Buck v. Bell: Due Process of Law?

Western Political Quarterly 6:4 (December 1953).


A quarter of a century has passed since Justice Holmes provided the eugenical sterilization movement with a constitutional blessing and an epigrammatic battle cry. His opinion for the Court in Buck v. Bell was regarded by eugenicists as the herald of a new day, and was joined in by all his brethren except Justice Butler. Whether the latter believed three generations of imbeciles were not enough, or that the number of generations was immaterial, we do not know, for while he did not withhold his judgment, he kept his reasons for dissenting to himself. The eugenicists, on the other hand, were anything but silent. Holmes, the subject of so much adulation, was hailed by them as the new Prometheus, and excerpts from his opinion continue to this day to add spice to their literature.