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Case Analysis Of Griswold v/s Connecticut

Facts Of The Case
In 1960, several states had legislation that limited the advertisement and selling of contraception (usually passed sometime during the late 1800s). Some states, including Connecticut and Massachusetts, have entirely forbidden the use of birth control.

In 1879, a Connecticut statute made the use of contraceptives a criminal offence. The use of contraceptives was punishable by a fine of $50 and/or a jail sentence of up to one year. Furthermore, the law maintained that any person who assists, abets, counsels, causes, hires or commands another to commit any offense may be prosecuted and punished as if he were the principal offender. Although this law was created in 1879, it was rarely implemented.

In partnership with Estelle Griswold, head of Planned Parenthood in Connecticut, a gynaecologist at the Yale School of Medicine, C. Lee Buxton, opened a birth control clinic in New Haven. The executive and medical directors of the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut were arrested and charged with providing married people with knowledge, training, and medical advice on methods of preventing conception. Appellants have been found guilty as accomplices and fined $100 each. The appellants appealed because the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was violated by the accessory law as applied.

They were convicted in the Circuit Court for the Sixth Circuit in New Haven, Connecticut. they aimed to use the clinic before the Supreme Court to contest the constitutionality of the Connecticut legislation under the Fourteenth Amendment. The Appellate Division of the Circuit Court affirmed, and its judgment was affirmed by the Supreme Court of Errors of Connecticut. The case was elevated on appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Citation: 381 U.S. 479, 85 S. Ct. 1678 (1965)
Argued on: March 29, 1965 - Decided on: June 7, 1965 - Court: Supreme Court of the United States
Judgement: 7-2 majority decision written by Justice William O. Douglas

Issues Before The Court
The case of Griswold v. Connecticut has put forth a significant issue before the Court, and that was:
Does the Constitution safeguard the right to marital privacy from state limitations on the freedom of a couple to be consulted on the use of contraceptives?
A holdover from the Comstock period was the law in question, but Connecticut decided to enforce it in the case of Estelle Griswold.

Estelle Griswold and Dr C. Lee Buxton argued that the 14th Amendment, which says, 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)[1], conflicts with the Connecticut statute prohibiting birth control use.

Judgment Of The Case
Griswold and Buxton challenged their conviction, which the Connecticut court upheld in the U.S. Supreme Court, which decided to review their case in 1965. Estelle Griswold and Dr Buxton argued their case in front of the Supreme Court on March 29, 1965. The trial was presided over by nine judges.

On June 7, 1965, the case was resolved, and in a 7-2 opinion written by Justice William O. Douglas, the Supreme Court ruled that the statute violated the right to marital privacy and could not be enforced against married persons. Furthermore, the Court ruled that the fundamental right to privacy secured the right for married couples to make their own contraceptive decisions.

Justice Douglas argued that the specific protections of the Bill of Rights have penumbras, created by emanations from these guarantees that help give them life and opinion. In other terms, when enforced against the States by the Fourteenth Amendment, the 'spirit' of the First Amendment (free speech), Third Amendment (prohibition on the compulsory quartering of troops), Fourth Amendment (freedom from searches and seizures), Fifth Amendment (freedom from self-incrimination), and Ninth Amendment (other rights), creates a general right to privacy that may not be unduly breached.

He wrote that the penumbra of the Bill of Rights lies inside the right to marital privacy. Justice Goldberg wrote in a concurrent opinion that the marital union's right to privacy is a personal right 'held by the people within the scope of the Ninth Amendment. Through ensuring that privacy is protected by the Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause, Justice Harlan II and Justice White both agreed to Justice Douglas.

In preserving marital privacy, Justice Byron R. White also concentrated on the role of due process. Furthermore, as it concerns the acts of married couples, this right to privacy is fundamental because it is of such a nature that it cannot be refused without breaching certain fundamental values of liberty and justice, which are at the heart of our civil and political institutions.

Since the use of contraceptives by a married couple constitutes a fundamental right, Connecticut must demonstrate to the Court that its statute is compelling and necessary to override that right (i.e., the strict scrutiny test). Since Connecticut was unable to prove this, as applied, the law was struck down.

Other justices disagreed with Justice Douglas about whether such a fundamental right resides in the Constitution while agreeing that marital privacy is a fundamental right and that the Connecticut law should be struck down. Justice Arthur Goldberg stated in his claim that the Ninth Amendment, which states that the Bill of Rights does not exhaust all the rights of persons, enables the Court to find the fundamental right to marital privacy without having to base it on a particular constitutional amendment.

