"I always remember the fate of Carrie Buck whenever I hear a judge praised for the literary artfulness of his opinions."


Few Supreme Court justices have been more widely praised for the quality of their writing than Progressive hero Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who sat on the Court from 1902 to 1932. Yet as author and arts critic Terry Teachout recently pointed out, while Holmes may be "the only American jurist whose opinions are by way of being great literature," the "beauty of his style sometimes lent undeserved force to deeply problematic views." For evidence, look no further than Holmes' infamous majority opinion in Buck v. Bell, which upheld the forced sterilization of a young woman and ended with the judgment "Three generations of imbeciles are enough." As Teachout writes:

I always remember the fate of Carrie Buck whenever I hear a judge praised for the literary artfulness of his opinions. I yield to no one in my admiration for what Walter Lippmann called "the grand style" of Justice Holmes' writings. His was a great personality, one fully worthy of having been enshrined in the pages of Patriotic Gore, and it shines through every opinion that he wrote. But I squirm at the thought that the pith and vigor of his style may have increased the willingness of his fellow justices to order the eugenic sterilization of a teenage girl on wholly specious grounds.

Last year I interviewed legal historian Paul A. Lombardo about his superb book Three Generations, No Imbeciles: Eugenics, the Supreme Court, and Buck v. Bell. Lombardo met Carrie Buck shortly before she died in 1983, and he told me there was absolutely nothing abnormal or imbecilic about her. Here's what Lombardo had to say about Holmes:

Q: Justice Holmes' ruling shows incredible deference to the state.

A: It's the most blunt kind of statism. If we can draft you into the Army, he suggests, then we ought to be able to sterilize you. We execute criminals; why can't we sterilize these people in the asylums? He says, well, we've endorsed the idea of vaccinating people in the time of smallpox epidemics. If we can vaccinate them, we ought to be able to sterilize them. He says it's not too much of a leap from doing a vaccination to cutting the fallopian tubes, as if these two things were somehow equivalent. So Holmes does really break new ground in terms of a radical definition of state power.

[Via Walter Olson]

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  1. Holmes was a Boston brahmin of the highest order. They have no problem looking down their noses and deciding how lesser beings should live their lives. They live on today in liberals who champion eliminating Down’s Syndrome through abortion.

    1. I have always thought that term was slightly offensive to Brahmins.

    2. The Court was acting on Ms. Buck’s behalf and as such, was acting properly when it excersized her right to choose.

  2. Good thing nobody in government today thinks that the government should have such a say in peoples’ health decisions, right?






  3. Anyone who thinks any legal writing has “beauty of style” should be forcibly sterilized. In the face.

    1. So Peter Griffin would need his chin snipped?

  4. Q. Justice Holmes’ ruling shows incredible deference to the state.

    A. It’s the most blunt kind of statism. If we can draft you into the Army, he suggests, then we ought to be able to sterilize you.

    Or control your health decisions, or tax you, or take your property, or taser you, or . . .

  5. Consider this: lack of forced sterilization has given us Tony.

    1. And Lonewacko and Chad and Lefitti and Joe Boyle. Maybe old Justice Holmes knew what he was talking about.

      1. Ah, John, you are missing the point: why would the state want to sterilize its dutiful fans who will breed more?

        1. Because deep down, in it’s heart of hearts, it hates black people.

          1. I never said I hated Negros, I merely said they were inferior and should be systematically eliminated from the gene pool.

  6. He’s not planning to reproduce, though, is he?
    IS HE?

    1. Tony can plan all he wants — it generally takes a female partner to make it work.


  7. The problem with Holmes here is that he’s right. The state has/had all those powers. (Add SLD here.) Then just applies “the greater includes the lesser” principle. It’s not a logic fail. It’s a grant of government power fail.


    1. Epi, you owe me a new keyboard. Got mango smoothie laughed onto the keys.


    2. H&R must have completely desensitized me to rape humor, because the most disturbing part of the above is the use of the term “shorties.” How did I miss Steve Smith in such urban slang-infused classics as “Step Up 2: The Streets”?

