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Buck vs Bell
Transcript of Buck vs Bell
Buck claimed that Virginia's law that allowed sterilization violated the fourteenth amendment; she believed it denied her the rights of due process of law and the right of equal protection.
Date and Members
The Supreme court ruled that the statute did not violate the Constitution. The Fourteenth Amendment was not violated because Buck's due process of appealing was respected and her equality under the law was granted. The Supreme Court ruled that Buck was worthy to be sterilized because she was placed in a mental institution and was unfit to be a parent.
Minority and Majority Opinions
Buck argued that her constitutional rights were violated by the Virginian Sterilization Law. She claimed her right to due process and right of equality under the Constitution had been violated.
Buck's Claim (appellant)
Bell's Claim (defendant)
Bell claimed that the fourteenth amendment was not violated with this law because the patient had a proper court hearing before the procedure where a guardian could accompany the patient. The Circuit Court and Supreme Court of Appeals could also review the patient's case if that patient requested. Finally, the sterilization would only take place after the patient had been observed for months.
November 19, 1924- Initial trial against Virginia's new sterilization bill
May 2, 1927- Supreme Court decides that the Virginian statute of sterilization for people genetically unfit was Constitutional.
Members of the Supreme Court (1927)
In favor of Buck:
In favor of Bell:
William Howard Taft (CHIEF JUSTICE)
Louis D. Brandeis
Willis Can Devanter
Oliver Wendell Holmes
James C. McReynolds
Edward T. Sanford
Harlan F. Stone
Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr
The Supreme Court Building
Justice Oliver Holmes delivered the majority opinion. The opinion given was that Buck was wrong because she was granted her Fourteenth Amendment. Holmes stressed that Buck's challenge could not be against the sterilization procedure itself because the Constitutional process afforded Buck several appeal opportunities prior to the operation. Buck was granted her rights in being able to appeal in court. The process for sterilization in Virginia did not violate any provisions of the Constitution because it maintained the notion that sterilization laws were beneficial to both the individual and society.
Quote From Majority Opinion
Justice Holmes stated, "It is better for the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or let them stave for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind."
This quote is explaining that it is better for society if the government can prevent unfit, mentally unstable people to produce children that will have the unhealthy characteristics like their parents. Holmes also explained that Buck should not be able to have children because the offspring of individuals like Buck would ultimately resort to a life of crime, or not be able to take care of themselves.
Justice Pierce Butler, the judge opposite Holmes, did not offer a detailed minority opinion.
The case was at the time of the Eugenics Movement, a time in history in which people had a strong goal of improving the quality of human life and population by discouraging reproduction by unfit people.
Justice Butler did not want to stand against the eugenics laws and damage his credibility.
Quote From Minority Opinion
As part of his argument, Buck lawyer stated, "The inherent right of mankind to go through life without mutilation of organs of generation needs no constitutional declaration."
In this quote, Buck's lawyer is explaining that the government does not have the right to take away certain organs in Buck's body. This is part of the minority opinion.
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the state by a margin of eight to one.
Immediately after the case, laws similar to the Virginia law of sterilization were passed in 30 other states. Harry Laughlin, author of the model sterilization act for Virginia, made his draft available to state and foreign governments, and his model became a Health Law in 1933. After World War II, when over 2 million people were going to be sterilized against their will, lawyers for Nazi war criminals cited Laughlin's law and referred to Buck v. Bell, when the law was declared constitutional.
Buck v. Bell has not been revised by the Supreme Court, even though people are no longer sterilized against their will. Some people regard the decision by the Supreme Court as the worst, or one of the worst, Supreme Court decisions ever.
The Supreme Court mentioned that Carrie Buck's mother had three illegitimate children, including Carrie. A past doctor of Carrie wrote, "...a mental age of nine years,...a record during her life of mortality, prostitution, and untruthfulness; has never been self-sustaining; has one illegitimate child, now about six month old and supposed to be mentally defective...She is... A potential parent of socially inadequate or defective offspring." The Supreme Court declared that Carrie should not be able to have children because it is better for the world if instead of waiting to persecute the offspring for crime, society can prevent those who are unfit to be parents from having children.
Carrie Buck's mother had three children who she was unable to support, so they were removed from her when Carrie was three. Carrie then moved to a foster home, where she was taken out of school at age five to do housework, and didn't cause trouble until she got pregnant at age seventeen. She claims that her foster brother raped her. When Carrie's daughter was born, her foster parents raised the baby as their own and put Carrie in a mental hospital, where the doctors soon decided to sterilize her for the general welfare of society.
Dr. Albert Priddy testified that Carrie Buck "would cease to be a charge on humanity if sterilized...would contribute to the raising of the general mental average and standard (by not reproducing.)" He argued that Buck should be sterilized and that there was enough evidence to show her "feeble-mindedness" through her court hearing (where witnesses who personally knew Carrie spoke) and observations of Buck that had been going on for months. Because of all of this, it was said that Buck's constitutional rights to due process and equal protection under the law were not violated at any time.
Priddy to Bell
Dr. Albert Priddy died before the case was argued in the Supreme Court, and in his place stepped Dr. JH Bell, which is why the case is known today as Buck vs Bell, rather than Priddy.