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Griswold V. Connecticut Essay, Research Paper

The United States is considered by many to be one of the most powerful nations in

the world. It has accepted some of the more liberal ideas pertaining to it s citizens rights

that other countries have not acknowledged. These other countries have a fear that a

good deal of governmental power will be lost if too much freedom is bestowed upon it s

citizens. However, the American government still manages to hold a strong united nation

with citizens, who for the most part, believe that they are free to follow the doctrine of

Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. One example of these rights is the right to

free speech, allowed to American citizens through the First Amendment. Other rights

include the right to a public criminal trial by jury ( Sixth Amendment) and the substantive

due process, which is generally considered a right to privacy ( the Fifth Amendment and

also the Fourteenth Amendment).

Unfortunately the government of America does have to limit the actions of it s

citizens in order to provide a logical system of moral following nation s people. The

citizens of America, under federalist regime, are legally obliged to follow the contents of

both the Constitution and also the laws of the specific states in which they reside. Every

state in America uses the Constitution as a fundamental basis for establishing the laws to

which it ( the specific state) believes it s statesmen wish to live under. But sometimes the

meaning of the Constitution is not crystal clear on the surface level, such as the dealing

with the substantive due process which (in the Fourteenth Amendment) states No state

shall make or enforce any law which shall deprive any person of life, liberty or property

without due process of law. But what is due process of law ? and who is responsible for

defining it? The possible misinterpretation of the Constitution could lead, and has led to

the establishment of unjust laws in some states.

In the case of Griswold v. Connecticut, 1965, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling was

called forth to determine if the state of Connecticut could involve itself in what the

appellants called private affairs. The conditions of Connecticut law, prior to 1965,


Any person who uses any drug, medicinal article or instrument for the purpose of preventing

conception shall 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. ( sited from Griswold v. Connecticut

Supreme Court case) .

And it was under these terms that Estelle T. Griswold, who was the Executive Director of

the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut ( PPLC), and C. Lee Buxton, a Medical

Director staffed by the League to provide information, were found guilty in the 1962

nonjury court case of The State of Connecticut v. Estelle T. Griswold and C. Lee

Buxton. They were found guilty under terms of the state of Connecticut for distributing

both advice and articles considered illegal by the state law. They were both fined a sum of

one hundred dollars against the claim that the accessory statute as so applied violated the

Fourteenth Amendment, ( form court case).

Though the law may sound unwise, or even asinine, as Mr. Justice Stewart put

it, the Justices had a hard time trying to relate a part of the Constitution which is in direct

contradiction of the Connecticut statute. Darien A. McWhirter and Jon D. Bible state in

the book Privacy as a Constitutional Right [Connecticut s law] basically said that people

who engaged in heterosexual conduct had to leave to God (and the state) the question of

whether children would be the result of that conduct, (McWHIRTER/BIBLE 96). This

governmental policy of the state of Connecticut may appear absurd and unjust, but in what

ways was it unconstitutional?

Possibly the motives for having the Connecticut Statute, which was originally

established in 1879, could be seen in a majority of Roman Catholic followers living in

Connecticut. It is noted in Liberty and Sexuality that one New Haven [news] paper,

predicting that Griswold and Buxton will win overwhelmingly, had emphasized that Joe

Clark [one of the Justices seated on the Supreme Court case] was a young man in his

early thirties with no experience before the Supreme Court, (pg. 239). Such prejudices in

Connecticut local media possibly display a bitter Roman Catholic attitude towards the case

in general.

Thomas Emerson, who represented the appellants in Supreme Court argued It s a

religious principle that s being enacted into law, that it is immoral to use contraceptives

even within the marriage relation…. there is no objective basis for the statutes, (LIBERTY 238)

in argument to why the Connecticut statute was not rational or just. After the oral

argument had been presented by Thomas Emerson, Justice Stewart questioned what

Justice Clark thought about the case, his answer has been recorded as I think it s to

reduce the chanced of immorality, to act as a deterrent to sexual intercourse outside of the

marital relationship, (LIBERTY 239). But is it right to have such a law that represents, from a

specific religion s aspects, what the citizens of a state are allowed to do? In democracy

there is a strong separation of religion from government, but with the statutes the founders

were using pure religious ideology to justify what they thought as morally proper.

The many justices, excluding Justice Black and Justice Stewart, agreed that the

Connecticut statutes deprived Connecticut citizens of some sort of constitutional right.

Five justices went with a decision that the Constitution provided a constitutional right to

privacy. Two Justices, Chief Justice Warren and Justice Goldberg, found this right

contained within the Bill of Rights penumbras. The other three, Justice Brennan, Justice

Clark and Justice Douglas, justified their decision with the Ninth Amendment. And the use

of substantive due process of the Fourteenth Amendment held bearing on two more

Justices, Justice Harlan and Justice White, as grounds for their final decisions.

Justice Stewart based his stance on the Connecticut statute as I think it is an

uncommonly silly law, but as far as finding it unjust in the course of opinion the court

refers to no less than six Amendments to the Constitution: the First, the Third, the Fourth,

the Ninth, and the Fourteenth. But the court does not say which of these Amendments, if

any, it thinks is infringed by the Connecticut law, he could not. Justice Stewart s

observation that the Connecticut statute, in his mind, did not directly contradict any part

of the Constitution was a minority position in the final verdict. And with seven of the nine

Justices voting to have the Connecticut law changed, Griswold and her associate won the


The aftermath of Griswold has brought to light many questions. Since the

argument made was that the contraceptives are to be use within one s own home, the case

of Griswold cannot logically be applied to abortion cases. But in Roa v. Wade such a

situation was questioned. The Griswold verdict has been applied to many other claims of

privacy violation. From police searching private residencies for pornography considered

illegal in certain states ( Stanly v. Georgia), to the case of Katz v. United States which

involved a controversial wiretap on a personal phone line. All the American public knows

is that at any moment, what might appear to be an unconstitutional law, may be

questioned. What it does not know is if the Supreme Court Justices can find it



1) U.S. Supreme Court : Griswold v. Connecticut 381 U.S. 479. 1965. [Online] Available


9 ( 11/20/99)

2) Goldman, Jerry. Griswold v. Connecticut: Abstract. [Online] Available



3)McWhirter, Darien A., Jon D. Bible. Privacy as a Constitutional Right. New York:

Quorum Books, 1992.

4) Garrow, David J. Liberty and Sexuality. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company


5) Fisher, Louis. Constitutional Rights: Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. New York:

McGraw-Hill, 1990.


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