Carey v. Population Services International/Concurrence Powell

Court Documents
Case Syllabus
Opinion of the Court
Concurring Opinions
Dissenting Opinion

Mr. Justice Powell, concurring in part and concurring in the judgment.

I agree that Population Planning Associates has standing to maintain this action, and therefore join Part I of the Court's opinion. Although I concur in the judgment of the Court, I am not persuaded that the Constitution requires the severe constraints that the Court's opinion places upon legislative efforts to regulate the distribution of contraceptives, particularly to the young.


The Court apparently would subject all state regulation affecting adult sexual relations to the strictest standard of judicial review. Under today's decision, such regulation "may be justified only by compelling state interests, and must be narrowly drawn to express only those interests." Ante, at 686. Even regulation restricting only the sexual activity of the young must now be justified by a "significant state interest," a standard that is "apparently less rigorous" than the standard the Court would otherwise apply. Ante, at 693 n. 15. In my view, the extraordinary protection the Court would give to all personal decisions in matters of sex is neither required by the Constitution nor supported by our prior decisions.


The cases on which the Court relies for its "compelling interest" standard do not support the sweeping principle it adopts today. Those cases generally involved direct and substantial interference with constitutionally protected rights. In Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965), the Court invalidated a state statute prohibiting the use of contraceptives and making it illegal for physicians to give advice to married persons regarding contraception. The statute was viewed as one "operat[ing] directly on an intimate relation of husband and wife and their physician's role in one aspect of that relation," id., at 482, and "seek[ing] to achieve its goals by means having a maximum destructive impact upon that relationship," id., at 485. In Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973) the Court reviewed a Texas statute imposing severe criminal sanctions on physicians and other medical personnel who performed nontherapeutic abortions, thus effectively foreclosing the availability and safety of this desired service. And just last Term, in Planned Parenthood of Central Missouri v. Danforth, 428 U.S. 52 (1976), we invalidated Missouri's requirement of spousal consent as a state-imposed "absolute obstacle to a woman's decision that Roe held to be constitutionally protected from such interference." Id., at 71 n. 11.

The Court relies on Planned Parenthood, supra, and Doe v. Bolton, 410 U.S. 179 (1973), for the proposition that "the same test must be applied to state regulations that burden an individual's right to decide to prevent conception or terminate pregnancy by substantially limiting access to the means of effectuating that decision as is applied to state statutes that prohibit the decision entirely." Ante, at 688. But neither of those cases refers to the "compelling state interest" test. In Bolton, the Court invalidated procedural requirements of the Georgia abortion statute that were found not "reasonably related" to the asserted legislative purposes or to the "patient's needs." 410 U.S., at 194, 199. Planned Parenthood involved--in addition to the "absolute obstacle" referred to above--the Missouri requirement of prior written consent by the pregnant woman. Despite the fact that Missouri normally did not require written consent for other surgical procedures, the Court sustained this regulation without requiring any demonstration of compelling state interests. The Court recognized that the decision to abort "is an important, and often a stressful one," and the State thus constitutionally could assure that the woman was aware of the significance of the decision. 428 U.S., at 67.

In sum, the Court quite unnecessarily extends the reach of cases like Griswold and Roe. Neither our precedents nor sound principles of constitutional analysis require state legislation to meet the exacting "compelling state interest" standard whenever it implicates sexual freedom. In my view, those cases make clear that that standard has been invoked only when the state regulation entirely frustrates or heavily burdens the exercise of constitutional rights in this area. See Bellotti v. Baird, 428 U.S. 132, 147 (1976). This is not to say that other state regulation is free from judicial review. But a test so severe that legislation rarely can meet it should be imposed by courts with deliberate restraint in view of the respect that properly should be accorded legislative judgments.


There is also no justification for subjecting restrictions on the sexual activity of the young to heightened judicial review. Under our prior cases, the States have broad latitude to legislate with respect to adolescents. The principle is well settled that "a State may permissibly determine that, at least in some precisely delineated areas, a not possessed of that full capacity for individual choice" which is essential to the exercise of various constitutionally protected interests. Ginsberg v. New York, 390 U.S. 629, 649-650 (1968) (Stewart, J., concurring in result). This principle is the premise of our prior decisions, ostensibly reaffirmed by the plurality, ante, at 692, holding that "the power of the state to control the conduct of children reaches beyond the scope of its authority over adults." Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158, 170 (1944). Restraints on the freedom of minors may be justified "even though comparable restraints on adults would be constitutionally impressible." Planned Parenthood of Central Missouri v. Danforth, supra, at 102 (Stevens, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part).[1]

New York has exercised its responsibility over minors in areas falling within the "cluster of constitutionally protected choices" relating to sex and marriage. Ante, at 685. It has set an age limitation below which persons cannot marry without parental consent, N. Y. Dom. Rel. Law §§ 15, 15-a (McKinney 1964 and Supp. 1976-1977), and has established by statute the age at which a minor is legally recognized as having the capacity to consent to sexual activity, Penal Law § 130.05 (3) (a) (McKinney 1975). See also Penal Law §§ 130.25, 130.30, 130.35 (McKinney 1975). These provisions highlight the State's concern that its juvenile citizens generally lack the maturity and understanding necessary to make decisions concerning marriage and sexual relationships.