    3. Why does the mention of SS remind me that it’s Monkey Tuesday?

  9. I agree with forced sterilization because then no one will have to wear those stupid surgical masks.

  10. On a more serious note, Holmes has always struck me as a repulsive creature of the state. I mean, really, you can’t blithely promote sterilizing people that you think are stupid without being a seriously fucked up asshole.

    1. He just didn’t think of those people as being full human beings. The Victorians, especially the northeastern puritan kind, were bad about that.

      1. Victorians were in Britain. I twas the gilded age over here.

  11. O.W.H:
    If we can draft you into the Army, he suggests, then [??] we ought to be able to sterilize you.

    I find it astonishing that, if the above is true, that a person as intelligent as Oliver Wendell Holmes could come up with such a non sequitur. However, it should not be surprising, as statists of every ilk resort to fallacy to justify their positions.

    1. Is it a non sequitur?

      If the state has the power to execute you for desertion for refusing it’s order to die, it would seem to indicate that the individual is, at the end of the day, just another ant in the colony.

      1. “If the state has the power to execute you for desertion for refusing it’s order to die…”
        Stop right there. The state should not have such power.

        1. But sadly it does, and a lot of people think it should.

    2. “””I find it astonishing that, if the above is true, that a person as intelligent as Oliver Wendell Holmes could come up with such a non sequitur”””

      He is the same guy who turned an case about protesting WW1 into something about shouting fire in a crowded theater.

      1. Hmmm…the draft has not been reinstated and “Die!” is not a lawful order.

  12. Today, we so strongly associate eugenics with Nazis that we forget that eugenics was widely accepted and considered “settled science” by the secular elites of early 20th century. The Nazis merely took that accepted science and carried it out to its grim logical conclusion. Holmes endorsement of eugenic ideals was wholly uncontroversial in its day except for opposition by people today who be called “christianist.” No secular ideology, not even Communist quarreled with the idea.

    I think there are strong parallels between eugenics and modern environmentalism especially global warming. Both ideas are supposedly supported by the best available science, both are widely accepted except for supposed religious reactionaries, both predict serious long term consequences that are invisible in the short term and both create a justification for the state to micromanage people’s lives to shocking degree.

    Had it not been for WWII, eugenic might well have staggered on well until the 60s or 70s until Synthetic Darwinism would have finally driven a stake through its heart.

    It’s easy to see how a contemporary Holmes could use climatology the same way Holmes used eugenics to justify massive and destructive invasions of the rights of individuals. It’s also easy to see how some contemporary version of the Nazis might do something even worse.

    1. What you mean it was a “scientific consensus”? Clearly eugenics must have been good science then.

      1. Despite the jest–sadly, it was considered that way back then. It was most definitely *not* derided as pseudoscience at the time by the American scientific establishment or intelligentsia.

        It was a widely popular view, among whose adherents were Woodrow Wilson. It was very much a cohesive part of the progressive vision of the administrative state and moving society forward. 30 states in America eventually placed compulsory sterilization laws on their books.

        My favorite terrible quote by Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger: “Every single case of inherited defect, every malformed child, every congenitally tainted human being brought into this world is of infinite importance to that poor individual; but it is of scarcely less importance to the rest of us and to all of our children who must pay in one way or another for these biological and racial mistakes.”

        Sadly, this philosophy spilled across the pond. In the Nuremberg trials, the Nazis pointed directly to American policies in eugenics as a basis for their actions.

      2. Yes, it was the scientific consensus.

        There was a period of roughly 80 years which historians call the “Eclipse of Darwin” during which natural selection and its emphasis on the genetic individual was put on the back burner in favor of a concept termed orthogenesis. In orthogenesis, natural forces push evolution forward in a manner analogous to a chemical reactions that arrived at an end point predetermined by the beginning conditions. In this vision, the species is the principle unit of selection. Each species is like an intermediate product in a chemical reaction, just a way point on the journey to the end state. This where the concept of lower and higher evolved comes from. They also believed that the earth was at most 100 million years old and that evolution occurred about a hundred times faster than we do today.

