In 1965, it was illegal in the state of Connecticut to provide contraceptives or offer advice about them, even to married couples. This video follows the landmark Supreme Court case Griswold v. Connecticut, when for the first time the Court tackled what was viewed as a “right to privacy” issue, ruling that Connecticut's ban on the use of contraceptives violated the right to marital privacy.
The actions of Estelle Griswold in the early 1960s helped establish court precedents that would lead to the legalization of contraception.
In 1961, Griswold, the executive director of the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut, and Dr. C. Lee Buxton, a physician and professor at the Yale School of Medicine, opened a birth-control clinic in New Haven. Griswold and Buxton hoped to promote family planning and offer counseling services for women. The clinic also offered them the opportunity to publicly protest Connecticut’s ban on birth control. In violation of an 1879 law stating that "any person who uses any drug, medicinal article or instrument for the purposes of preventing conception shall be fined not less than forty dollars or imprisoned not less than sixty days," Griswold dispensed contraceptives to a married couple. Both Buxton and Griswold were promptly arrested. The partners were convicted and fined $100, but Griswold appealed her case, which eventually reached the Supreme Court in 1965.
The court, in a 7-2 decision written by Justice William O. Douglas, overturned the conviction, ruling that the Connecticut law violated the "right to marital privacy." Douglas found a "zone of privacy" created by several amendments to the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing against governmental intrusion into the homes and lives of citizens. The majority decision found a general “right to privacy,” created by the First Amendment (free speech), Third Amendment (prohibition on the forced quartering of troops), Fourth Amendment (freedom from searches and seizures), Fifth Amendment (freedom from self-incrimination), and Ninth Amendment (other rights), as applied against the states by the Fourteenth Amendment.
This decision would serve as precedent in later cases. Over the next ten years, the Court expanded the "right to privacy" ruling by decreeing that the state could not ban the use of contraceptives by anyone in Eisenstadt v. Baird (1972) and that it could not ban most abortions in Roe v. Wade (1973).
NARRATOR: By 1965, he had to split with his longtime colleague and ally, William O. Douglas.
Black and Douglas, the New Dealers-now old men-had voted together for a quarter century. But not in Griswold versus Connecticut.
The case was about an old state law that made it a crime to give contraceptives, even advice about preventing pregnancies, even to married couples. For Douglas, this looked like his last best chance to enshrine a right to privacy into constitutional case law. To Douglas, there was nothing more sacred than the right to be left alone. And the way he went at asserting that right was also characteristic Douglas. He simply declared it. Anyone who didn't like it could go to hell.
BISKUPIC: Justice Douglas' opinion was quite radical in that it didn't ground this right of privacy in a single place in the Constitution.
SIMON: He didn't find explicitly a right to privacy, but he says if you look to the First Amendment, the right to association and the right to believe what you will; and you look to the Fourth Amendment, the right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures; and you look at the Fifth Amendment, the right to be protected against self-incrimination . . . that if you put all these various the emanations and penumbras from those explicit rights together, you surely have a constitutional right to privacy. And that was his opinion.
NARRATOR: Douglas' assertion wasn't good enough for Hugo Black. It was as if he'd pulled his rumpled old copy of the Constitution out of his pocket-just to check-and he couldn't find the word "privacy" in there anywhere. "I like my privacy as well as the next one," he wrote in his dissent, 'But I am nevertheless compelled to admit that the government has a right to invade it, unless prohibited by some specific Constitutional provision."
More and more, through the 1960s, Black's liberal colleagues pushed into territory where he wouldn't follow. The leadership of the liberal wing was passing to younger colleagues, like Bill Brennan, from New Jersey.
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