Until today, I would not have thought it was even arguably necessary to review state regulation of this sort under a standard that for all practical purposes approaches the "compelling state interest" standard. At issue in Ginsberg v. New York, supra, for example, was the question of the constitutionality on its face of a New York criminal obscenity statute which prohibited the sale to minors of material defined to be obscene on the basis of its appeal to them whether or not it would be obscene to adults. The Court recognized that "the State has an interest 'to protect the welfare of children' and to see that they are 'safeguarded from abuses' which might prevent their 'growth into free and independent well-developed men and citizens.'" 390 U.S., at 640-641, quoting Prince v. Massachusetts, supra, at 165. Consequently, the "only question remaining" in that case was "whether the New York Legislature might rationally conclude, as it has, that exposure to the materials proscribed by [the statute] constitutes such an 'abuse.' " 390 U.S., at 641. Similarly, the relevant question in any case where state laws impinge on the freedom of action of young people in sexual matters is whether the restriction rationally serves valid state interests.


With these considerations in mind, I turn to the specific provisions of the New York statute limiting the distribution of contraceptives.


New York has made it a crime for anyone other than a physician to sell or distribute contraceptives to minors under the age of 16 years. Educ. Law § 6811 (8) (McKinney 1972). This element of New York's program of regulation for the protection of its minor citizens is said to evidence the State's judgment that the health and well-being of minors would be better assured if they are not encouraged to engage in sexual intercourse without guidance. Although I have no doubt that properly framed legislation serving this purpose would meet constitutional standards, the New York provision is defective in two respects. First, it infringes the privacy interests of married females between the ages of 14 and 16, see ante, at 695 n. 18, in that it prohibits the distribution of contraceptives to such females except by a physician. In authorizing marriage at that age, the State also sanctions sexual intercourse between the partners and expressly recognizes that once the marriage relationship exists the husband and wife are presumed to possess the requisite understanding and maturity to make decisions concerning sex and procreation. Consequently, the state interest that justifies a requirement of prior counselling with respect to minors in general simply is inapplicable with respect to minors for whom the State has affirmatively approved marriage.

Second, this provision prohibits parents from distributing contraceptives to their children, a restriction that unjustifiably interferes with parental interests in rearing their children. Cf. Ginsberg v. New York, 390 U.S., at 639 and n. 7. "[C]onstitutional interpretation has consistently recognized that the parents' claim to authority in their own household to direct the rearing of their children is basic in the structure of our society. 'It is cardinal with us that the custody, care and nurture of the child reside first in the parents, whose primary function and freedom include preparation for obligations the state can neither supply nor hinder.' " Ibid., quoting Prince v. Massachusetts, supra, at 166. See Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205, 231-233 (1972); Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 534-535 (1925); Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 399-401 (1923). Moreover, this statute would allow the State "to enquire into, prove, and punish," Poe v. Ullman, 367 U.S. 497, 548 (1961) (Harlan, J., dissenting), the exercise of this parental responsibility. The State points to no interest of sufficient magnitude to justify this direct interference with the parental guidance that is especially appropriate in this sensitive area of child development.[2]

But in my view there is considerably more room for state regulation in this area than would be permissible under the plurality's opinion. It seems clear to me, for example, that the State would further a constitutionally permissible end if it encouraged adolescents to seek the advice and guidance of their parents before deciding whether to engage in sexual intercourse. Planned Parenthood, 428 U.S., at 91 (Stewart, J., concurring). The State justifiably may take note of the psychological pressures that might influence children at a time in their lives when they generally do not possess the maturity necessary to understand and control their responses. Participation in sexual intercourse at an early age may have both physical and psychological consequences. These include the risks of venereal disease and pregnancy, and the less obvious mental and emotional problems that may result from sexual activity by children. Moreover, society has long adhered to the view that sexual intercourse should not be engaged in promiscuously, a judgment that an adolescent may be less likely to heed than an adult.

Requiring minors to seek parental guidance would be consistent with our prior cases. In Planned Parenthood, we considered whether there was "any significant state interest in conditioning [a minor's] abortion [decision] on the consent of a parent or person in loco parentis that is not present in the case of an adult." 428 U.S., at 75. Observing that the minor necessarily would be consulting with a physician on all aspects of the abortion decision, we concluded that the Missouri requirement was invalid because it imposed "a special-consent provision, exercisable by a person other than the woman and her physician, as a prerequisite to a minor's termination of her pregnancy and [did] so without a sufficient justification for the restriction." Ibid. But we explicitly suggested that a materially different constitutional issue would be presented with respect to a statute assuring in most instances consultation between the parent and child. Ibid., citing Bellotti v. Baird, 428 U.S. 132 (1976). See Planned Parenthood, supra, at 90-91 (Stewart, J., concurring).

