Griswold v. Connecticut

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Griswold v. Connecticut
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued March 29, 1965
Decided June 7, 1965
Full case name Estelle T. Griswold and C. Lee Buxton v. Connecticut
Citations 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 which the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the Constitution protected a right to privacy. The case involved a Connecticut statute that prohibits any person from using "any drug, medicinal article or instrument for the purpose of preventing conception." Although the law was barely ever practiced since the Waterbury clinic case in Connecticut, the sole existence of the law in the legal books of the state presented a barrier in the access to information regarding contraceptives. Impulsed by Estelle Griswold, along with Dr. C Lee Buxton, on 1965 by a vote of 7–2, the Supreme Court invalidated the Comstock law on the grounds that it violated the "right to marital privacy", establishing the basis for the right to privacy in intimate practices.


Griswold vs. Connecticut originated as a response to the Comstock Act established in Connecticut in 1879. The law inculpated the use of "any drug, medicinal article, or instrument for the purpose of preventing conception(…)” and subjected the prosecutor 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."[2] Although the statute was almost never enforced, Massachusetts and Connecticut were the only two states in the union that still had these type of statues in their legal documents at the beginning of 1950s.

Estelle Griswold standing outside of the Planned Parenthood center on April, 1963, which was closed pending decision of the U.S. Supreme Court regarding Connecticut state law forbidding sale or use of contraceptives.[3]

During the late nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century period in the nation physicians 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. It was not until Margaret Higgins Sanger that the public opinion regarding contraception was challenged.[4] 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 was open in 1935 in Hartford and it provided services to women that had no access to a gynecologist information about contraception and other methods to plan the growth of their families. Several clinics were open along Connecticut for the next years, including the Waterbury clinic that led to the legal dispute. In 1939, this clinic was demanded to enforce the 1879 anti-contraception law towards poor women in the area . This brought the attention of the CBCL leaders that remarked the importance of birth control among those particular cases in which the lives of the patients depended upon it, not being successful until 1965, sixteen years later from the first judicial restriction.[5]

Cases were raised during the 1940s regarding the use and spread of contraception in Waterbury clinic, and several attempts were pushed to test the constitutionality of the law; however, the challenges failed on technical grounds. In Tileston v. Ullman (1943), a doctor and mother challenged the statute on the grounds that a ban on contraception could, in certain sexual situations, threaten the lives and well-being of patients. The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal on the grounds that the plaintiff lacked standing to sue on behalf of his patients. A second challenge to the Connecticut law was brought by Yale School of Medicine gynecologist C. Lee Buxton as well as his patients in Poe v. Ullman(1961). Regardless of Dr. Buxton efforts, the Supreme Court again voted to dismiss the appeal, on the grounds that the case was not ripe. It held that, because the plaintiffs had not been charged or threatened with prosecution, there was no actual controversy for the judiciary to resolve. Thus, the Connecticut statute had evaded judicial review until ''Griswold v. Connecticut''.

Polemic around Poe was what led to the appealing of Griswold V. Connecticut, primarily based on Justice John Marshall Harlan II opinion regarding the case, one of the most cited dissenting views 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."[6] - Justice John Marshal Harlan II, about Poe v. Ullman

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.

Shortly after the Poe decision was handed down on June 1961, Estelle Griswold, Executive Director of the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut,[7] and Dr. Buxton,[8] chairman of Yale Medical School’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and volunteer medical of PPLC, opened a birth control clinic in New Haven, Connecticut, hoping to test the contraception law once again.[3] The clinic, which opened in November 1, 1961 received its first ten patients and dozens of appointments’ requests from married women who wanted advice regarding birth control and prescriptions. Shortly after the clinic was opened, Griswold and Buxton were arrested, tried, found guilty, and fined $100 each.[9] The conviction was upheld by the Appellate Division of the Circuit Court, and by the Connecticut Supreme Court.[10]

Griswold v. Connecticut and the Right to Privacy[edit]

Griswold appealed her conviction to the Supreme Court of the United States. Her defense argued that the Connecticut statute against the use of contraceptives was contrary to 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).[11] After a series of trials, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that the Connecticut Statute was unconstitutional.

The case proved to be a milestone regarding the implementation of constitutionality. The final decision of the Court was later used in other crucial cases related to sexual practices and other personal, often considered private, decisions for the American citizens. 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 concurrence based on the due process clause.

Two Justices, Hugo Black and Potter Stewart, filed dissents. 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 to which his fellow Justices adhered. Justice Stewart called the Connecticut statute "an uncommonly silly law" but argued that it was nevertheless constitutional.

Legacy of Griswold v. Connecticut[edit]

Later decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court extended the principles of Griswold beyond its particular facts. 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.[12] 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).[13] 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.

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).[14] The decision in Roe struck down a Texas law that criminalized aiding a woman in getting an abortion.[15] 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.

