Facts of the case
In 1879, Connecticut passed a law that banned the use of any drug, medical device, or other instrument in furthering contraception. A gynecologist at the Yale School of Medicine, C. Lee Buxton, opened a birth control clinic in New Haven in conjunction with Estelle Griswold, who was the head of Planned Parenthood in Connecticut. They were arrested and convicted of violating the law, and their convictions were affirmed by higher state courts. Their plan was to use the clinic to challenge the constitutionality of the statute under the Fourteenth Amendment before the Supreme Court.
Does the Constitution protect the right of marital privacy against state restrictions on a couple's ability to be counseled in the use of contraceptives?
A right to privacy can be inferred from several amendments in the Bill of Rights, and this right prevents states from making the use of contraception by married couples illegal.
In a 7-2 decision authored by Justice Douglas, the Court ruled that the Constitution did in fact protect the right of marital privacy against state restrictions on contraception. While the Court explained that the Constitution does not explicitly protect a general right to privacy, the various guarantees within the Bill of Rights create penumbras, or zones, that establish a right to privacy. Together, the First, Third, Fourth, and Ninth Amendments create the right to privacy in marital relations. The Connecticut statute conflicted with the exercise of this right and was therefore held null and void.
Justice Goldberg, joined by Justices Warren and Brennan, concurred. Rather than finding that the right to privacy was contained in imaginary penumbras, Goldberg located it in the Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments.
Justice Harlan concurred, arguing that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protects the right to privacy.
Justice White concurred, arguing that the Fourteenth Amendment was the proper basis for the decision.
Justice Black, joined by Justice Stewart, dissented. Unpersuaded by the loose reasoning of the majority, Black felt that there was no way to infer that the Constitution contained a right to privacy. He also dismissed the views of the concurrences that it could be found in the Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments.
Justice Stewart, joined by Justice Black, filed a separate dissenting opinion. Stewart argued that despite his personal view that the law was "uncommonly silly," he felt that the Court had no choice but to find it constitutional.