        The other problem was that the basic idea behind eugenics i.e. that civilization weakens the gene pool by allowing genetically unfit individuals to survive and reproduce was and remains scientifically sound. Any geneticist or biologist today will tell you so.

        So, you mix that basic fact with a flawed understanding of the mechanism and rate of evolutionary change and you end up scientific consensus that supports the state imposition of eugenics in order to prevent a genetic cataclysm in just a few centuries . You have an obvious parallel with global warming in that it starts with the fact that CO2 traps heat and then combines it with untested computer climate models and a misunderstanding of how technology progresses to predict a climate cataclysm a century hence.

        Today, we understand that evolution is not deterministic but experimental and contingent, that todays genetically unfit maybe tomorrows success story and evolution occurs over such vast stretches of time to make public policy based on genetics simply a drop in the ocean of time.

        Watching the progressive downgrading of the effects of CO2 in the climate models for the last 15 years, I expect global warming will end up like eugenics i.e. basically true but not important enough for political action.

        1. So, you mix that basic fact with a flawed understanding of the mechanism and rate of evolutionary change and you end up scientific consensus that supports the state imposition of eugenics in order to prevent a genetic cataclysm in just a few centuries.

          The science was settled.

    2. Keynesian economics is in full blown resurgence today. Interesting to note that he was very interested in eugenics.
      From the Galton Institute page:

      John Maynard Keynes was treasurer of the Cambridge University Eugenics Society during its early years, in addition to his involvement with other societies. What is interesting is that there appears to be no mention in biographies of his connection with the Cambridge University Eugenics Society. The fact that he was treasurer and not just a member of the Society indicates that he had a keen interest in being involved.

      Also interesting to note that, according to a source on Wikipedia’s Keynes page (now since scrubbed by one of his wikipedia supporters) was a quotation from Keynes that eugenics was “the most important, significant and, I would add, genuine branch of sociology which exists.”

      One can also see his thinking evident in his third agendum of state described in his 1925 paper The End of Lassaiz Faire where he stated:

      My third example concerns population. The time has already come when each country needs a considered national policy about what size of population, whether larger or smaller than at present or the same, is most expedient. And having settled this policy, we must take steps to carry it into operation. The time may arrive a little later when the community as a whole must pay attention to the innate quality as well as to the mere numbers of its future members.


      It’s interesting to read his three agenda, the first two of which have come true, and wonder whether or not the third will come to be as a logical outcome of the massive resurgence of his economics.

      1. Educated and right thinking people have often believed in appalling things. Anyone who knows anything about history is rightly skeptical of prevailing wisdom.

        1. I’m not sure “right thinking” and “appalling” can be equated, but I do agree that educated people are capable of terrific harm.

          One need only recall the number of Nazi camp doctors to realize that one can be logical and yet highly irrational–even genocidally so.

          I like to remind people of this when they throw their educational pedigree in my face (usually when they sense they are on the losing side of a debate).

        2. Panarchy sure sounds better than any other archy aside from anarchy.

          Anarchists have the most realistic take on human nature. The framers had a good grip on human nature as well. Knowing human nature well necessarily means that giving power to certain folks is a recipe for disaster-far worse than the speculative spectre raised by those who want to retain power and their sheeple.

          1. It does seem to require two mutually-supporting fallacies to prop up a state: One, that some adults believe other adults should be able to dictate or modify terms of their lives, and Two, that those anointed other adults also believe that they are themselves worthy of contriving such controls. Both propositions are ugly on their face.

    3. Had it not been for WWII, eugenic might well have staggered on well until the 60s or 70s until Synthetic Darwinism would have finally driven a stake through its heart.
      It did in Sweden

    4. Thank you Shannon, for voicing many of my same thoughts eloquently and saving me the trouble on a very busy evening for me.

