Three Generations, No Imbeciles: Eugenics, the Supreme Court, and <i>Buck V. Bell</i>

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JHU Press, Oct 6, 2008 - History - 365 pages
2 Reviews

"Three generations of imbeciles are enough." Few lines from Supreme Court opinions are as memorable as this declaration by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. in the landmark 1927 case Buck v. Bell. The ruling allowed states to forcibly sterilize residents in order to prevent "feebleminded and socially inadequate" people from having children. It is the only time the Supreme Court endorsed surgery as a tool of government policy. Paul Lombardo’s startling narrative exposes the Buck case’s fraudulent roots.

In 1924 Carrie Buck—involuntarily institutionalized by the State of Virginia after she was raped and impregnated—challenged the state’s plan to sterilize her. Having already judged her mother and daughter mentally deficient, Virginia wanted to make Buck the first person sterilized under a new law designed to prevent hereditarily "defective" people from reproducing. Lombardo’s more than twenty-five years of research and his own interview with Buck before she died demonstrate conclusively that she was destined to lose the case before it had even begun. Neither Carrie Buck nor her mother and daughter were the "imbeciles" condemned in the Holmes opinion. Her lawyer—a founder of the institution where she was held—never challenged Virginia’s arguments and called no witnesses on Buck’s behalf. And judges who heard her case, from state courts up to the U.S. Supreme Court, sympathized with the eugenics movement. Virginia had Carrie Buck sterilized shortly after the 1927 decision.

Though Buck set the stage for more than sixty thousand involuntary sterilizations in the United States and was cited at the Nuremberg trials in defense of Nazi sterilization experiments, it has never been overturned. Three Generations, No Imbeciles tracks the notorious case through its history, revealing that it remains a potent symbol of government control of reproduction and a troubling precedent for the human genome era.

 

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User Review  - juliayoung - LibraryThing

A superb book much wider in scope than one would suspect from the title. This really covers almost all of the eugenics movement in the US from the late nineteenth century to today. A little heavy on legal minutiae, but really good. Read full review

Three generations, no imbeciles: eugenics, the Supreme Court, and Buck v. Bell

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

Lombardo (law, Georgia State Univ.) traces a seminal 1927 Supreme Court case arising from the attempt by authorities in Virginia to force the sterilization of a woman believed to be mentally and ... Read full review

Contents

The Expert Witness
1
1 Problem Families
7
2 Sex and Surgery
20
3 The Pedigree Factory
30
4 Studying Sterilization
42
5 The Mallory Case
58
6 Laughlins Book
78
7 A Virginia Sterilization Law
91
14 After the Supreme Court
185
15 Sterilizing Germans
199
16 Skinner v Oklahoma
219
17 Buck at Nuremberg and After
236
18 Rediscovering Buck
250
Reconsidering Buck
267
Acknowledgments
281
APPENDIX A The Supreme Court Opinion in Buck v Bell
285

8 Choosing Carrie Buck
103
9 Carrie Buck versus Dr Priddy
112
10 Defenseless
136
Buck v Bell
149
12 In the Supreme Court
157
13 Reactions and Repercussions
174
APPENDIX B Virginia Eugenical Sterilization Act 1924
288
APPENDIX C Laws and Sterilizations by State
293
Notes
295
A Note on Sources
355
Index
357
Copyright

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About the author (2008)

Paul A. Lombardo is a professor of law at Georgia State University College of Law. He has played a key role, as both a historian and a lawyer, in the movement to solicit state apologies and legislative denunciations of past eugenics laws.

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