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Law School Case Brief

Carey v. Population Servs. Int'l - 431 U.S. 678, 97 S. Ct. 2010 (1977)


Although the Constitution does not explicitly mention any right of privacy, the court has recognized that one aspect of the "liberty" protected by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment is a right of personal privacy, or a guarantee of certain areas or zones of privacy. This right of personal privacy includes the interest in independence in making certain kinds of important decisions. While the outer limits of this aspect of privacy have not been marked by the court, it is clear that among the decisions that an individual may make without unjustified government interference are personal decisions relating to marriage, procreation, contraception, family relationships, and child rearing and education.


A New York statute made it a crime for anyone to sell or distribute contraceptives to minors under the age of 16, for anyone other than a licensed pharmacist to distribute contraceptives to persons over 15, and for anyone to advertise or display contraceptives. An action challenging the constitutionality of the statute was instituted against state officials in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York by various individuals and organizations, including Population Planning Associates, an out-of-state corporation which made mail-order sales of contraceptives in New York, advertised its products in periodicals in New York, and had been threatened with prosecution under the New York statute. A three-judge District Court held that the statute was unconstitutional under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.


Is the New York statute unconstitutional for being in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments?




The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s decision holding that the statute was an unjustified intrusion by the state on individual decisions in matters of childbearing, protected as privacy rights by the Due Process Clause of U.S. Const. amend. XIV. The Court rejected the contention that the statute was a constitutionally permissible regulation of morality of minors, holding that because the state could not flatly prohibit the choice of a minor to terminate a pregnancy, a blanket prohibition of distribution of contraceptives to minors was a fortiori unconstitutional. According to the Court, the statute's ban on advertising was an unconstitutional suppression of commercial information related to protected activity. Limiting distribution to pharmacists imposed an unconstitutional burden on the individual's right to use contraceptives, an exception permitting physicians to dispense contraceptives did not save the statute.

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