      Holmes’ logic shows what is wrong with precedent. If we use precedent as representing “settled” law, as a foundation to build from, then it is easy for tyranny to grow like kudzu. Every appeal to precedent ought to be seen as an opportunity to revisit and OVERTURN precedent, because it is in the interest of the people for the government to ADMIT and CORRECT mistakes, not perpetuate them. This is not to say that I think that previous decisions should or would be often overturned if continuously challenging precedent were the MO of the court. Only that each new generation would be responsible for affirming prior decisions from first principles, and so strengthening those decisions over time, or discarding them as soon as error is discovered. That would definitely mean more work for the courts, but it would result in a judiciary and a corpus of law that had more integrity and was more respectable, in my opinion.

  13. Two mongs don’t make a right.

    1. But three is a justification.

  14. Re: Shannon Love,
    I think there are strong parallels between eugenics and modern environmentalism especially global warming.

    Don’t think – there IS a connection. Modern environmentalism is nothing more than an iteration of the Progressives’ ideal of a Heaven on Earth.

  15. Any chance we can sterilize Joe Buck?

    1. Well, perhaps Joe’s brood will turn out like their grandfather.

      1. I miss Jack Buck :(. Mike Shannon’s good and old school, but Jack was the best.

    2. Can we clone Vin Scully and just have him call the World Series every year? And if you are going to sterilize Buck, you better get Bob Costas while you are at it.

      1. I have no issues with either of your proposals. Make it so.

      2. John, I actually liked Costas the first few years he did baseball for NBC, circa 1984, 1985. Now, as far as I’m concerned, have at it as we sure don’t need any more arrogant, smug know-it-alls like Costas.

        1. Its great listening to both Vin Scully’s and Jack Buck’s calls of Gibson’s homerun.

          Sorry, Eck.

        2. I used to like Costas to. I loved his late night interview show and he was great in the 80s hosting the NBC NFL studio show. But sometime in the early 1990s his ego got the best of him. All his game calls were just exercises in him explaining how smart he was. He became very grating.

    3. What if Fox gave 100 lucky contest winners a free “Punch Joe Buck in the Dong” card? They can show the punches while God Bless America plays on a separate inset broadcast.

      I can’t support a straight vasectomy like that.

      1. Hilarious, well done sir!

    4. I understand hating joe buck. But I mean come on. No MacCarver hate? Unless of course you like stories about what Walter Johnson had to eat for breakfast in the ’24 Series.

      1. Yeah I can’t stand him either. Why the hell can’t they just shut up? Why do they have three guys in the booth? I can see the damn game. Put one guy in their to do a play by play and let me watch the game.

        1. They really should have Scooter do the color.


          1. Yeah. And then have that damn robot do the color for the NFL games.

      2. I can’t fucking stand Tim “Big Head” McCarver.

        Yes, that was his nick name. At least according to my APBA cards.

  16. Costas is not bad as a baseball announcer, but as a studio guy I want to deck him. Buck is insufferable in all that he does. He shouldn’t be sterilized. He should be put out of our misery as should the Fox exec who continues to employ him.

  17. Wait a minute now. Ms. Buck was clearly an imbecile. Just look at her wikipedia picture.
    I can’t tell if that top is a separate or part of a dress but no person in their right mind would wear it, no matter the current style.

    1. She looks pixilated to me.

      1. My word yes, sister. Pixilated.

        1. “Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded”? Wow, now I’m kind of glad society developed “political correctness”.

          1. It’s now referred to as the “US House of Representatives”

              1. James Anderson Merritt likes this.

  18. The fact that Holmes is well regarded primarily because he was an effective prose stylist despite being a generally despicable jurist has always galled me.

    And in case Buck and Schenck don’t give you enough to hate, Holmes also consistently supported rulings that the constitution didn’t apply to territories acquired by the US unless Congress says it did in the Insular cases, denying jury trials to the residents of the Phillipines, Hawaii, and Puetro Rico at the time.

