Buck v. Bell: Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Compulsory Sterilization of the Unfit

One of the worst Supreme Court rulings in history. In the 1927 case Buck v. Bell, the court upheld a statute that enabled the state of Virginia to sterilize so-called mental defectives or imbeciles. The person in question was Carrie Buck, a poor, young woman then confined in the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and the Feebleminded, though she was neither epileptic nor mentally disabled (only born out of wedlock). In the landmark decision, eight judges ruled that the state of Virginia had the right to sterilize her. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. wrote the majority opinion concluding, “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” The decision resulted in 60,000 to 70,000 sterilizations of Americans considered “unfit” to reproduce. At the Nuremberg trials, lawyers for Nazi scientists cited the opinion in defense of their actions. We speak to Adam Cohen, author of “Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck.”

The Supreme Court decision had its origins in the eugenics movement then thriving in the United States. The 1924 Immigration Act was passed with similar intent—to prevent immigration by genetically inferior groups, which included Italians, Jews, Eastern Europeans and countless others, in an attempt to improve the genetic quality of the American population.

Although Indiana passed the first eugenic sterilization statute in 1907, this and other early laws were legally flawed and did not meet the challenge of state court tests. To remedy this situation, Harry Laughlin of the Eugenics Record Office (ERO) at Cold Spring Harbor designed a model eugenic law that was reviewed by legal experts. The Virginia statute of 1924 was closely based on this model.

On the eve of the Virginia legal contest, the ERO dispatched its field worker, Dr. Arthur Estabrook, to provide expert testimony. After some cursory examination, Estabrook testified that the seven month old Vivian “showed backwardness.” The Superintendent of the Virginia Colony, Dr. Albert Priddy, testified that members of the Buck family “belong to the shiftless, ignorant, and worthless class of anti-social whites of the South.” Upon reviewing the case, the Supreme Court concurred “that Carrie Buck is the probable potential parent of socially inadequate offspring, likewise afflicted, that she may be sexually sterilized without detriment to her general health and that her welfare and that of society will be promoted by her sterilization”

Buck vs. Bell was flawed in many ways. “Feeblemindeness” is no longer used in medical terminology; it was clearly a catch-all term that had virtually no clinical meaning. It is impossible to judge whether or not Carrie was “feebleminded” by the standards of her time, but she was not patently promiscuous. According to Carrie, Vivian’s conception was the result of Carrie’s rape by the nephew of her foster parents. She, probably like many unwed mothers of that time, was institutionalized to prevent further shame to the family. Just as clearly, Vivian was no imbecile. Vivian’s first grade report card from the Venable School in Charlottesville showed that this daughter of a supposed social degenerate got straight “As” in deportment (conduct) and even made the honor role in April, 1931. She died a year later of complications following a bout of the measles.

Although in 1942 the Supreme Court struck down a law allowing the involuntary sterilization of criminals, it never reversed the general concept of eugenic sterilization. In 2001, the Virginia General Assembly acknowledged that the sterilization law was based on faulty science and expressed its “profound regret over the Commonwealth’s role in the eugenics movement in this country and over the damage done in the name of eugenics.” On May 2, 2002 a marker was erected to honor Carrie Buck in her hometown of Charlottesville.

Author Adam Cohen writes about the case in his new book, Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck. Adam was previously a member of The New York Times editorial board and a senior writer for Time magazine. On Carrie Buck, he writes:

“…she’s a young woman who is growing up in Charlottesville, Virginia, being raised by a single mother. Back then, there was a belief that it was better often to take poor children away from their parents and put them in middle-class homes. So she was put in a foster family that treated her very badly. She wasn’t allowed to call the parents “mother” and “father.” She did a lot of housekeeping for them and was rented out to the neighbors. And then, one summer, she was raped by the nephew of her foster mother. She becomes pregnant out of wedlock. And rather than help her with this pregnancy, they decide to get her declared epileptic and feebleminded, though she was neither, and she’s shipped off to the Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded outside of Lynchburg, Virginia.

So she gets there at just the wrong time. Virginia has just passed an eugenics sterilization law, and they want to test it in the courts. So they seize on Carrie Buck as the perfect plaintiff in this lawsuit. So they decide to make her the first person in Virginia who will be eugenically sterilized, and suddenly she’s in the middle of a case that’s headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Cohen goes on to explain the kind of medical tests were employed to determine that she was a so-called imbecile:

“These were very primitive IQ tests from the time, that really didn’t test intelligence at all. One question she was asked was: What do you do when a playmate hits you? And whatever her answer was to that was somehow deemed to be relevant to whether or not she was an idiot, an imbecile or a moron.

