Is the right to privacy protected under the constitution? This has become a contentious debate with most people arguing that the issue of privacy is not explicitly recognized under the Bill of Rights. This is evident due to the fact that the word ‘privacy’ cannot be traced in the constitution of the United States. However, most people argue that the principle of privacy does exist. How then is an individual right to privacy protected especially from the intrusion by the government? Most decisions by the U.S Supreme Court seem to protect an individual’s right to privacy by relying on the Fourteenth Amendment. The due process clause forbids the government from infringing on individual’s privacy without some necessary form of protection.
This clause was the basis for Poe v. Ullman, 367 U.S. 497 (1961) in which the court upheld the Connecticut law that banned doctors from prescribing the use of contraceptives (Schultz 577). By a majority, the court held that the plaintiffs lacked standing to confront the Connecticut statute in regard to the usage of contraceptive devices that it had banned. However, Justice Harlan dissent took a different view by arguing that the issue of liberty was protected by the Fourteenth Amendment due process. This protection included protection from not only the government violations, but also against any law which unjustifiably imposes on the issue of privacy. However, he continued to argue that certain laws that regulate the level of immorality such as homosexuality, fornication or adultery do not infringe on the people’s right to privacy. This holding was evident in McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U.S. 420 (1961) in which the court held that religious laws could not be viewed as unconstitutional.
The dissent opinion by Justice Harlan seems to have had a huge influence in other court decisions. The same issue was challenged in Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965). The court in this landmark case held that the constitution protected the privacy rights (Schultz 586). In this case, the court invalidated the law that banned the use of contraceptives on the premise that the law breached the marital privacy law. In his judgment, Justice William O’Douglas noted that even though the constitution failed to explicitly mention the word ‘privacy’, this particular right was instituted in the penumbras and emanations derived from other constitutional protections. These are rights that are embedded in, or peripheral to other provisions evident in the constitution. Justice Mashall Harlan and Justice Byron White wrote concurring opinions on which they both based their arguments on the due process clause that protects the issue of privacy. However, Justice Hugo Black and Justice Potter Stewart wrote dissenting opinions. Justice Black in his dissent argued that the right to privacy is not protected in the constitution and went ahead to criticize the attempt to interpret the Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments to which his fellow justices relied upon. Justice Stewart on the other hand viewed the Connecticut law as a ‘silly law’ but went ahead to argue that it was still constitutional.
It is therefore evident that since the Griswold case, several justices have upheld the right to privacy in several of their rulings. In Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), the court used the Griswold case as a precedence to rule that a private decision between a patient and her doctor on her choice to abort was protected (Kleijkamp 81). Other justices also have also extended their interpretation of the principles laid down in the Griswold case beyond its meticulous facts. The justices in Eisenstadt v. Baird, 405 U.S 438 (1972) extended this principle so as to include unmarried couples on the use of contraceptives. The move by the court to extend the privacy is therefore premised on the fact that some laws that have been put in place do not further any justifiable legitimate interest on the right to privacy. It is therefore the role of the court to protect the privacy rights to any individual against the intrusion of the government or any such laws.
Kleijkamp, Gerda. Family life and family interests. Cambridge : Kluwer Law International Ltd., 1999. Print.
Schultz, David. Encyclopedia of the United States Constitution, Volume 1. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2009. Print.