    1. Ultimate case of elitist bullshit. Holmes was from a great family. He went to Harvard. He was erudite. He just had to be a good man.

    2. But unlike the other justices in Shenk he later changed his view and gave us the expansive speech protections we now enjoy.

      And it wasn’t like the Insular cases or Buck was close and he broke the tie. He couldn’t be far ahead of his time on every issue.

    3. The flaw in Holmes’ reasoning is that the Constitution applies to OUR GOVERNMENT and HOW IT OPERATES, almost always without reference to the territory of operation. If the Congress cannot pass a law abridging freedom of speech, it cannot do so for American citizens in America and it cannot do so for the population of Guam, either. If the government is required to respect someone’s right against self-incrimination in Kansas, it must do the same in the US Virgin Islands! The justices made huge assumptions in inferring and declaring that the constitution constrains government operations only domestically. Think about it; if that were true, then the military would have a commander in chief, and be obliged to follow the code of military justice to which the US subscribes only when operating domestically! Clearly the Constitution has overseas reach, so why not ALL of it, instead of just those parts that the military or other government agencies find expedient?

  19. WTF is it with Root’s Holmes hate? It seems to be something like this: liberals like Holmes; Holmes had this or that bad stance; see liberals, THERE’S your so-called hero!

    But we liberals that like Holmes like where he diverged from the conservatism of his day. Seven other justices signed on to that decision you know, and the only dissenter did not even voice any reasons…It was a dark time for due process back then, you cannot use the Constitution to bar something like the Buck law unless you have substantive due process, which liberals on the court had yet to develop in this area…

    1. But eugenics is one of the biggest skeletons in the liberal closet. I am unaware that Holmes ever repudiated his views on it. It was endemic among the liberal elite at that time. Wilson, another liberal hero, was awful about it and a horrible racist to boot.

      You make a good point about liberals liking him for different reasons than his awful opinion in Buck. But conservatives like Jefferson for reasons other than the fact that he owned slaves. They like Lincoln for reasons other than the fact that thought deporting slaves back to Africa was a good potential sollution to the slavery problem. Despite this, one of liberals’ favorite parlor games is to tear down conservative icons in just the same way we are tearing down Holmes.

      If you want to excuse Holmes’s more awful decision, fine. But, try cutting the same slack to historical figures from the right.

      1. I dunno John, I like Lincoln and Jefferson…And where do you get the idea that Holmes was some great liberal icon in his day? I don’t think the man was a Bryanite…

        1. Fair enough, but a lot don’t.

      2. Liberals started to like Holmes after his turn on speech issues. I’m betting that before that nobody would have considered him to be a liberal…He was a social darwinist for pete’s sake…

    2. It’s relevant because the same intellectual process that propelled Holmes and his entire class of elites to endorse eugenics is the same intellectual process still used by “liberals” today. Eugenics is useful to highlight this point because it one of the few widely supported ideas in the 20th century that has been universally tossed on the trash heap of history.

      As I elucidated in my other comment, global warming is on the same scientific footing today as was eugenics in the 1920s and the same part of the political and social spectrum that embraced eugenics today embrace global warming. The same type of centralized state solutions embraced by proponents of eugenics back then is the same type of centralized state solutions proposed by global warming advocates today.

      The more things change, the more they stay the same. Each ideological generation of “liberals” makes the same intellectual mistake in a slightly different form. For example, in the wake of WWII, elite liberal opinion whip cracked from eugenics to the polar opposite concept of the “Blank Slate” which held that all human behavior and mental function was dependent solely on environmental factors. This had consequences almost as dire as eugenics as elites set about creating a environments that could program humans like computers.

      What eugenics, the Blank slate and global warming all have in common is that all three ideas create a rational for a powerful centralized state ultimately governed by a technocratic elite. I would argue that those ideas are embraced by “liberal” elites because they create that rational. Elites are embracing a supposed scientific truth because it elevates their subcultures status and power not because the idea has proven predictive power.

