Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The US Supreme Eugenic Court: Buck v Bell 1927

‘Interpreting’ the Constitution has brought us nothing but headaches. The Constitution means exactly what it says. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s there expressly to protect Everyone from outbreaks of “Well Everyone Knows That!” populism which have decided to trample upon Inalienable Rights, at the moment.
Psychiatry anyone?
So what happens when Judicial Activists get seated upon the bench of our Supreme Court (and any of the inferior courts). This egregious example wasn’t just One, Activist clown, it was Eight of them. Welcome to the American version of Racial Hygiene.
Psychiatric Genetics?
It’s Still holding the Same empty bag of Jack it was holding when O.W. Holmes and his 7 fellow Usurpers penned This piece of Unlawful Activism.

Buck v. Bell, 274 U.S. 200 (1927), was the United States Supreme Court ruling that upheld a statute institutingcompulsory sterilization of the unfit, including the mentally retarded, "for the protection and health of the state." It was largely seen as an endorsement of negative eugenics—the attempt to improve the human race by eliminating "defectives" from the gene pool.




The concept of eugenics had been put forward in 1883 by Francis Galton, who also coined the name.[1] The trend first became popular in Europe, but also found proponents in the United States by the start of the twentieth century.Indiana passed the first eugenic sterilization statute (1907), but it was legally flawed. To remedy this situation, Harry Laughlin of the Eugenics Record Office (ERO) at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, designed a model eugenic law that was reviewed by legal experts. In 1924 the Commonwealth of Virginia adopted a statute authorizing thecompulsory sterilization of the mentally retarded for the purpose of eugenics. This 1924 statute was closely based on Laughlin's model.[2]
Looking to determine if the new law would pass a legal challenge, on 10 September 1924 Dr. Albert Sidney Priddy, superintendent[3] of the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feeble Minded, filed a petition to his Board of Directors to sterilize Carrie Buck, an 18-year-old patient at his institution who he claimed had a mental age of 9. Priddy maintained that Buck represented a genetic threat to society. According to Priddy, Buck's 52-year-old mother possessed a mental age of 8 and had a record of prostitution and immorality. She had three children without good knowledge of their parentage. Carrie, one of these children, had been adopted and attended school for five years, reaching the level of sixth grade. However, according to Priddy, she had eventually proved to be "incorrigible" and eventually gave birth to an illegitimate child. Her adopted family had committed her to the State Colony as "feeble-minded" (a catch-all term used at the time for not only the mentally disabled but also promiscuous, poor, uneducated, and anyone considered abnormal), no longer feeling capable of caring for her. It was later discovered that Carrie's pregnancy was not caused by any "immorality" on her own part. In the summer of 1923, while her adoptive mother was away "on account of some illness," her adoptive mother's nephew raped Carrie, and Carrie's later commitment has been seen as an attempt by the family to save their reputation.

Carrie Buck was a patient sentenced to compulsory sterilization.

[edit]The effect of the ruling

Dr. James H. Bell was the superintendent at the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded.
The effect of Buck v. Bell was to legitimize eugenic sterilization laws in the United States as a whole. While many states already had sterilization laws on their books, their use was erratic and effects practically non-existent in every state except for California. After Buck v. Bell, dozens of states added new sterilization statutes, or updated their constitutionally non-functional ones already enacted, with statutes which more closely mirrored the Virginia statute upheld by the Court.[4]
The Virginia statute which the ruling of Buck v. Bell supported was designed in part by the eugenicist Harry H. Laughlin, superintendent of Charles Benedict Davenport's Eugenics Record Office in Cold Spring Harbor, New York. Laughlin had, a few years previously, conducted a number of studies on the enforcement of sterilization legislation throughout the country and had concluded that the reason for their lack of use was primarily that the physicians who would order the sterilizations were afraid of prosecution by patients whom they operated upon. Laughlin saw the need to create a "Model Law"[5] which could withstand a test of constitutional scrutiny, clearing the way for future sterilization operations.
Sterilization rates under eugenic laws in the United States climbed from 1927 until Skinner v. Oklahoma, 316 U.S. 535 (1942). WhileSkinner v. Oklahoma did not specifically overturn Buck v. Bell, it created enough of a legal quandary to discourage many sterilizations. By 1963, sterilization laws were almost wholly out of use, though some remained officially on the books for many years. Virginia's state sterilization law was repealed in 1974.
The story of Carrie Buck's sterilization and the court case was made into a television drama in 1994, Against Her Will: The Carrie Buck Story. It was also referred to in 1934's sensational film Tomorrow's Children.

