Right to Privacy – Bill of Rights – GOVT 421

The Right to Privacy

To date, the concept of an individual’s right to privacy remains one of the most controversial legal provisions in the United States. This research paper will, therefore, evaluate the right to privacy predominantly as one of the most contentious tenets in the Bill of Rights. Furthermore, this analysis will delve into the interpretionist and constructionist dispositions which emerged shortly after the historic Griswold v. Connecticut Supreme court ruling of 1965. This single event was responsible for laying the foundation for the right to privacy within the United States and was soon accompanied by an augmentation of the right to privacy to encompass the right to procure an abortion. Moreover, the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling of 1973 will also be featured in this discussion for its part in giving women the right to choose whether or not to procure an abortion. It is through this appraisal that this paper seeks to identify the alignment between the right to privacy and the Constitutional heritage of the United States.

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Privacy Protections in the United States

Privacy Amendments

            Privacy, within the context of the United States, refers to protecting individual’s private information from public inquiry. Although the United States Constitution initially failed to outline this right within its defining canons, a series of amendments sought to provide applicable remedy.  For instance, the 1st Amendment offers individuals a great deal of personal autonomy and safeguards their privacy with regard to beliefs. The 3rd Amendment, on the other hand, was also categorical on the right to privacy debate and protected citizen’s homes from intrusion by federal soldiers seeking to be housed. The 5th Amendment went a step further in its objective to safeguard citizen’s privacy by protecting them from any wanton and unreasonable searches.

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Additionally, the 5th Amendment also defends citizen’s right to privacy by protecting them from self-incrimination when required to provide private information. The 9th Amendment accords the Constitution latitude to protect individual’s right to privacy in ways not outlined in previous amendments.  Moreover, the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment also protects citizen’s right to privacy by preventing state governments from enforcing legislations which, essentially, violate this right without following due legal procedure. The inclusion of the right to privacy in various amendments within the Constitution now meant that its significance was acknowledged, thus, protecting it using statutory law.

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Bill of Rights

            Although the U.S Constitution fails to explicitly outline privacy concerns, the Bill of Rights has played a major role in filling this void. It particularly addresses concerns of the nation’s Founding Fathers such as James Madison who regarded privacy as one of the most important aspects of life in the United States. The Bill of Rights also enumerates individual’s rights and assures citizens of their implementation to prevent scenarios where they are disparaged.  It has also, now emerged, as a major exponent of the right to privacy as a way of addressing blatant inadequacies in the Constitution. This very fact now leads many to contend that the right to privacy, as purportedly outlined in the Constitution, may be conjectural.

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However, the Supreme Court has been categorical in asserting individual’s right to privacy as a provision outlined in the 14th Amendment.  This fact was first elaborated during the1920s during the Meyer v. Nebraska case in which the court determined that the liberty clause prevented the government from interfering with individual’s right to choose instructional material for children. Additionally, the Pierce v Society of Sisters proceeded to remove aspects of Oregon law which forced children to attend public schools, thus highlighting the right to privacy as a basic principle of the Bill of Rights.

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Right to Privacy in the Supreme Court 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut Ruling

Legal Background

            Abortion has long been a major subject of contention in the United States. Jurisdictions such as Connecticut had initially passed longstanding legislations, chief among them being the Comstock Act of 1873 to prevent what many viewed as a contemptible act. This act prohibited the use of medical technology or drugs to prevent conception; a crime punishable by a fine of between $50 and $60 or a jail term of one year in prison. Although most states repealed analogous legislation, Connecticut was among the last jurisdictions where this statute was still enforced. This scenario created an existential problem for physicians and proponents of Planned Parenthood in their quest to disseminate important information regarding contraception. Clinics seeking to offer the aforementioned services were warned beforehand by the state and required apply the Anti-contraception law of 1879. 

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The Griswold v. Connecticut was, therefore, a culmination of a long quest to legalize abortion, especially in situations which endangered the mother’s life. The Comstock law (1873) and Anti-Contraception law (1879) had initially been challenge in the Tileston v. Ullman (1943) casewhich was subsequently dismissed on technical grounds. Similarly, the Poe v. Ullman (1961) case challenging the Comstock law (1873) was also dismissed for lacking breadth. Griswold v. Connecticut was an appeal lodged in response to this blatant dismissal and Justice Marshall Harlan II in the second case. A 7-2 decision handed down by the Supreme Court resulted in the removal of the Comstock law (1873) and Anti-Contraception law (1879) which had previously hindered efforts by the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut (PPLC).

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Analysis of Privacy Protections

            TheGriswold v. Connecticut (1965)ruling soon became a legal milestone with profound impact on the legality of longstanding statutes and privacy protections in the United States. This case represents the first instance where the right to privacy was explored at length with the aim of evaluating the protections provided. Initially, members of the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut (PPLC) had made it their life’s work to distribute modern means of contraception to persons in need of these essential services.  This was deemed illegal since various tenets of Connecticut law, including the now infamous Comstock law (1873) criminalized the spread and instructing citizens on contraception. However, the Supreme Court ruling by Justice Douglas determined that decisions made by married couples within the confines of their marital bedroom were private and protected from state interference. Since the Constitution is ambiguous in its position on out rightly elucidating its position on privacy, the strict interpretionist and loose constructionist perspectives emerged as formidable perspectives. Strict interpetionism is grounded in an exacting word-to-word interpretation of the constitution while the loose constructionism is libertarian and affords the Constitution broad latitude to determine problematic cases.  The latter was applied in Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), since it was widely accepted preventing married couples from accessing contraception was an infringement upon privacy which is protected by the constitution.  This paved the way for petitions such as the Roe v. Wade case of 1973 which resulted in a 9-2 majority vote in favor of abortion and right to privacy when seeking contraceptives.

Privacy Rights

Biblical Perspective on Privacy Rights

            The Bible rarely makes direct references to privacy and any other provision which may stem from it. However, there are subtle allusion to a sense of privacy in society and how individuals should respond. The Bible is explicit in defining the exclusive nature of property and even goes as far as decreeing that individuals are forbidden from stealing.

This indicates the fact that individuals are accorded a level of privacy with regard to their possessions and belongings. Additionally, Christians are urged to avoid prying into the lives of others and concerning important issues only; “Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before”.

Privacy Rights in alignment with the statutory heritage of the United States

Privacy rights have an extensive constitutional heritage in the United States. James Madison was among one of the first influential statesmen to underscore the vital necessity of the right to privacy as he composed the Bill of Rights in 1789. Attorney Samuel D. Warren’s 1890 article titled “The Right to Privacy” is generally accepted as the penultimate unambiguous declaration of this notion which was initially introduced to protect citizens. Lobbyist involved in this spirited campaign soon became aware of the intricacies involved in the wide scale adoption of the right to privacy, especially since it was not explicitly elucidated in the Constitution.

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However, the Supreme Court soon played a major role in clarifying that the First Amendment was responsible for protecting citizens against state intrusion and a clear declaration of individual’s right to privacy. However, it is noteworthy to acknowledge that no explicit mention of privacy is made in the Constitution. Stipulations connected to privacy are outlined in the 1st, 3rd, 5th, 9th, and 14th Amendments to provide a legal safeguard for citizens. Aspects of locational privacy, therefore, stem from these provisions which essentially prevent the state from intruding by remaining aware of this basic right.

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