Eisenstadt v. Baird 1972

Author:Daniel Brannen, Richard Hanes, Elizabeth Shaw

Page 679

Appellant: Thomas Eisenstadt, Sheriff of Suffolk County, Massachusetts

Appellee: William R. Baird, Jr.

Appellant's Claim: That the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court erred in overturning Baird's conviction on charges of distributing contraceptives without a proper liscense.

Chief Lawyers for Appellant: Joseph R. Nolan

Chief Lawyers for Appellee: Joseph D. Tydings

Justices for the Court: Harry A. Blackmun, William J. Brennan, Jr., William O. Douglas, Thurgood Marshall, Potter Stewart, Byron R. White

Justices Dissenting: Chief Justice Warren E. Burger (Lewis F. Powell, Jr., and William H. Rehnquist did not participate)

Date of Decision: March 22, 1972

Decision: Ruling in favor of Baird, the Court upheld the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision that the state law was unconstitutional because it denied unmarried and married persons equal protection in violation the Fourteenth Amendment.

Significance: The decision expanded the right of privacy to unmarried people and made contraceptives legally available to them throughout the United States. Importantly, the decision broadened the constitutional right of privacy in a way that foreshadowed the Court's landmark finding the following year that the right to privacy protects a woman's right to have an abortion.

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In 1873 U.S. Congress passed of a federal law, commonly known as the Comstock Act, prohibiting the distribution of birth control devices as well as information about birth control methods. Most states also had laws banning the sale, distribution, and advertising of contraceptives (birth control devices). One state law, Connecticut's, completely banned the use of contraceptives for anyone anywhere. In spite of the laws, the need for birth control resulted in the growth of birth control advocacy (support, in favor of) groups. In 1916 Margaret Sanger opened a birth control clinic in New York City and, continuing her role of reforming attitudes toward birth control, founded the organization Planned Parenthood in 1942.

Opened in 1961, the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut, directed by Estelle Griswold, provided information to married people about the use of birth control methods to prevent pregnancy. Soon, Griswold faced charges of violating Connecticut's 1879 law banning the use of contraceptives. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the law in Griswold v. Connecticut (1964) as an unconstitutional invasion of an

The effectiveness of different kinds of contraception.

. Reproduced by permission of Stanley Publishing

Page 681

individual's right to privacy in relationships between married adults. The Court ruled that contraceptives could not be banned for married adults. However, furnishing contraceptives to unmarried people remained illegal in many states. In Massachusetts a birth control law made it a felony (serious crime),

for anyone to give away a drug, medicine, instrument or article for the prevention of conception [pregnancy]...

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