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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
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:
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