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A Conservative Right to Privacy: Legal, Ideological, and Coalitional Transformations in US Social Conservatism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 April 2021


The right to privacy has long been regarded as a liberal progressive principle, one that guarantees gender-based equality and liberty in the domain of reproductive rights. Since the US Supreme Court’s renowned articulation of privacy in Roe v. Wade, privacy’s opponents have condemned the right as an illegitimate judicial invention with no basis in the Constitution. This article addresses the puzzle of why a coalition of Christian conservative legal organizations, conservative foundations, Trump administration officials, Republican party lawmakers, and trans-exclusionary radical feminists has assembled to redefine the right to privacy in service of anti-transgender politics. While much attention has been paid to the proliferation of religious liberty-based challenges to the rights of sexual and gender minorities, these accounts miss how central the fight to reassociate privacy has become in conflicts waged in state and federal courts, city and state legislatures, and ballot referendum campaigns. Although this coalition eschews any mention of Roe or reproductive rights, it does adopt a substantive due process-based interpretation of privacy’s mandate despite the typical conservative disdain for that doctrine. Additionally, the coalition frames its project as one that balances competing rights claims by defending (cis) women’s rights against allegedly lopsided trans-inclusive reforms.

© 2021 American Bar Foundation

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The author would like to thank Julie Novkov, Erin Mayo-Adam, Emily Regier, Carly Regina, the participants at the 2019 Western Political Science Association and American Political Science Association conferences, and four insightful and generous reviewers.


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