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.[16]

Regarding the use of contraceptives in the United States, it has not been clear what impulsed it, but several studies have suggested that since 1960s and the changes that Griswold v. Connecticut provocked, childbearing in the U.S. has been reduced.[17] The correlation, however, has not been proved nor determined exclusive since the 1960s was a profoundly active period for civil rights and the second wave feminism, which promoted the availability of contraceptives to women of all ages and backgrounds.Even when contraceptives were not forbidden before Griswold v. Connecticut, the information available regarding them was limited, and other contraceptive methods such as the diaphragm were limited to a certain part of the population, often excluding the poor and uneducated. Planned Parenthood and Estelle Griswold played a crucial role in the accessibility of contraceptive methods for the people that need it the most.

In an ethical social context, several counter arguments have been raised based on the outcome of these previous cases, Roe v. Wade (1973) being the most polemic. The right to “privacy”, because of its voluble interpretation, has been subjected to various reviews that question the “morality” of the right.[18] The multiple opinions regarding these cases had positioned the right to privacy in a rough scheme among conservatives and has been categorized as the misinterpretation that led to the many wrongs of today's’ America. The right to privacy however, will always present a debate regarding the power of the Constitution and government in the lives of the citizens of this country and their private practices, a concept as relative as Griswold v. Connecticut presented in 1965.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965).
  2. ^ University of Louisiana at Lafayette. University of Louisiana. University of Louisiana at Lafayette Retrieved June 10, 2013.  Check date values in: |date= (help); Missing or empty |title= (help)
  3. ^ a b Garrow, David J. (Spring 2011). "Human Rights Hero. The Legacy of Griswold V. Connecticut." (PDF). Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities. 
  4. ^ Johnson, John W. (2005). Griswold V. Connecticut. University of Kansas. pp. 8–10. ISBN 0-7006-1378-1. 
  5. ^ Johnson, John W. (2005). Griswold V. Connecticut. University of Kansas. pp. Chapter 2. ISBN 0-7006-1378-1. 
  6. ^ Johnson, John W. (2005). Griswold V. Connecticut. University Press of Kansas. pp. Chapter 5. ISBN 0-7006-1378-1. 
  7. ^ Connecticut Women's Hall of Fame. "Estelle Griswold". 
  8. ^ "1965 Griswold v. Connecticut Contraception as a right of privacy? The Supreme Court says, ‘Yes!". 2012. 
  9. ^ Alex McBride (December 2006). "EXPANDING CIVIL RIGHTS Landmark Cases Griswold v. Connecticut (1965)". 
  10. ^ Laura Carroll (July 2012). The Baby Matrix. ISBN 0615642993. 
  11. ^ "Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution -- Ratified 1868". 2007. 
  12. ^ Frances Kissling, Jonathan D. Moreno; The Nation (March 22, 2012). "The Nation: Still Fighting 'Eisenstadt v. Baird'". 
  13. ^ Sheraden Seward Keywords. "Griswold v. Connecticut (1965)". Arizona State University. 
  14. ^ 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". 
  15. ^ University of Missouri-Kansas City (January 22, 1973). "ROE v. WADE 410 U.S. 113 (1973)". 
  16. ^ Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003).
  17. ^ Bailey, Martha J. (Jstor). "Mama's Got the Pill: How Anthony Comstock and Griswold v. Connecticut Shaped US Childbearing". American Economic Review.  Check date values in: |date= (help);
  18. ^ McDowell, Gary L. (February 1, 1983). "The New York Times". New York Times, Late Edition (East Coast). 

Further reading[edit]

  • Comstock, How Anthony. "“Momma's Got the Pill” How Anthony Comstock and Griswold v. Connecticut Shaped US Childbearing Martha J. Bailey Draft: August 2007."
  • Garrow, David J. "Human Rights Hero: The Legal Legacy of" Griswold v. Connecticut"." Human Rights (2011): 26-25.
  • Hasian Jr, Marouf. "Vernacular Legal Discourse: Revisiting the Public Acceptance of the “Right to Privacy'' in the 1960s." Political Communication 18, no. 1 (January 2001): 89-105. Communication & Mass Media Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed March 2 29, 2015).
  • Helscher, David (1994). "Griswold v. Connecticut and the Unenumerated Right of Privacy". Northern Illinois University Law Review 15: 33. ISSN 0734-1490. 
  • Kalman, Laura; Garrow, David (1994). "Review: The Promise and Peril of Privacy". Reviews in American History (The Johns Hopkins University Press) 22 (4): 725–731. doi:10.2307/2702826. JSTOR 2702826. 
  • Lockhart, Andrea (1997). "Griswold v. Connecticut: A Case Brief". Journal of Contemporary Legal Issues 14: 35. ISSN 0896-5595. 
  • Loewy, Arnold H. (2003). "Morals Legislation and the Establishment Clause". Alabama Law Review 55 (1): 159–182. ISSN 0002-4279. 
  • Johnson, John W. Griswold v. Connecticut: Birth control and the constitutional right of privacy. University Press of Kansas, 2005.
  • Tushnet, Mark (2008). I dissent: Great Opposing Opinions in Landmark Supreme Court Cases. Boston: Beacon Press. pp. 179–190. ISBN 978-0-8070-0036-6. 

External links[edit]

  • Text of Griswold v. Connecticut , 381 U.S. 479 (1965) is available from:  Findlaw  Justia  LII