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Griswold v. Connecticut: 1964

1879 Law Alive And Well, On To The Supreme Court, Decision Reverses Convictions, Griswold, Applied Outside The Marital Bedroom

Appellants: Charles Lee Buxton and Estelle Griswold
Defendant: State of Connecticut
Appellants Claim: That Connecticut's birth-control laws violated its citizens' constitutional rights
Chief Defense Lawyer: Joseph B. Clark
Chief Lawyers for Appellants: Tom Emerson, Fowler Harper, Harriet Pilpel, and Catherine Roraback
Justices: Hugo L. Black, William J. Brennan, Jr., Tom C. Clark, William Douglas, Arthur J. Goldberg, John M. Harlan, Potter Stewart, Earl Warren, and Byron R. White
Place: Washington, D.C.
Date of Decision: May 11, 1964
Decision: Reversed Griswold's and Buxton's lower court convictions for providing contraceptive information to married couples and struck down all state laws forbidding the use of contraceptives by such couples

SIGNIFICANCE: The decision articulated a constitutional "right to privacy," which would later be interpreted as protecting the right of unmarried persons to use birth control (Eisenstadt v. Baird, 1972) and the right of women to terminate their pregnancies (Roe v. Wade, 1973).

Connecticut's anticontraceptive law, passed in 1879, was simple and unambiguous:

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. (General Statutes of Connecticut, Section 53-32.)

Any person who assists, abets, counsels, causes, hires or commands another to commit any offense may be prosecuted and punished as if he were the principal offender. (Section 54-196.)

The Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut first brought the law before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1942, with a physician as plaintiff. The court ruled that the doctor lacked standing to sue, since his patients—and not he—suffered injury due to his inability to legally prescribe birth control. In June 1961, declining to rule in a suit brought by several women, the Supreme Court called the normally unenforced law "dead words" and "harmless empty shadows." Estelle T. Griswold, executive director of the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut, and Dr. C. Led Buxton, chairman of Yale University's obstetrics department, decided to test the "death" of the 1879 law: On November 1, 1961, they opened a birth-control clinic in New Haven. Dr. Buxton cited the June decision and explained to the press: "This leads me to believe that all doctors in Connecticut may now prescribe child spacing techniques to married women when it is medically indicated."

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1963 to 1972