As interesting and well-written as this book is, but after finishing Penhallow earlier today, I really need a more cheerful book.
Against this backdrop, the US Supreme Court took scarcely any time to reach its decision on Buck v. Bell. On May 2, 1927, a few weeks before Carrie Buck’s twenty-first birthday, the Supreme Court handed down its verdict. Writing the 8–1 majority opinion, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. reasoned, “It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, 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.” Holmes—the son of a physician, a humanist, a scholar of history, a man widely celebrated for his skepticism of social dogmas, and soon to be one of the nation’s most vocal advocates of judicial and political moderation—was evidently tired of the Bucks and their babies. “Three generations of imbeciles is enough,” he wrote.
Six decades and two years, no more than a passing glance of time, separate Mendel’s initial experiments on peas and the court-mandated sterilization of Carrie Buck. Yet in this brief flash of six decades, the gene had transformed from an abstract concept in a botanical experiment to a powerful instrument of social control. As Buck v. Bell was being argued in the Supreme Court in 1927, the rhetoric of genetics and eugenics penetrated social, political, and personal discourses in the United States. In 1927, the state of Indiana passed a revised version of an earlier law to sterilize “confirmed criminals, idiots, imbeciles and rapists.” Other states followed with even more draconian legal measures to sterilize and confine men and women judged to be genetically inferior.