make these laws invalid, implies that similarly restrictive laws in most other states were also unconstitutional.

In spite of the decision in Griswold, Eisenstadt, Roe and Doe, the Supreme Court has seemed to become more conservative in upholding the right of privacy recent times. In Bower v. Hardwick (1986), the Court maintained a Georgia law that constituted sodomy illegal: Ain constitutional terms there is no such thing as a fundamental right to commit homosexual sodomy.@ In the case, Justice White delivered the opinion of the Court, and stated that the previous precedents did not apply because there was ANo connection between family, marriage, or procreation on the one hand and homosexual activities on the other has been demonstrated…@ Evidently the arguments, or fears, of Justice Douglas in Griswold, that;

AWould we allow the police to search the sacred precincts of marital bedrooms for telltale signs of the use of contraceptives? The very idea is repulsive to the notions of privacy surrounding the marriage relationship.@

Though the relationship may be of a same sex partner, and the marriage of these couples is not highly accepted, this law not only outlawed sodomy for same sex partners, but for married couples as well. In twenty-one years, the Court, in essence contrasted their privacy ruling in Griswold.

In the Supreme Court=s most recent decision, Planned Parenthood of S.E. Pennsylvania v. Casey (1992), the Court again took a right-winged position. By a five-four majority, the Court limited the rights of citizens it dictated in both Griswold and Roe: A(the Court) upheld Roe but narrowed its scope, refusing to invalidate a Pennsylvania law that significantly restricts freedom of choice.@

The decisions in both Bower v. Hardwick and Planned Parenthood show a reform in the Court=s application of judicial review. It also demonstrates the complex issue which is abortion, and the right to privacy, in the United States. Since the decision in Griswold, the citizens in the U.S. have bickered over the end result. Both pro-life and pro-choice activist have argued their cases before the media, courts, and to the public. It seems the Court has shifted towards regulated abortions to satisfy the public=s demands. Maybe the choice should be offered to the public, to end the debate through majority rule. However, it is in the Griswold and Eisenstadt cases that a ruling was made, that citizens have a right to choose their own fate to protect their individual privacies.

ACertainly the interests of a woman in giving of her physical and emotional self during pregnancy and the interests that will be affected throughout her life by the birth and raising of a child are of far greater degree of significance and personal intimacy than the right to send a child to private school protected in Pierce v. Society of Sisters…or the right to teach a foreign language protected in Meyer v. Nebraska.@ – Abele v. Markle


Abele v. Markle. 452 F.2d 1121 (2d Cir. 1971), 351 F. Supp. 224 (D. Conn. 1972)

Abortion Laws: A Survey of Current World Legislation. World Health Organization, Geneva, 1971.

Bowers v. Hardwick (1986), in Philosophy of Law: Fifth Edition.

DeMarco, Donald. Abortion in Perspective: The Rose Palace or the Fiery Dragon?.. Hiltz & Hales Publishing Co., Cincinnati: 1974.

Dworkin, Ronald. Life=s Dominion: An argument about Abortion, Euthanasia, and Individual Freedom. Vintage Books, New York: 1994.

Feinburg, Joel, Hyman Gross. Philosophy of Law: Fifth Edition. Wadsworth Publishing Company, Toronto: 1995.

Griswold v. Connecticut. 85 Sct. 1678, 381 U.S. 479, 14 L.Ed. 2d 510. (1965).

Lowi, Theodore, Benjamin Ginsburg. American Government: Freedom and Power. W.W. Norton & Company, New York: 1998.

Meyer v. State of Nebraska. 262 U.S. 390, 399, 43 Sct. 625, 626, 67 L.Ed. 1042. (1923)

Milbauer, Barbara. The Law Giveth: Legal Aspects of the Abortion Controversy. Atheneum, New York: 1983.

NAACP v. Alabama. 377U.S. 288, 307, 84 S.Ct. 1302, 1314, 12 L.Ed. 2d 325. (1958).

Noonan, John T, Jr. A Private Choice: Abortion in America in the Seventies. Collier Macmillan Publishers, London: 1979.

Pierce v. Society of Sisters. 268 U.S. 510, 45 S.Ct. 571, 69 L.Ed. 1070. (1925)

Roe v. Wade in, Philosophy of Law: Fifth Edition.

West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnett. 319 U.S. 624 (1943).

Constitutional Case

Griswold v. State of Connecticut

85 S.Ct. 1678


Presented to: Dr. McKercher

American Government & Politics

Political Science 244E – 570

November 11th, 1999



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