“…those were the three categories. And this was a formal hierarchy that was established by the psychological profession at the time and was actually in government pamphlets. So, if you were of a mental age of two or younger, you were called an idiot. If you were between three and seven, you were called an imbecile. And if you were eight and—from between eight and 12, you were called a moron. And Carrie and her mother, who was also at the colony, were deemed to be morons.”

Continuing on Carrie Buck and her unjust case, Cohen says:

“…so, they decide to put her in the middle of this test case to see if the Virginia law is constitutional. And they give her a lawyer who’s actually not on her side (appointed by the colony itself). It’s a former chairman of the Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded’s own board of directors. He clearly wants to see her sterilized. He does a terrible job writing short briefs that don’t cite the relevant cases. It goes up to the Supreme Court, and the court rules eight to one that, yes, the Virginia law is constitutional, and, yes, Carrie, who there’s nothing wrong with, should be sterilized against her will.

“Back then, the American Civil Liberties Union, which had just started up, really was kind of pro-eugenics, or at least some of the members around it were, and there were no advocacy groups to look out for people like Carrie.

The chief justice was William Howard Taft, who had been president of the United States before he became chief justice, the only president to do that. He had also been a professor at Yale Law School. Louis Brandeis, who was known as “the people’s attorney” before he joined the court, a great progressive hero, he was on the court. And then, of course, Oliver Wendell Holmes, probably the most revered justice in American history, he was a legendary figure. There have been—there’s a movie about him. There was a play on Broadway, cover of Time magazine. He was thought to be the wisest of the judges. And he wrote this terrible decision.

Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., who wrote in the majority opinion for the court, shockingly said that the nation must sterilize those who, quote, “sap the strength of the State [to] prevent our being swamped with incompetence.” He declared, quote, “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.



1912 Election Coup

The United States presidential election of 1912 was the 32nd quadrennial presidential election, held on Tuesday, November 5, 1912. Democratic Governor Woodrow Wilson of New Jersey unseated incumbent Republican President William Howard Taft and defeated former President Theodore Roosevelt, who ran as the Progressive Party (“Bull Moose”) nominee. Roosevelt remains the only third party presidential candidate in U.S. history to finish better than third in the popular or electoral vote.1

The 1912 election presented an incredible opportunity for the Network. Although William Howard Taft had served the conspirators well (by openly entertaining the idea of relinquishing US sovereignty and supporting the Network’s long-sought funding mechanism, the income tax[30]), he’d failed to support the one measure that was more important than all others. He refused to support Nelson Aldrich’s plan to hand the nation’s money supply over to the Network through the creation of a central bank.[31] Since the central bank was necessary to truly dominate the United States, Taft’s rejection of the Aldrich plan constituted a major transgression. But there was a remedy, and that remedy’s name was Woodrow Wilson.

Wilson had done more than “openly entertain the idea of relinquishing national sovereignty,” he’d developed a near-fanatical obsession with the idea. There would be no problem getting him to passionately evangelize the New World Order on behalf of the Network.

It would also be no problem getting Wilson to sign the Network’s income-tax scam into law. (The income tax was “sold” as a way to punish the rich and enrich the poor. In reality, the tax simply extracts money from US citizens and dumps it directly into the Network’s projects and pockets.)

Last but certainly not least, control of the nation’s money supply would be far easier to secure with Wilson in the White House. For one reason, Wilson admitted that he really didn’t understand central banking,[32] and this was very convenient. The Network could provide all the “right” advisors, steering the creation of the so-called Federal Reserve System from start to finish.

Another reason the central bank would be easier to secure under Wilson is because the entire issue had been successfully framed in partisan terms. That is, a previous central-bank plan had been put forward by a Republican senator named Nelson Aldrich. Since everyone knew that Aldrich was a Network-connected insider, the legislation was shot down by Democrats when it bore his name. (For this, the Democrats were largely seen as having protected the “little guy” from another big-business Republican scheme.)

With the people convinced that the Democrats had protected them, any alternative central-bank plan put forward under a Democratic administration would rouse far less suspicion. The Network could simply drop the name “Aldrich,” wrap the legislation in some progressive rhetoric, and sell the exact same thing with Wilson and his Democratic administration acting as trusted pitchmen. (Like the income tax, the central bank would be presented as a way to “protect the people” from the rich and powerful. In truth, it accomplished the exact opposite.)

