Griswold v. Connecticut: Case Brief & Summary

Instructor: Erin Krcatovich

Erin teaches undergraduate and graduate classes in Political Science, Public Policy, and Public Administration and has a PhD in Political Science.

Griswold v. Connecticut is a 1965 Supreme Court case, which discusses the right to privacy in the context of marital contraception. In this lesson, we will learn about the right to privacy, background in this case, and the decision of the Court.

Right to Privacy

The Supreme Court has defined the right to privacy as an implied right in the Constitution. This means that it is not stated directly, but does have substantial support in the language of several amendments. A right to privacy is the right to make choices about one's body and life without government interference; it is often applied to cases of human sexuality, including abortion, gay rights, and contraception. The Supreme Court has explained that we have a right to privacy that is suggested, but not directly stated, by the Constitution.

Griswold v. Connecticut Background

In particular, Griswold v. Connecticut lays a foundation for the concept of a right to keep issues related to our bodies private. In the United States during the early twentieth century, it was illegal in many parts of the country to provide married couples with contraceptive devices, like the birth control pill, or to give advice about pregnancy and family planning.

Estelle Griswold, director of the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut, and Dr. Buxton, a physician and the medical director of the New Haven, CT location, were both found guilty of violating two Connecticut laws. These laws criminalize use of contraception for anyone, including married couples, as well as providing any counseling on the subject. Griswold and Buxton counseled married patients about family planning and contraception. This case asks if the Constitution protects a married couple's right to learn about and use contraception for the purpose of preventing pregnancy.

Decision of the Court

In a vote of 7 to 2, the Court held that there are penumbras of privacy (381 U. S. 483), which would include a married couple's right to contraception counseling and use. A penumbra (or shadow) is a right that the language of the Constitution hints at, but does not state directly. In other words, the Constitution's words are more than just what is immediately apparent; there are broader implications, which can be inferred. Here, the Court held that the right to privacy is suggested by the following amendments:

  • First: individual liberties, including religion and assembly
  • Fourth: protection of your property and body against search and seizure of evidence without a warrant
  • Fifth: right to refuse to testify against yourself or produce evidence to be used to convict
  • Ninth: even if a right is not spelled out in the Constitution, that doesn't mean that we do not have it

These together create a zone of privacy. Your body, home, and property are generally free from government interference. These are a safe zone where you can expect to have your privacy protected. You have the right to worship as you please, to assemble and peacefully protest, to protect your body and property against search, and to refuse to incriminate yourself, as well as the guarantee that you have other rights not spelled out in the Constitution too. There are plenty of examples of your rights to privacy on specific limited topics so a broader right to privacy must then exist in the background of all of these. The zone of privacy is created by these amendments, casting a shadow or penumbra of a right to privacy in our bodies, particularly in cases of human sexuality.

Setting a Precedent

Griswold v. Connecticut has set an important precedent for many Supreme Court cases that followed. Two of the most notable cases are Roe v. Wade and Lawrence v. Texas.

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