Thursday, February 18, 2016

the zenith of Bee Dee high-civilization - racial hygiene - the best of intentions...,

WaPo |  “Imbeciles” is the arch title that lawyer-journalist Adam Cohen has given his narrative of Buck v. Bell, the 1927 case in which the justices approved Virginia’s involuntary sterilization of “feeble minded,” epileptic and other purportedly genetically “unfit” citizens.

The vote was 8 to 1. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.’s opinion dispensed with young Carrie Buck’s physical integrity in five paragraphs, the six cruelest words of which characterized Virginia’s interest in preventing Buck from burdening the state with her defective offspring: “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”

As Cohen shows, everything had to go wrong in the legal system to produce this horror, and everything did, starting with a crooked local process that declared Buck intellectually inferior based on her out-of-wedlock pregnancy — an indicator, state doctors averred, of promiscuity, which connoted feeblemindedness.

In fact, she had been raped by her foster parents’ nephew; the couple then sought to cure this embarrassment by having Buck sent away to the state colony for her “kind.”

Virginia established the institution to isolate those who supposedly threatened “racial hygiene” and prevent them from breeding. All told, more than 30 states had such laws during the mid-20th century, though only California surpassed Virginia’s 8,300 involuntary sterilizations. It conductedroughly 20,000.

Today, the evil of such laws is universally recognized. The governors of North Carolina, Virginia and California apologized a decade ago, and in 2013 North Carolina approved $50,000 for each surviving victim.

But the story isn’t over: Virginia has promised $25,000 per person in compensation but appropriated only enough for 16 awards. The Golden State has no compensation plan.

And Buck v. Bell, though basically a dead letter, has never been formally overruled. It stands as a baleful monument — not to the court’s malice, but to the eternal flaws in human nature that cause people to commit injustice with the best of intentions.