An introduction to Constitutional Law 100 Supreme Court cases everyone should know

Randy E. Barnett & Josh Blackman

Connecticut had an old law that criminalized the use of contraception by married couples. The law also prohibited doctors and others from counseling couples on how to use such products. (There is some debate about how often the law was actually enforced.) In 1961, the Connecticut Birth Control League opened a Planned Parenthood clinic in New Haven. The organization wanted to start a test case as a means to challenge the law’s constitutionality. Estelle Griswold was the executive director of the League. Dr. C. Lee Buxton, the chairman of the Yale University Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, was the medical director of the clinic. Griswold and Buxton counseled married couples on the use of contraception, a clear violation of Connecticut law. They did so deliberately, so they would be arrested. Griswold and Buxton were each fined $100.

On appeal, the Supreme Court reversed their convictions. Seven justices found that Connecticut’s contraceptive ban for married couples was unconstitutional: Chief Justice Warren and Justices Douglas, Clark, Harlan, Brennan, White, and Goldberg. Justice Douglas wrote the majority opinion. Justices Black and Stewart dissented.

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