      So Holmes and virtually his entire generation embraced the idea of eugenics because it place the responsibility for the survival of the entire human species in their hands. With such a grave responsibility they could claim the necessity of great power. The same dynamic continues to play itself out today. In the future, another crises that provides the same justification will suddenly appear.

      That is the lesson you should take away from this examination of Holmes.

      1. I actually don’t think Eugenics is necessarily a false idea, but I do think that coerced eugenics — especially eugenics adopted and enforced by government — is bad, bad, bad.

        In Heinlein’s “future history” novels, he spoke of voluntary eugenics, carried out via contract between foundations and willing participants. He described the intelligently purposeful breeding of humans, enabled by the financial resources of society formed to promote those ends. I find nothing wrong with this at all, so long as the parents join the program voluntarily and any offspring that do not “meet the requirements” are allowed to live their lives normally. On the other hand, a foundation might provide stipends and other benefits to offspring that did achieve progress toward the organization’s avowed goals. How is this any different in kind, or any more reprehensible, than providing college scholarships to people based on specific ancestry, demonstrated talent, and so forth?

        It may very well be that nature comes up with better results than planned breeding arrangements. But if people can be persuaded to participate in the latter, without coercion, and if “wild reproduction” is still an option, so what?

      2. Shannon, I do catch your point about the narcissism of the elites, and how it is necessary for them to believe in (and get others to believe in) their destiny to “save the world.” This (coupled with the ability to crush dissent and other opposition) has been the foundation of royalty for ages. The ruling elites of today don’t dare call themselves royalty in this country, but they don’t at all mind if we think of them as such. They should remember, “sic semper tyrannis.”

  20. Liberals essentially like Holmes for two things: his deference to legislatures on economic regulation (Lochner) and his fashioning of First Amendment speech protections.

  21. Holmes was wounded three times in the Civil War, fighting for the union. Teddy Roosevelt nominated him to SCOTUS. He was a federal-gov’t man.

    1. I wouldn’t consider fighting for the union to be a bad thing. Better that than fighting for slavery.

      1. True. I just think it relates to his willingness to support a strong central gov’t with broad police powers.

    2. Kind of scary to think of someone who came of age in time of black powder warfare and before the discovery of germs, genes or vitamins was making decisions that depended on the science of the 1920s.

    3. He was a federal,/s>feral-gov’t man.


      1. Damn!

        He was a federalferal-gov’t man.

  22. As another cautionary tale about relying on “scientific consensus” instead of models with proven predictive power, I would point out that the majority of people labeled as genetically inferior mentally where in fact suffering from mental retardation caused by environmental factors e.g. Cretinism caused by iodine deficiency, fetal damage from Rubella and other forms of measles, syphilis acquired at birth, unrecognized fetal alcohol syndrome, infantile polio etc.

    Probably about 80% of the mental and physical retardation thought to be caused by genetics in the 1920s when Holmes wrote was in fact caused by preventable environmental factors. Certainly, our levels of such retardation are much lower today even though our genetics are the same.

    1. I can’t remember the name of the family or the book. But I remember reading a book review a couple of years ago. The book was about a family in the 19th Century that was pretty much the poster child for eugenics. The family was completely filled with idiots and criminals. The author of the book went and found the decendents of this family. And sure enough the decendents were typical middle class Americans and a few had done very well. Eugenics was a scientific fraud.

      1. Yes, if nothing else fetal alcohol syndrome was a massive and largely unrecognized cause of retardation. When you have a subculture like the people of backwoods of Appalachia who man and women drink more whisky than water from the time their 14 or so, you’re talking about a population that has quite a few IQ points knocked off it. It’s easy to attribute that to genetics if your lazy.

    2. “Certainly, our levels of such retardation are much lower today even though our genetics are the same.”

      Then explain Tony.

  23. From Billy!’s link to wikipedia above:

    Carrie became pregnant when she was seventeen as a result of being raped.[1][2] Subsequently, on January 23, 1924, Carrie’s foster parents had committed her to the Virginia Colony for Epileptics and Feeble-Minded on the grounds of feeblemindedness, incorrigible behavior and promiscuity.

