Bench Memos

This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—November 10

1961—Phony cases make silly law. Estelle Griswold, executive director of the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut, and Lee Buxton, a Yale medical school professor who doubles as medical director of the League’s New Haven facility, contrive to get themselves arrested for violation of an 1879 Connecticut law against using, or being accessories to the use of, contraceptives—a law that had never been enforced. They succeed in being found guilty and fined $100 each, and thus begin to lay the stage for the Supreme Court’s 1965 ruling in Griswold v. Connecticut. (See This Day for June 7, 1965.)

1969—In the first federal court decision striking down an abortion law, federal district judge Gerhard Gesell dismisses the indictment of an abortionist, Milan Vuitch, on the ground that the District of Columbia’s abortion statute is unconstitutionally vague. In April 1971 (one day before it votes to hear Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton), the Supreme Court will reverse Gesell’s ruling.

1992—Is orthodox Judaism the state religion of Georgia? A panel of the Eleventh Circuit rules (in Chabad-Lubavitch of Georgia v. Miller) that the display of a menorah in the rotunda of Georgia’s capitol building would violate the Establishment Clause. Eleven months later, the en banc Eleventh Circuit unanimously reverses the panel ruling and permits the menorah display.  

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