The So-Called Right to Privacy

29 Pages Posted: 18 Aug 2009 Last revised: 15 Jan 2010

See all articles by Jamal Greene

Jamal Greene

Columbia University - Law School

Date Written: August 16, 2009


The constitutional right to privacy has been a conservative bugaboo ever since Justice Douglas introduced it into the United States Reports in Griswold v. Connecticut. Reference to the 'so-called' right to privacy has become code for the view that the right is doctrinally recognized but not in fact constitutionally enshrined. This Article argues that the constitutional right to privacy is no more. The two rights most associated historically with the right to privacy are abortion and intimate sexual conduct, yet Gonzales v. Carhart and Lawrence v. Texas made clear that neither of these rights is presently justified by its proponents on the Court as aspects of constitutional privacy. Other rights that might be protected by a constitutional right to privacy, such as the right to refuse medical treatment or the right to assisted suicide, are either justified on liberty grounds or are not constitutionally protected at all. The Court’s move from privacy to liberty as a constitutional basis for the freedom to make fundamental life decisions strengthens the rights themselves by anchoring them to constitutional text in a text-happy era, and represents a victory for Justice Stevens, who has long advocated such a shift.

Keywords: privacy, abortion, marriage, liberty, sex toys, equality, Stevens, Roe, Lawrence, sodomy, Griswold, Douglas, sexual, gay, Carhart

Suggested Citation

Greene, Jamal, The So-Called Right to Privacy (August 16, 2009). UC Davis Law Review, Forthcoming (Stevens Symposium); Columbia Public Law Research Paper No. 10-226. Available at SSRN:

Jamal Greene (Contact Author)

Columbia University - Law School ( email )

435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10025
United States

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