Whalen v. Roe

LOCATION:Terminal Railroad Association (where Lovasco allegedly stole the firearms from a mail facility)

DOCKET NO.: 75-839
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)

CITATION: 429 US 589 (1977)
ARGUED: Oct 13, 1976
DECIDED: Feb 22, 1977

A. Seth Greenwald – Argued the cause for the appellant
H. Miles Jaffe – Argued the cause for appellees Patient et al
Michael Lesch – Argued the cause for appellees Roe et al

Facts of the case

In 1972, the state legislature enacted the New York State Controlled Substances Act. The Act required doctors to fill out forms for potentially harmful prescription drugs. The prescribing doctor kept one copy, while another copy was sent to the dispensing pharmacy and a third copy was sent to the state department of health. The forms included personal information such as the patient’s name, address, and age.


Did the reporting and record-keeping requirements violate the constitutional right to privacy embraced by the concept of liberty under the Fourteenth Amendment?

Media for Whalen v. Roe

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – October 13, 1976 in Whalen v. Roe

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – February 22, 1977 in Whalen v. Roe

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the Court in Number 75-839, Whalen against Roe will be announced by Mr. Justice Stevens along with Number 75-853, United States Steel Corporation against Fortner Enterprises.

John Paul Stevens:

Whalen against Roe is a case involving the constitutionality of the New York law requiring that prescriptions for certain potentially dangerous drugs be prepared and triplicate on a special form which identifies the name and address of the patient.

After the prescription is dispense, one copy of the form is forwarded to the State Department of Health where the information on the form is recorded in a computer file.

The computer is intended to detect instances of potential drug abuse by identifying cases of over prescription.

Procedures were adopted to ensure the security of the prescription records and other than the in the course of a drug abuse investigation disclosure of patient’s identity is prohibited by law and made a crime.

The respondents in this case are a group of patients who had received some of the drugs and doctors who had prescribed them.

They brought this action in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York which held that the prescription reporting system needlessly invaded protected zones of privacy and was therefore unconstitutional.

Because our examination of the state system convinces us that New York has not exceeded its broad power to control the distribution of potentially dangerous drugs and because we are also convinced that as designed and administered, the system avoids an invasion of any constitutionally protected rights.

We unanimously reversed the District Court and hold that the New York law does not offend the constitution.

Mr. Justice Brennan and Mr. Justice Stewart, while joining the opinion of the Court, have each filed a brief concurring opinion.