Amdt5.4.5.2.4.1 Right to Privacy: Pre-Modern Doctrine

Fifth Amendment:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

More so than other areas of law, noneconomic substantive due process seems to have started with few fixed precepts. Were the rights being protected property rights (and thus really protected by economic due process) or were they individual liberties? What standard of review needed to be applied? What were the parameters of such rights once identified? For instance, did a right of privacy relate to protecting physical spaces such as one’s home, or was it related to the issue of autonomy to make private, intimate decisions? Once a right was identified, often using abstract labels, how far could such an abstraction be extended? Did protecting the privacy of the decisions whether to have a family also include the right to make decisions regarding sexual intimacy? Although many of these issues have been resolved, others remain.

One of the earliest formulations of noneconomic substantive due process was the right to privacy. This right was first proposed by Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis in an 1890 Harvard Law Review article 1 as a unifying theme to various common law protections of the right to be left alone, including the developing laws of nuisance, libel, search and seizure, and copyright. According to the authors, the right to life has come to mean the right to enjoy life, – the right to be let alone . . . . This development of the law was inevitable. The intense intellectual and emotional life, and the heightening of sensations which came with the advance of civilization, made it clear to men that only a part of the pain, pleasure, and profit of life lay in physical things. Thoughts, emotions, and sensations demanded legal recognition, and the beautiful capacity for growth which characterizes the common law enabled the judges to afford the requisite protection, without the interposition of the legislature.

The concepts put forth in this article, which appeared to relate as much to private intrusions on persons as to intrusions by government, reappeared years later in a dissenting opinion by Justice Brandeis regarding the Fourth Amendment. 2 Then, in the 1920s, at the heyday of economic substantive due process, the Court ruled in two cases that, although nominally involving the protection of property, foreshadowed the rise of the protection of noneconomic interests. In Meyer v. Nebraska, 3 the Court struck down a state law forbidding schools from teaching any modern foreign language to any child who had not successfully finished the eighth grade. Two years later, in Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 4 the Court declared it unconstitutional to require public school education of children aged eight to sixteen. The statute in Meyer was found to interfere with the property interest of the plaintiff, a German teacher, in pursuing his occupation, while the private school plaintiffs in Pierce were threatened with destruction of their businesses and the values of their properties. 5 Yet in both cases the Court also permitted the plaintiffs to represent the interests of parents and children in the assertion of other noneconomic forms of liberty.

Without doubt, Justice McReynolds said in Meyer, liberty denotes not merely freedom from bodily restraint but also the right of the individual to contract, to engage in any of the common occupations of life, to acquire useful knowledge, to marry, establish a home and bring up children, to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience, and generally to enjoy those privileges long recognized at common law as essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.6 The right of the parents to have their children instructed in a foreign language was within the liberty of the [Fourteenth] Amendment.7 Meyer was then relied on in Pierce to assert that the statute there unreasonably interferes with the liberty of parents and guardians to direct the upbringing and education of children under their control. . . . The child is not the mere creature of the State; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.8

Although the Supreme Court continued to define noneconomic liberty broadly in dicta, 9 this new concept was to have little impact for decades. 10 Finally, in 1967, in Loving v. Virginia, 11 the Court held that a statute prohibiting interracial marriage denied substantive due process. Marriage was termed one of the ‘basic civil rights of man’ and a fundamental freedom. The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men, and the classification of marriage rights on a racial basis was unsupportable. Further development of this line of cases was slowed by the expanded application of the Bill of Rights to the states, which afforded the Court an alternative ground to void state policies. 12

Despite the Court’s increasing willingness to overturn state legislation, the basis and standard of review that the Court would use to review infringements on fundamental freedoms were not always clear. In Poe v. Ullman, 13 for instance, the Court dismissed as non-justiciable a suit challenging a Connecticut statute banning the use of contraceptives, even by married couples. In dissent, however, Justice Harlan advocated the application of a due process standard of reasonableness – the same lenient standard he would have applied to test economic legislation. 14 Applying a lengthy analysis, Justice Harlan concluded that the statute in question infringed upon a fundamental liberty without the showing of a justification which would support the intrusion. Yet, when the same issue returned to the Court in Griswold v. Connecticut, 15 a majority of the Justices rejected reliance on substantive due process 16 and instead decided it on another basis – that the statute was an invasion of privacy, which was a non-textual penumbral ri 17ght protected by a matrix of constitutional provisions. Not only was this right to be protected again governmental intrusion, but there was apparently little or no consideration to be given to what governmental interests might justify such an intrusion upon the marital bedroom.

