Book Review: Three Generations, No Imbeciles: Eugenics, the Supreme Court, and Buck v. Bell

TITLE: Three Generations, No Imbeciles

SUBTITLE: Eugenics, the Supreme Court, and Buck v. Bell

AUTHOR: Paul A. Lombardo


PUBLISHER: The Johns Hopkins University Press

PAGE COUNT: 375 pp .
ISBN-13: 978-0-8018-9010-9

ISBN-10: 0-8018-9010-1

PRICE: $29.95

Lombardo is an activist law professor who traces a seminal 1927 Supreme Court case arising from the attempt by authorities in Amherst County, Virginia to force the mandatory sterilization of a woman believed to be mentally and socially insufficient. The author carefully recreates the Virginia trial court drama, which resulted in a ruling from the bench formally endorsing the sterilization of Carrie Buck. The Virginia Supreme Court quickly affirmed the ruling of the lower Court, and the case rapidly advanced to the U. S. Supreme Court. The Virginia Sterilization Law, the justices ruled, did not violate the Eighth Amendment, because Carrie Buck had committed no crime! Lombardo minces no words in expressing his disdain for the lackluster performance of Buck’s attorney, as well as his insidious connections to the institution where she was confined and his theoretical support for the science that devitalized her! Carrie’s fate in Washington before the High Court, argues the author, was partially attributable to social Darwinism (survival of the fittest), as well as the prevailing attitude of the Court’s chief social arbiter, Oliver Wendell Holmes, that society should not bear the burden of people born without pedigree, status, intelligence, or capacity. However, Lombardo observes, by the early 1970s, medical science had strongly discredited the notion that bad heredity could be interrupted by sterilization, and the entire movement ground to a screeching halt! Highly recommended for academic, public, and law libraries.

Philip Y. Blue,
New York State Supreme Court Criminal Branch Law Library, First Judicial District, New York, New York

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