    You know, some things that may seem less than obvious often strike me when reading about past events like this.

    In this case I am struck by how easily people dismissed girls who had been raped as promiscuous or incorrigible.

    Of course, from promiscuous and incorrigible it was but a short leap to simple-minded or imbecilic.

    The worst part is that this attitude continued well into the sixties. I recall a couple of incidents in the 1950s when I was a child. One of them happened in a family that was known to mine, though not particularly close. The other was simply a matter of gossip that made the rounds.

    1. That is terrible. No one thought that maybe her problems might stem from her being raped? People are terrible. And they are no better today. Today they would just lock her up in “drug rehab” until her insurance ran out.

    2. Women of the era where held responsible for avoiding circumstances in which they might be raped.

      With no forensics, it was impossible to prove who committed a rape or whether the sex was consensual or not except in cases of obvious and overt violence. A rape accusation could start a bloody feud. The only practical solution was for women to avoid situations, such as being alone with a man not her husband, in which an ambiguous rape might happen.

      Women did lie about getting rape when the turned up pregnant following consensual sex. Norma L. McCorvey of Roe v Wade fame is probably the most famous example. This caused even more ambiguity.

      So if Carrie had a pattern of placing herself in risky circumstances and was promiscuous, her rape would have been seen as the predictable consequence of her own behavior. She would have gotten about as much sympathy as someone today who cracked their skull while riding a motorcycle without a helmet.

      1. “With no forensics, it was impossible to prove who committed a rape or whether the sex was consensual or not except in cases of obvious and overt violence. A rape accusation could start a bloody feud. The only practical solution was for women to avoid situations, such as being alone with a man not her husband, in which an ambiguous rape might happen.”

        I wholly concur.

    3. Rambling Rose (1991) with Robert Duvall and Laura Dern is a good film on this subject.

      This period comic-drama, set in Georgia in the 1930s, featured the first mother-daughter team to be nominated for acting Oscars in the same year. Laura Dern plays a free-wheeling young woman who is taken in as a domestic by an upper-class family, headed by Robert Duvall and Diane Ladd (Dern’s real-life mother). Rose, who tends to let her sexual urges get the best of her, scandalizes everyone in three counties (including Duvall and Lukas Haas, who plays his son) with her willing spirit. Do those kind of loose morals warrant court-ordered sterilization? Or does this young woman just need a guiding hand?


  24. Has any progressive apologized yet for their forebears eugenics opinions and policies? ANY?

  25. “But I squirm at the thought that the pith and vigor of his style may have increased the willingness of his fellow justices to order the eugenic sterilization of a teenage girl on wholly specious grounds.”

    Hey buddy, I rely on the pith and vigor of my style to get people to support all sorts of stupid shit on wholly specious grounds.

    1. “pith and vigor”??? Oh, I thought you said “piss and vinegar.” Work on your enunciation, please.

  26. Prior to Buck v Bell was Jacobson v. Massachusetts (1905), upon which the justification for the BvB decision rests. Jacobson v Mass is currently used today to justify mandatory vaccination of children for entry into public schools. The full quote from Justice Holmes reads “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. Jacobson v Massachusetts, 197 US 11. Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”.
    The Bill of Rights was designed to protect individuals against abuses by the state, even when the abuses have the support of the majority. Hopefully we can alter this relic of the 19th century and preserve the respect for personal liberty.

  27. ‘Liberals essentially like Holmes for two things: his deference to legislatures on economic regulation (Lochner) and his fashioning of First Amendment speech protections.’

    Liberals also used to love Holmes’ positivist animadversions against the natural law tradition. The natural law tradition says that certain things are so immoral and contrary to natural justice that they are always illegal, regardless of what the government says. Holmes said that the law was whatever the government said it was ? specifically, the law is simply the will of the government, backed by physical force. Judge for yourself which position is most consistent with America’s freedom philosophy.

