Griswold v. Connecticut

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Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479, was a 1965 Supreme Court case that is often credited with defining (or creating, depending on point of view) the federal Right to Privacy, which may not be over-ridden by state or federal fiat. Some view the decision as the height of improper judicial activism by the Warren Court, while some see it as a bright defining moment in Supreme Court Caselaw. It is still hotly debated forty years after the decision was published, yet remains unreversed.

The majority opinion was written by the Honourable Justice William O. Douglas, and is a classic example of Douglas' Supreme Court style. The decision was short and written with generous citations to previous court decisions as grounding. Even a teasing citation to Lochner was almost offered:

"Overtones of some arguments suggest that Lochner v. New York, 198 U.S. 45, should be our guide. But we decline that invitation..."

It was also classic Douglas in its ability to hold together a diverse majority which included three different Concurrences and was opposed with two separate Dissents.

The decision held that a Connecticut law which forbade contraceptive advice given to married couples by medical professionals was unconstitutional; an unlawful government intrusion into the sanctity of the marital relationship. It also forcefully stated that there were rights not officially expressed in, but implied by, the Bill of Rights.

From the Douglas decision (citations omitted):

..."We do not sit as a super-legislature to determine the wisdom, need, and propriety of laws that touch economic problems, business affairs, or social conditions. This law, however, operates directly on an intimate relation of husband and wife and their physician's role in one aspect of that relation.
The association of people is not mentioned in the Constitution nor in the Bill of Rights. The right to educate a child in a school of the parents' choice -- whether public or private or parochial -- is also not mentioned. Nor is the right to study any particular subject or any foreign language. Yet the First Amendment has been construed to include certain of those rights
...The right of freedom of speech and press includes not only the right to utter or to print, but the right to distribute, the right to receive, the right to read and freedom of inquiry, freedom of thought, and freedom to teach -- indeed, the freedom of the entire university community. Without those peripheral rights, the specific rights would be less secure.
...In other words, the First Amendment has a penumbra where privacy is protected from governmental intrusion.
...specific guarantees in the Bill of Rights have penumbras, formed by emanations from those guarantees that help give them life and substance. Various guarantees create zones of privacy. The right of association contained in the penumbra of the First Amendment is one, as we have seen. The Third Amendment, in its prohibition against the quartering of soldiers "in any house" in time of peace without the consent of the owner, is another facet of that privacy. The Fourth Amendment explicitly affirms the "right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." The Fifth Amendment, in its Self-Incrimination Clause, enables the citizen to create a zone of privacy which government may not force him to surrender to his detriment. The Ninth Amendment provides: "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."
The Fourth and Fifth Amendments were described as protection against all governmental invasions "of the sanctity of a man's home and the privacies of life." We recently referred to the Fourth Amendment as creating a "right to privacy, no less important than any other right carefully an particularly reserved to the people."
...We deal with a right of privacy older than the Bill of Rights -- older than our political parties, older than our school system. 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, not causes; a harmony in living, not political faiths; a bilateral loyalty, not commercial or social projects. Yet it is an association for as noble a purpose as any involved in our prior decisions."

Griswold v. Connecticut may be viewed in its entirety online courtesy of Cornell Law School's Legal Information Institute starting with the syllabus.