Griswold v. Connecticut

381 U.S. 479 (1965)

Quick Summary

Estelle Griswold and Dr. C. Lee Buxton (defendants) were charged for providing contraceptive services in violation of state law. The main issue presented to the Supreme Court was whether this law infringed upon constitutional rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.

The Supreme Court concluded that a constitutional right to privacy within marriage exists and that Connecticut’s law unconstitutionally intruded on this right. The previous judgments against Griswold and Buxton were reversed.

Facts of the Case

Estelle Griswold (defendant), who served as the Executive Director of the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut, along with Dr. C. Lee Buxton (defendant), a licensed physician and a professor at Yale Medical School, were charged under Connecticut law for providing advice and medical treatment for the purpose of preventing conception to married couples.

The services included consultation, examination, and prescription of contraceptives. Despite the charges, Griswold and Buxton challenged the constitutionality of the Connecticut statutes, asserting that they violated the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees due process and equal protection under the law.

Following their convictions as accessories to the crime, and subsequent affirmations by the Appellate Division of the Circuit Court and the Supreme Court of Errors of Connecticut, Griswold and Buxton took their case to the Supreme Court of the United States seeking a reversal based on constitutional grounds.

Procedural Posture and History

  1. Griswold and Buxton were arrested and convicted as accessories for providing contraceptive advice and services, in violation of Connecticut law.
  2. Their convictions were affirmed by the Appellate Division of the Circuit Court.
  3. The Supreme Court of Errors of Connecticut also affirmed the judgment.
  4. Griswold and Buxton appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States.

I.R.A.C. Format


Whether Connecticut’s statutes prohibiting contraception use and assistance in using contraceptives infringe upon the constitutional rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.

Rule of Law

The Constitution protects certain fundamental rights that may not be explicitly listed in its text but are deemed essential to liberty and privacy, especially within the context of marriage. These rights are safeguarded against unwarranted governmental intrusion.

Reasoning and Analysis

The Supreme Court concluded that the right to privacy within marriage is a fundamental right that is protected by the Constitution. This conclusion was reached by identifying a ‘zone of privacy’ created by various guarantees within the Bill of Rights.

The Court found that while these rights are not explicitly stated in the Constitution, they are implied by the First, Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Ninth Amendments which together create penumbras—zones established by emanations from explicit rights—that protect a right to privacy.

Furthermore, the Court determined that Connecticut’s statute had a ‘maximum destructive impact’ on this marital privacy without serving any compelling state interest. The law was deemed too broad and intrusive, as it would allow for governmental search and regulation within the private sphere of marital relations, an area traditionally considered sacred and intimate beyond the reach of government.


The Supreme Court reversed the judgments against Griswold and Buxton, establishing that the Connecticut statute violated the right to privacy within marriage—a right deemed fundamental under the Constitution.

Concurring Opinions

Justice Goldberg, with whom The Chief Justice and Justice Brennan concurred, emphasized that while not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution’s text, marital privacy is a fundamental personal right that falls within the scope of other protected liberties.

He stressed the importance of the Ninth Amendment which indicates that there are additional fundamental rights beyond those specifically mentioned in the Bill of Rights. Justice Goldberg argued that marital privacy is deeply rooted in our nation’s tradition and conscience and thus deserves protection from governmental infringement.

Key Takeaways

  1. The Supreme Court recognized a constitutional right to privacy within marriage that is protected from government intrusion.
  2. This case established that specific guarantees in the Bill of Rights have penumbras that protect related fundamental rights not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution.
  3. The ruling set a precedent for evaluating laws that affect intimate aspects of life on whether they unnecessarily infringe upon fundamental freedoms.

Relevant FAQs of this case

How do courts determine if a right is fundamental when it is not explicitly enumerated in the Constitution?

Courts look to the notion of substantive due process, reviewing if the right in question is implicit in the concept of ordered liberty. This means assessing whether the right is so rooted in the traditions and conscience of our society that it is considered fundamental to our scheme of ordered liberty.

  • For example: The right to raise one’s children without unwarranted state interference is considered fundamental as it aligns with historical precedence and societal values of family autonomy.

What legal justifications are used by courts to protect privacy rights where they are not explicitly mentioned in the law?

Courts often rely on penumbral reasoning, identifying rights implicit within other explicit constitutional protections. The identification of penumbras, or zones of privacy, suggests that specific rights enshrine broader principles that encompass related, though not enumerated, liberties.

  • For example: The protection against quartering soldiers in homes without consent, under the Third Amendment, implies a broader right to privacy within one’s home.

How do courts balance state interests against individual freedoms in cases concerning personal autonomy?

Courts employ a scrutiny-level analysis, weighing individual freedoms against the government’s interest. For laws impinging on fundamental rights, strict scrutiny is applied: the state must show a compelling interest and that the law is narrowly tailored to achieve that interest.

  • For example: In vaccination mandates, public health may be a compelling state interest justifying some infringement on personal autonomy, provided the mandate is narrowly tailored to target public health concerns and there are exemptions for genuine medical reasons.


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