Bench Memos

This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—December 13

1971—The initial Supreme Court oral argument in Roe v. Wade takes place.  The case ends up being carried over to the next term and re-argued in October 1972.  In the meantime, the Court issues its ruling in Eisenstadt v. Baird, which extends a right to contraception to unmarried persons.  (See This Day for March 22, 1972.)  Justice Brennan smuggles into this passage in his majority opinion in Eisenstadt a couple extraneous words:  “If the right of privacy means anything, it is the right of the individual, married or single, to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child.”  In his January 1973 majority opinion in Roe, Justice Blackmun quotes this passage immediately before declaring that “[t]hat right [of privacy] necessarily includes the right of a woman to decide whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.”

Ed Whelan — Ed Whelan is a leading commentator on nominations to the Supreme Court and the lower courts and on issues of constitutional law.

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