However, with all their differences, the majority decision in Griswold v. Connecticut that the right to privacy was fundamental in addition to being substantive. In West Coast Hotel v. Parrish (1937)[2], the Court rejected the notion that substantive rights, are covered by the Constitution, i.e., that such actions are protected from government intervention that is not expressly stated in the Bill of Rights. In Griswold, however, it ruled that in non-economic fields such as substantive rights, the right to privacy exist even though they do not exist in economic practices such as the right to contract.

Justice Hugo Black and Justice Potter Stewart also filed dissenting opinions explaining that, unless there is a particular constitutional clause banning such invasion, the government has the right to invade a person's privacy. Justice Black argued that in the Constitution, the right to privacy is not found anywhere. Also, The Connecticut bill was described by Justice Stewart as an uncommonly silly law but believed it was nevertheless lawful.

Rationale Behind The Judgement
A Connecticut statute that this Supreme Court ruling reversed restricted contraceptive therapy and the use of abortion. The ruling agreed that the Constitution would not expressly guarantee one's general right to privacy; however, penumbras or privacy zones were established by the Bill of Rights under which the government should not intervene.

In the First, Second, Fourth, Sixth, and Ninth Amendments, the Court held that the right to marital privacy was inherent. In the marital relation, the ruling further defined the right to privacy to be an inalienable right. If characterized in this manner, this right to marital privacy is perceived to be one of the constitutional freedoms shielded from intrusion by states by the Fourteenth Amendment. The Connecticut statute, however, violated the right to marital privacy and was considered to be unconstitutional.

While the Griswold v. Connecticut decision legalized abortion, this right was only available to married couples. Therefore, for those who were not married, birth control use was however banned. The right to use contraceptives was not provided to unmarried adults until the Supreme Court of Eisenstadt v. Baird ruled in 1972[3]

The right to privacy was only for married couples, as defined by Griswold v. Connecticut. The petitioner claimed in the Eisenstadt v. Baird case that denying a single individual the ability to use birth control while married individuals could use contraceptives was a breach of the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.

The Court explained how the Fourth and Fifth Amendments together shield the home of a person and other private areas of his life from government invasions. It acknowledged the probability that statute enforcement would allow for such clear-cut constitutional breaches as digging through the bedroom of a married couple to find birth control. The Court held that the legislation at issue was broad in that it has a maximum destructive impact on a marital partnership that is squarely within the privacy area established by the Constitution's First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments.

Critical Analysis
The ruling of Griswold v. Connecticut has helped lay the groundwork for much of the sexual rights now permitted by the Constitution. After that decision, in several court trials, the Supreme Court has invoked the right to privacy. It opened the way for the reproductive privacy and liberties that today are in existence. Birth control use was either prohibited or outlawed before this case.

The opinion of the Supreme Court in Griswold v. Connecticut reflected the beginning of a period of reform in the United States in respect of sexual and reproductive rights. The landmark decision in the Griswold v. Connecticut case established, for the first time, a constitutional right to privacy regarding reproductive decisions, which paved the way for the legalization of birth control for unmarried couples, ruling that the states had no right to ban contraception for married couples. It implied the Court's opinion that persons should be protected from the state's undue intervention.

Birth control has had a dramatic effect on individuals and communities in the United States of America, due in part to the verdict in Griswold v. Connecticut and the benefits provided by the case, enabling people to invest in their lives and their jobs and giving them time to prepare for their families. Access to birth control has since enabled women around the board to lead healthy lives.

The Court ruled that the right to secrecy was found to be a valid right to use birth control methods. So, the statute was found to be unconstitutional. It held that marriage lies within the privacy zone created by certain simple constitutional protections. The law intended to reach their objectives by prohibiting contraception rather than restricting their manufacturing or selling by imposing a maximal destructive effect on that relationship.

Thus, such a statute cannot stand in the light of the familiar fact that it is not practicable to accomplish a legislative intent to regulate or deter practices legally, subject to state regulation by way of overly systematic sweeping and thus breaching the area of safe liberty. The whole thought of allowing the police to scan the holy precincts of marital bedrooms for apparent signs of the use of contraception is despicable to the conceptions of privacy surrounding the marriage partnership.

  1. U.S. Const. Amend. XIV
  2. West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish, 300 U.S. 379, 57 S. Ct. 578, 81 L. Ed. 703 (1937)
  3. Eisenstadt v. Baird, 405 U.S. 438 (1972)

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