In a tragic, landmark ruling of historic dimensions, the Supreme Court, in 1927, in an opinion written by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, upheld the forced sterilization of a Virginia woman erroneously characterized by the state as “feeble minded,” grounded on the chilling rationale that, “three generations of imbeciles are enough.”

The Court’s 8-1 decision in Buck v. Bell, with only Justice Pierce Butler dissenting, is widely regarded as one of its worst. Justice Holmes’s opinion, just five paragraphs in length, and fewer than 1,000 words, callously dispatched the dreams of those hoping to create a family, by laying a legal foundation for some three dozen states to forcibly sterilize more than 70,000 Americans in the 20th century. Victims included those like Carrie Buck, who were deemed “mentally deficient,” those described as “promiscuous” women and, most prominently, women of color.

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