Griswold v. Connecticut

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Griswold v. Connecticut

Supreme Court of the United States

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; 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
Chief Justice Earl Warren
Associate Justices Hugo Black, William Douglas, Tom Clark, John Marshall Harlan II, William Brennan, Potter Stewart, Byron White, Arthur Goldberg
Case opinions
Majority by: Douglas
Joined by: Warren, Clark, Brennan, Goldberg
Concurrence by: Goldberg
Joined by: Warren, Brennan
Concurrence by: Harlan
Concurrence by: White
Dissent by: Black
Joined by: Stewart
Dissent by: Stewart
Joined by: Black
Laws applied
U.S. Const. Amend. IX, XIV; Conn. Gen. Stat. 53-32, 54-196 (rev. 1958)

Griswold v. Connecticut, Template:Ussc was a landmark United States Supreme Court case. It invalidated a Connecticut law prohibiting the use of contraception by married couples.

Missing image
Estelle Griswold, in front of the New Haven, Connecticut Planned Parenthood


The Connecticut law at issue in this case had been challenged in an earlier Supreme Court case, Poe v. Ullman (1961). In Poe, The Court dismissed the claim of a doctor and his patients that the Connecticut law denied their Fourteenth Amendment Due Process rights, on the ground that the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue because the law had not been enforced in many years. In that case, Justice John Marshall Harlan II wrote one of the most-cited dissenting opinions in Supreme Court history, arguing for a broad interpretation of the "liberty" protected by the Due Process Clause.

A few months after the Poe decision came down, Estelle Griswold opened a birth control clinic to dispense contraceptives, in order to test Connecticut's law once again. She was arrested and convicted under the Connecticut law, and her appeal reached the Supreme Court.


The Supreme Court overturned Griswold's conviction and invalidated the Connecticut law. The majority opinion, authored by William O. Douglas, joined by Chief Justice Earl Warren, and Justices Tom C. Clark, William J. Brennan, Jr., and Arthur J. Goldberg, purported to find a "right of privacy" in the penumbras of the first ten amendments of the Bill of Rights. A concurring opinion by Justice Arthur J. Goldberg, joined by Chief Justice Earl Warren and Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. argued that the existence of the "right of privacy" was bolstered by the Ninth Amendment's protection of unenumerated rights. Justice Goldberg wrote:

Since 1791 [the Ninth Amendment] has been a basic part of the Constitution which we are sworn to uphold. To hold that a right so basic and fundamental and so deep-rooted in our society as the right of privacy in marriage may be infringed because that right is not guaranteed in so many words by the first eight amendments to the Constitution is to ignore the Ninth Amendment and to give it no effect whatsoever.

Justices John Marshall Harlan II and Byron White concurred in the judgment invalidating the Connecticut law, but based their opinions relying on the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Harlan, in particular, urged that the Due Process Clause protected liberties unenumerated in the first ten amendments of the Bill of Rights.


Justices Potter Stewart and Hugo Black dissented, denying the existence of a general "right of privacy," and fearing the consequences of a departure from the Constitution's text. Stewart wrote:

In the course of its opinion, the Court refers to no less than six amendments to the constitution: the first, the third, the fourth, the fifth, the ninth and the fourteenth. But the court does not say which of these Amendments, if any, it thinks are infringed by this law.


The Ninth Amendment ... [was intended] to make clear that the adoption of the Bill of Rights did not alter the plan that the Federal Government was to be a government of express and limited powers, and that all rights and powers not delegated to it were retained by the people and the individual States. Until today no member of this Court has ever suggested that the Ninth Amendment meant anything else.

Stewart also stated that, though he believed the Connecticut law was an "uncommonly silly one" (language later quoted by Justice Clarence Thomas, dissenting in Lawrence v. Texas), he did not believe it in his power under the Constitution to invalidate it, noting that:

We are not asked in this case to say whether we think this law is unwise, or even asinine. We are asked to hold that it violates the United States Constitution. And that, I cannot do.

Black wrote:

The Court talks about a constitutional "right of privacy" as though there is some constitutional provision or provisions forbidding any law ever to be passed which might abridge the "privacy" of individuals. But there is not.


[F]or a period of a century and a half, no serious suggestion was ever made that the ninth amendment, enacted to protect state powers against Federal invasion, could be used as a weapon of Federal power to prevent state legislatures from passing laws they consider appropriate to govern local affairs.

The Griswold case focused on the privacy rights of married couples. A later case, Eisenstadt v. Baird, 405 U.S. 438 (1972), established the right of unmarried people to contraception. Privacy arguments also arose in the later, much more controversial Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973) case.

See also: Sex-related court cases

External links


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