Saturday, October 20, 2007

Catherine Roraback, attorney in Griswold v. Connecticut, has died

Catherine Roraback, attorney for the plaintiffs in the landmark case establishing the right to birth control, Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), died this week at the age of 87. The Connecticut Women's Hall of Fame writes: "Long before the advent of public interest law Roraback made it part of her practice to protect the legal rights of 'dissenters and the dispossessed.'"

Her involvement in Griswold is remembered this way in the New York Times:
In the early 1960s, Ms. Roraback represented Estelle Griswold, then the executive director of Planned Parenthood in Connecticut, and Dr. Charles Buxton, the chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale University’s School of Medicine, as their case rose through the state courts.
For years, Ms. Griswold and Dr. Buxton had fought to overturn an 1849 Connecticut law that prohibited the use and prescription of contraceptives. When their efforts failed, they decided to break the law themselves by opening a birth-control clinic in New Haven.

Three days after it opened, the clinic was raided by detectives.

“They seemed to welcome the intrusion,” one of the detectives, Harold Berg, told The New York Times in a 1989 review of the case. “They gave us everything we were looking for.”

With Ms. Roraback representing them, Ms. Griswold and Dr. Buxton were found guilty; then she began the appeals process. In 1965, a noted First Amendment scholar, Thomas I. Emerson, argued the case of Griswold v. Connecticut before the Supreme Court. In a 7-to-2 decision, the court found that the “statute forbidding use of contraceptives violates the right of marital privacy, which is within the penumbra of specific guarantees of the Bill of Rights.”

“It was simply a bad law,” Ms. Roraback told The Times in 1989. “People were concerned about controlling world population, and felt that outlawing contraceptives was out of step with the time.”

She also represented Bobby Seale of the Black Panther Party and civil rights workers in Mississippi. Roraback was the only woman in the Yale Law School class of 1948.
There is more in the Hartford Courant. Hat tip.