Title: Eisenstadt v Baird, 1967
Medium: Gouache and ink on paper
Story: William Baird was charged with a felony for distributing contraceptive foams after lectures on birth control and population control at Boston University. The prearranged violation of the law occurred on April 6, 1967 when Baird handed a condom and a package of contraceptive foam to a 19-year-old woman. Under Massachusetts law on “Crimes against chastity” (Chapter 272, section 21A), contraceptives could be distributed only by registered doctorsor pharmacists, and only to married persons.
After Baird was convicted, an appeal resulted in partial overturn by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, which concluded that the lectures were covered by First Amendment protections. However, the court affirmed the conviction under contraceptive distribution laws. Baird filed a petition for a federal writ of habeas corpus, which was refused by the federal district court. Upon appeal, The Court of Appeals for the First Circuit vacatedthe dismissal and remanded the action with directions to grant the writ, and dismiss the charge, reasoning that the Massachusetts law infringed on fundamental human rights of unmarried couples as guaranteed by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. This ruling was then appealed to the United States Supreme Court, by Sheriff Eisenstadt, who had prosecuted the case, on the ground that Baird lacked standing to appeal, being neither an authorized distributor under the statute nor a single person.
In a 6–1 decision (Justices Rehnquist and Powell were not sworn in on time to participate in the case), the Court upheld both Baird’s standing to appeal and the First Circuit’s decision on the basis of the Equal Protection Clause, but did not reach the Due Process issues. The majority opinion was written by Justice William J. Brennan Jr. and joined by three other justices, William O. Douglas, Potter Stewart, and Thurgood Marshall. Brennan reasoned that, since Massachusetts did not (and perhaps could not under Griswold v. Connecticut) enforce its law against married couples, the law worked irrational discrimination by denying the right to possess contraceptives by unmarried couples. He found that Massachusetts’s law was not designed to protect public health and lacked a rational basis.