A requirement of prior parental consultation is merely one illustration of permissible regulation in this area. As long as parental distribution is permitted, a State should have substantial latitude in regulating the distribution of contraceptives to minors.[3]


New York also makes it a crime for anyone other than a licensed pharmacist to sell or distribute contraceptives to adults and to minors aged 16 or over. The only serious justification offered by the State for this prohibition is that it is necessary to facilitate enforcement of the limitation on distribution to children under 16 years of age. Since the Court invalidates that limitation today, the pharmacy restriction lacks any rational justification. I therefore agree with the Court that § 6811 (8)'s limitation on the distribution of nonprescription contraceptives cannot be sustained.

But even if New York were to enact constitutionally permissible limitations on access for children, I doubt that it could justify the present pharmacy restriction as an enforcement measure. Restricting the kinds of retail outlets that may distribute contraceptives may well be justified,[4] but the present statute even prohibits distribution by mail to adults. In this respect, the statute works a significant invasion of the constitutionally protected privacy in decisions concerning sexual relations. By requiring individuals to buy contraceptives over the counter, the statute heavily burdens constitutionally protected freedom.[5]


I also agree with the Court that New York cannot lawfully prohibit all "advertisement or display" of contraceptives. But it seems to me that the Court's opinion may be read too broadly. It flatly dismisses, as justifications "classically" irrelevant, the State's contentions that the indiscriminate advertisement of contraceptive products in some settings could be unduly offensive and could be viewed by the young as legitimation of sexual promiscuity. I agree that these justifications cannot support a complete ban on advertising, but I see no reason to cast any doubt on the authority of the State to impose carefully tailored restrictions designed to serve legitimate governmental concerns as to the effect of commercial advertising on the young.[6]


  1. . Mr. Justice Stevens recently provided the following examples, deeply rooted in our traditions and law:
  2. . The particular provision at issue makes it a crime for "[a]ny person to sell or distribute any instrument or article, or any recipe, drug or medicine for the prevention of contraception to a minor under the age of sixteen years...." Educ. Law § 6811 (8) (McKinney 1972). For the reasons stated in the text, this provision unjustifiably infringes the constitutionally protected interests of parents and married female minors, and it is invalid in those two respects. Although the prohibition on distribution might be sustained as to other individuals if the restrictions on parental distribution and distribution to married female minors could be treated as severable, the result "would be to create a program quite different from the one the legislature actually adopted." Sloan v. Lemon, 413 U.S. 825, 834 (1973). I therefore agree with the Court that the entire provision must be invalidated. See Dorchy v. Kansas, 264 U.S. 286, 291 (1924); Dollar Co. v. Canadian C. & F. Co., 220 N. Y. 270, 279, 115 N.E. 711, 713 (1917).
  3. . As long as access is available through parents, I perceive no constitutional obstacle to state regulation that authorizes other designated adults--such as physicians--to provide relevant counselling.
  4. . Absent some evidence that a restriction of outlets to registered pharmacists heavily burdens the constitutional interests of adults, there would be no basis for applying the standard of review articulated in Griswold and Roe. See Part I, supra. Indeed, in the absence of such evidence there would be no reason to set aside a legislative judgment that enforcement of constitutionally permissible limitations on access for minors, see Part II-A, supra, warrants a reasonable limitation on the means for marketing contraceptives. Without some limitations on the number and type of retail outlets it would be difficult--if not impossible--to effectuate the state interest in assuring that minors are counseled before purchasing contraceptive devices. As pharmacists are licensed professionals, the State may be justified in relying on them to act responsibly in observing regulations applicable to minors.
  5. . It is not a satisfactory answer that an individual may preserve anonymity as one of a number of customers in a retail outlet. However impersonal the marketplace may be, it does not approach the privacy of the home. There may be some risk that mail distribution will occasionally permit circumvention of permissible restrictions with respect to children, but this does not justify the concomitant burden on the constitutional rights of adults.
  6. . The State argues that unregulated commercial advertisement of contraceptive products would be viewed by the young as "legitimation" of--if not an open invitation to--sexual promiscuity. The Court simply finds on the basis of the advertisements in the record before us that this interest does not justify total suppression of advertising concerning contraceptives. The Court does leave open the question whether this or other state interests would justify regulation of the time, place, or manner of such commercial advertising. Ante, at 702 n. 29. In my view, such carefully tailored restrictions may be especially appropriate when advertising is accomplished by means of the electronic media. As Judge Leventhal recently observed in that context: "[T]here is a distinction between the allout prohibition of a censor, and regulation of time and place of speaking out, which still leaves access to a substantial part of the mature audience. What is entitled to First Amendment protection is not necessarily entitled to First Amendment protection in all places. Young v. American Mini Theatres, Inc., 427 U. S. 50...(1976). Nor is it necessarily entitled to such protection at all times." Pacifica Foundation v. FCC, 181 U. S. App. D. C. 132, 157, 556 F.2d 9, 34 (1977) (dissenting opinion).