    In an earlier thread, an H&R commenter favorably quoted Holmes as follows:

    “It is not enough for the knight of romance that you agree that his lady is a very nice girl-if you do not admit that she is the best that God ever made or will make, you must fight. There is in all men a demand for the superlative, so much so that the poor devil who has no other way of reaching it attains it by getting drunk. It seems to me that this demand is at the bottom of the philosopher’s effort to prove that truth is absolute and of the jurist’s search for criteria of universal validity which he collects under the head of natural law.”

  28. As H.L. Mencken remarked in evaluating a collection of Holmes opinion, Holmes’ opinions received a lot of ‘fawning praise from liberals,’ and yet:
    ‘The typical lawmaker of today is a man wholly devoid of principle- a mere counter in a grotesque and knavish game. If the right pressure could be applied to him he would be cheerfully in favor of polygamy, astrology or cannibalism.
    ‘It is the aim of the Bill of Rights, if it has any remaining aim at all, to curb such prehensile gentry. Its function is to set a limitation upon their power to harry and oppress us to their own private profit. The Fathers, in framing it, did not have the powerful minorities in mind; what they sought to hobble was simply the majority. But that is a detail. The important thing is that the Bill of Rights sets forth, in the plainest of plain language, the limits beyond which even the legislature may not go. The Supreme Court, in Marbury v. Madison, decided that it was bound to execute that intent, and for a hundred years that doctrine remained the corner-stone of American constitutional law. But it late years the court has taken the opposite line, and the public opinion seems to support it. Certainly, Dr. Holmes did not go as far in that direction as some of his brother judges, but equally certainly he went far enough. To call him Liberal is to make the word meaningless.’

    1. “It is the aim of the Bill of Rights, if it has any remaining aim at all, to curb such prehensile gentry.”

      Sorry, I realize the word is used correctly here, but every time I encounter the word, “prehensile,” the mental image that springs to mind is of a lemur’s ass (and attached prehensile tail). Which is wolly appropriate for this class of “gentry,” I grant you.

      1. xxx wholly

  29. There’s always the Rosemary Kennedy story… Afraid of disgrace from promiscuity or pregnancy, Joe had his daughter lobotomized. She spent the rest of her life in institutions. In this case it wasn’t the state acting, but it’s an illustrative example of the same attitude, same era, and no less chilling.

    1. The way to deal with problem Kennedy children is not to lobotomize them, but just to refuse to elect them.

      1. But good call for Joseph Kennedy making sure his children didn’t engage in promiscuity – that certainly worked.

  30. A POWERFUL and RIVETING documentary on this topic has recently been produced which shows clear links from slavery to eugenics to abortion and BLACK GENOCIDE! This film, Maafa21, has live testimony of a woman who was forcefully sterilized by the North Carolina Eugenics Board and quotes from civil rights leaders who warned about the eugenic agenda. Maafa21 is loaded with painstaking documentation I strongly recommend this movie to EVERYONE. It is over 2 hours of undeniable proof to the eugenic agendas still being carried out today . Get a short peak here: http://www.maafa21.com

  31. Shannon,

    Carrie Buck was at home working in broad daylight at the residence of her foster parents. She was working because as with most foster and adopted children at the time, she was used as an unpaid servant. She had previously reported being afraid of the nephew and her foster father.

    The nephew came over, found Carrie alone, physically overpowered her and raped her while his aunt was away attending to a sick acquaintance. The family didn’t contest that the rape had occurred, and they decided to have her committed to avoid scandal when her pregnancy became known. The baby could easily have been her foster father’s in similar circumstances, given her accounts of life at their home .

    Raping servants was very common, they had no recourse to the law due to low wages and the expectation that you mention, that women should avoid situations where they could be raped. If the same rape happened today, it would still not be prosecuted because that belief is still widely held – if you know your rapist, it’s not “real” (ie: stranger) rape. Even if you are thirteen, as the Polanski case clearly shows.

    Only one person is responsible for a rape – the rapist.

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