Griswold v. Connecticut

views updated May 17 2018


Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479, 85 S. Ct. 1678, 14 L. Ed. 2d 510 (1965), was a landmark Supreme Court decision that recognized that a married couple has a right of privacy that cannot be infringed upon by a state law making it a crime to use contraceptives.

Two Connecticut statutes provided that any person who used, or gave information or assistance concerning the use of, contraceptives was subject to a fine, imprisonment, or both. Estelle T. Griswold, an executive with the state Planned Parenthood League, and a physician who worked at a league center were arrested for violating these laws, even though they gave such information to married couples.

They were convicted and fined $100 each. The state appellate courts upheld their convictions and they appealed to the Supreme Court on the ground that the statutes violated the fourteenth amendment. The Supreme Court recognized that the appellants had standing to raise the issue of the constitutional rights of married couples since they had a professional relationship with such people.

Addressing the propriety of its review of such legislation, the Court reasoned that although it is loath to determine the need for state laws affecting social and economic conditions, these statutes directly affected sexual relations between a married couple and the role of a physician in the medical aspects of such a relationship. Such a relationship is protected from intrusion by the government under the theory of a right to privacy. This right, while not specifically guaranteed by the Constitution, exists because it may be reasonably construed from certain amendments contained in the bill of rights.

The first amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press implicitly create the right of freedom of association since one must be allowed to freely associate with others in order to fully enjoy these specific guarantees. The third amendment prohibition against the quartering of soldiers in a private home without the owner's consent is an implicit ACKNOWLEDGMENT of the owner's right to privacy. Both the fourth amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures and the fifth amendment self-incrimination Clause safeguard a person's privacy in his or her home and life against government demands. The ninth amendment states that the enumerated constitutional rights should not be interpreted as denying any other rights retained by the people.

The Court created the right of privacy from the penumbras of these specific rights, which it deemed created zones of privacy. The statutory regulation of a marital relationship by the state was an invasion of the constitutional right of a married couple to privacy in such a relationship, a relationship that historically American law has held sacred. The means by which the state chose to regulate contraceptives—by outlawing their use, rather than their sale and manufacture—was clearly unrelated to its goal and would detrimentally affect the marital relationship. The question of enforcement of such statutes also was roundly criticized since it would mandate government inquiry into "marital bedrooms."

Because of the invalidity of such laws, the Supreme Court reversed the judgments of the state trial and appellate courts and the convictions of the appellants.

further readings

Yeh, Jessica I., and Sindy S. Chen. 2002. "Contraception." Georgetown Journal of Gender and the Law 3 (spring): 191–209.


"Griswold v. Connecticut" (Appendix, Primary Document); Husband and Wife; Penumbra.

Griswold v. Connecticut

views updated May 08 2018


GRISWOLD V. CONNECTICUT, 381 U.S. 479 (1965). When the state Planned Parenthood League opened a clinic in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1961, two staff members were arrested and fined under a rarely used law for giving advice and a prescription for a contraceptive to a married couple. The law, a legacy of Anthony Comstock's anti-vice campaign of the late nineteenth century, had been interpreted to ban the use of contraceptives and the opening of public clinics, which meant that women could not attain access to reliable contraception unless they could afford private physicians.

The Supreme Court decision in Griswold v. Connecticut reversed the Connecticut law by extending constitutional protection to the individual's right to Privacy. However, the Supreme Court was uncertain about the source of this right. The plurality opinion, written by Justice William O. Douglas, argued that several provisions of the Bill of Rights combine to create "penumbras"—that is, rights not explicitly set forth but nonetheless guaranteed by implication—and thus protected "zones of privacy." A married couple's choice about parenthood lay within that zone. Two dissenters from the right of privacy, Hugo Black and Potter Stewart, accused the majority of writing their personal opinions into constitutional doctrine and violating the principle of judicial self-restraint. It was a curious decision: No one publicly opposed the legalization of birth control, but many legal scholars agreed with the dissenters' accusations. Eight years later, Roe v. Wade (1973) revealed the explosive potential of Griswold and other privacy decisions as precedents by ruling that the right of privacy included a limited right to elective abortion.


Baer, Judith A. Women in American Law: The Struggle toward Equality from the New Deal to the Present. New York: Holmes and Meier, 1996.

Ball, Howard, and Phillip Cooper. Of Power and Right: Hugo Black, William O. Douglas, and America's Constitutional Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Judith A.Baer/a. r.

See alsoBirth Control Movement ; Roe v. Wade .