Footnotes

  1.  Jump to essay-1 Warren and Brandeis, The Right of Privacy, 4 Harv. L. Rev. 193 (1890).
  2.  Jump to essay-2See Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438 (1928) (Brandeis, J., dissenting) (arguing against the admissibility in criminal trials of secretly taped telephone conversations). In Olmstead, Justice Brandeis wrote: The makers of our Constitution undertook to secure conditions favorable to the pursuit of happiness. . . . They sought to protect Americans in their beliefs, their thoughts, their emotions and their sensations. They conferred, as against the Government, the right to be let alone – the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men. To protect that right, every unjustifiable intrusion by the government upon the privacy of the individual, whatever the means employed, must be deemed a violation of the Fourth Amendment. 277 U.S. at 478.
  3.  Jump to essay-3262 U.S. 390 (1923). Justices Holmes and Sutherland entered a dissent, applicable to Meyer, in Bartels v. Iowa, 262 U.S. 404, 412 (1923).
  4.  Jump to essay-4268 U.S. 510 (1925).
  5.  Jump to essay-5Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 400 (1923); Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 531, 533, 534 (1925). The Court has subsequently made clear that these cases dealt with a complete prohibition of the right to engage in a calling, holding that a brief interruption did not constitute a constitutional violation. Conn v. Gabbert, 526 U.S. 286, 292 (1999) (search warrant served on attorney prevented attorney from assisting client appearing before a grand jury).
  6.  Jump to essay-6262 U.S. at 399.
  7.  Jump to essay-7262 U.S. at 400.
  8.  Jump to essay-8268 U.S. at 534-35.
  9.  Jump to essay-9Skinner v. Oklahoma, 316 U.S. 535, 541 (1942) (marriage and procreation are among the basic civil rights of man); Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158, 166 (1944) (care and nurture of children by the family are within the private realm of family life which the state cannot enter).
  10.  Jump to essay-10E.g., Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11 (1905); Zucht v. King, 260 U.S. 174 (1922) (allowing compulsory vaccination); Buck v. Bell, 274 U.S. 200 (1927) (allowing sexual sterilization of inmates of state institutions found to be afflicted with hereditary forms of mental illness or intellectual disability); Minnesota v. Probate Court ex rel. Pearson, 309 U.S. 270 (1940) (allowing institutionalization of habitual sexual offenders as psychopathic personalities).
  11.  Jump to essay-11388 U.S. 1, 12 (1967).
  12.  Jump to essay-12Indeed, in Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479, 482 (1965), Justice Douglas reinterpreted Meyer and Pierce as having been based on the First Amendment. Note also that in Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U.S. 97, 105 (1968), and Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Community School Dist., 393 U.S. 503, 506-07 (1969), Justice Fortas for the Court approvingly noted the due process basis of Meyer and Pierce while deciding both cases on First Amendment grounds.
  13.  Jump to essay-13367 U.S. 497, 522, 539-45 (1961). Justice Douglas, also dissenting, relied on a due process analysis, which began with the texts of the first eight Amendments as the basis of fundamental due process and continued into the emanations from this as also protected. Id. at 509.
  14.  Jump to essay-14According to Justice Harlan, due process is limited neither to procedural guarantees nor to the rights enumerated in the first eight Amendments of the Bill of Rights, but is rather a discrete concept which subsists as an independent guaranty of liberty and procedural fairness, more general and inclusive than the specific prohibitions. The liberty protected by the clause is a rational continuum which, broadly speaking, includes a freedom from all substantial arbitrary impositions and purposeless restraints . . . and which also recognizes, what a reasonable and sensitive judgment must, that certain interests require particularly careful scrutiny of the state needs asserted to justify their abridgment. 367 U.S. at 542, 543.
  15.  Jump to essay-15 381 U.S. 479 (1965) .
  16.  Jump to essay-16We do not sit as a super-legislature to determine the wisdom, need, and propriety of laws that touch economic problems, business affairs, or social conditions. Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. at 482 (opinion of Court by Justice Douglas).
  17.  Jump to essay-17The analysis, while reminiscent of the right to privacy first suggested by Warren and Brandeis, still approached the matter in reliance on substantive due process cases. It should be noted that the separate concurrences of Justices Harlan and White were specifically based on substantive due process, 381 U.S. at 499, 502, which indicates that the majority’s position was intended to be something different. Justice Goldberg, on the other hand, in concurrence, would have based the decision on the Ninth Amendment. 381 U.S. at 486-97. See analysis under the Ninth Amendment, Rights Retained By the People, supra.