[edit]The case

While the litigation was making its way through the court system, Priddy died and his successor, Dr. James Hendren Bell, took up the case. The Board of Directors issued an order for the sterilization of Buck, and her guardian appealed the case to the Circuit Court of Amherst County, which sustained the decision of the Board. The case then moved to the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia.
The appellate court sustained the sterilization law as compliant with both the state and federal constitutions, and it then went to the United States Supreme Court. The plaintiff's lawyers argued that this procedure ran counter to the protections of the 14th Amendment and 5th Amendment. They contended that the due process clause guarantees all adults the right to procreate which was being violated. They also made the argument that the equal protection clause in the 14th Amendment was being violated since not all similarly situated people were being treated the same. The sterilization law was only for the "feeble-minded" at certain state institutions and made no mention of other state institutions or those who were not in an institution.
On 2 May 1927, in an 8-1 decision, the Court accepted that she, her mother and her daughter were "feeble-minded" and "promiscuous,"[6] and that it was in the state's interest to have her sterilized. The ruling legitimized Virginia's sterilization procedures until they were repealed in 1974.
The ruling was written by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. In support of his argument that the interest of the states in a "pure" gene pool outweighed the interest of individuals in their bodily integrity, he argued:
We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives. It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the State for these lesser sacrifices, often not felt to be such by those concerned, to prevent our being swamped with incompetence. It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes.
Holmes concluded his argument by declaring that "Three generations of imbeciles are enough".[7] The sole dissenter in the court, Justice Pierce Butler, declined to write a minority opinion.
Carrie Buck was operated upon, receiving a compulsory salpingectomy (a form of tubal ligation). She was later paroled from the institution as a domestic worker to a family in Bland, Virginia. She was an avid reader until her death in 1983. Her daughter Vivian had been pronounced "feeble minded" after a cursory examination by ERO field worker Dr. Arthur Estabrook,[8] thus the "three generations" of the majority opinion. It is worthy of noting that the child did very well in school for the two years that she attended (she died of complications from measles in 1932), even being listed on her school's honor roll in April 1931.[9]
Historian Paul A. Lombardo argued in 1985 that Buck was not "feeble-minded" at all, but that she had been put away to hide her rape, perpetrated by the nephew of her adoptive mother.[10] He also asserted that Buck's lawyer, Irving Whitehead, poorly argued her case, failed to call important witnesses, and was remarked by commentators to often not know what side he was on. It is now thought that this was not because of incompetence, but deliberate. Whitehead had close connections to the counsel for the institution and to Priddy. Whitehead was a member of the governing board of the state institution in which Buck resided, and had personally authorized Priddy's sterilization requests and was a strong supporter of eugenic sterilization.

[edit]See also


  1. ^ Galton, Francis (1883), Inquiries into Human Faculty and its Development, London: Macmillan, p. 199.
  2. ^ Eugenics Archive, retrieved 16 October 2009.
  3. ^ http://www.cvtc.dmhmrsas.virginia.gov/ Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded
  4. ^ Quinn, Peter (February/March 2003). "Race Cleansing in America" American Heritage. Retrieved 7-27-2010.
  5. ^ http://www.people.fas.harvard.edu/~wellerst/laughlin/ Harvard website
  6. ^ The court's majority opinion states that the court accepted the diagnoses of the Virginia medical personnel, not looking into whether they were correct: "Carrie Buck is a feeble-minded white woman who was committed to the State Colony above mentioned in due form. She is the daughter of a feeble- minded mother in the same institution, and the mother of an illegitimate feeble-minded child." http://caselaw.pl.findlaw.com/cgi-bin/getcase.pl?=court=us&vol=27&invol=200
  7. ^ 274 U.S. 200, at 270
  8. ^ according to his report, Vivian "showed backwardness". Eugenics Archive
  9. ^ Eugenics Archive
  10. ^ Lombardo, Paul A. (1985), "Three Generations, No Imbeciles: New Light on Buck v. Bell", New York University Law Review 60 (1): 30–62.

[edit]Further reading

  • Gould, Stephen Jay (1985), "Carrie Buck's Daughter", The Flamingo's Smile: Reflections in Natural History (Reprinted ed.), New York: W. W. Norton & Company, pp. 307–313, ISBN 0393022285.
  • Kevles, Daniel J. (1985), In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity, New York: Knopf, ISBN 0394507029.
  • Leuchtenburg, William E. (1995), "Mr. Justice Holmes and Three Generations of Imbeciles", The Supreme Court Reborn: The Constitutional Revolution in the Age of Roosevelt, New York: Oxford, pp. 3–25, ISBN 0195111311.

[edit]External links

  • Text of Buck v. Bell, 274 U.S. 200 (1927) is available from: Justia · Findlaw

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