Here is what Carroll Quigley said the Network intended to create with its central banking power:

…a world system of financial control in private hands able to dominate the political system of each country…The apex of the system was to be…a private bank owned and controlled by the world’s central banks which were themselves private corporations. Each central banksought to dominate its government by its ability to control Treasury loans, to manipulate foreign exchanges, to influence the level of economic activity in the country, and to influence cooperative politicians by subsequent economic rewards in the business world.[34]

As a quick reminder, this isn’t a case of Quigley guessing at the Network’s intentions. He speaks with the authority of a man who, in his own words, knows “of the operations of this network” because he “studied it for twenty years and was permitted for two years, in the early 1960’s, to examine its papers and secret records.”[35]

So, when comparing the Republican candidate, Taft, to the Democratic candidate, Wilson, there was no question who the Network wanted more. The decision was made, Mandell House paid Wilson a visit, and the process of grooming Wilson for the presidency began.

In November 1911, Wilson met Colonel Edward Mandell House, one of the first kingmakers in modern American politics. “Almost from the first,” the Colonel later recalled, “our minds vibrated in unison.” Wilson concurred: “Mr. House is my second personality…His thoughts and mine are one.[36]

James Perloff describes a follow-up meeting at the Democratic Party headquarters in New York:

Wilson received an “indoctrination course” from the leaders convened there, during which he agreed, in principle, to do the following if elected:

  • Support the projected Federal Reserve [central bank];
  • Support income tax;
  • Lend an ear to advice should war break out in Europe;
  • Lend an ear to advice on who should occupy his cabinet.[37]

As mentioned in footnote 16, House pulled all of the necessary strings to ensure the Democratic nomination for president went to Wilson. But as impressive as that level of influence might be, it’s still a long way from actually putting a man in the White House. And, unfortunately for the Network, Taft was heavily favored to win against its preferred candidate. Not a problem.

As “luck” would have it, the Network found another potential candidate that it could run against Taft. Not just any candidate, mind you, but a former two-term Republican president. And not just any two-term Republican president, but the same one that Republican President Taft had just replaced in 1909: Teddy Roosevelt.

This was a brilliant strategic move. The most obvious reason being, ten months prior to the 1912 election, Roosevelt had expressed a willingness to support the Aldrich plan.[38] Therefore, whether Wilson or Roosevelt won, the Network could get its central bank. But the most obvious reason isn’t the only or best reason for why the Network poured more than ten million dollars[39] (inflation adjusted) into Roosevelt’s campaign. Sure, Roosevelt was acceptable, but the Network still preferred Wilson. And by splitting the vote, they could have him. Perloff explains:

Polls showed incumbent President Taft as a clear favorite over the stiff-looking professor from Princeton. So, to divide the Republican vote, the [Network] put money behind Teddy Roosevelt on the Progressive Party ticket. J.P. Morgan was the financial backbone of the Roosevelt campaign. Felix Warburg financed Taft while Paul Warburg and Jacob Schiff provided the funds for Wilson. The strategy succeeded. Republican ballots were split between Taft and Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson became President with only forty-two percent of the popular vote.[40]

The full results of the 1912 election were as follows: Wilson received 41.8 percent of the vote, Roosevelt received 27.4 percent, and Taft received only 23.2 percent.[41] How is that for impressive? William Howard Taft, a man who would have handily won the election with a strong majority, wound up dead last in a three-way race against two Network-manufactured candidates. House summed it up this way: “Wilson was elected by Teddy Roosevelt.[42] The rest, as they say, is history.

After the election, House proceeded to fill the president’s important cabinet positions with the “best” advisors the Network had to offer. He guided Wilson’s policy decisions like a “disembodied spirit” that had “found its opportunity” to shape the world with Wilson’s hands.

Before the end of 1913, the income tax would be law. Before the end of 1913, the central bank would be a reality. These new instruments provided the funding and leverage that the Network needed to greatly accelerate its sovereignty-destruction project. But they, alone, would not provide the greatest opportunity to capitalize on Wilson’s evangelical crusade to “make the world safe for democracy.” Only a long and protracted world war, with funding guaranteed by the new instruments, could achieve that.

Once again, as luck would have it, just such an opportunity presented itself shortly after Wilson took office. World War I provided the political impetus for the Network’s first major attempt at establishing a global government (the League of Nations). And although it wasn’t as successful as they might have hoped, the League of Nations, along with all the other “instruments” that came into existence under Wilson, laid the foundation for all of the Network’s progress over the past one hundred years.

As G Edward Griffin explains in ‘The Creature from Jekkyl Island‘,

The outcome of the election was exactly as the strategists had anticipated. Wilson won with only forty-two per cent of the popular vote, which means, of course, that fifty-eight per cent had been cast against him. Had Roosevelt not entered the race, most of his votes undoubtedly would have gone to Taft, and Wilson would have become a footnote. “


[30]Wikipedia, William Howard Taft

[31]The Creature from Jekyll Island, page 451

[32]The Creature from Jekyll Island, page 459

[33] See Dishonest Money: Financing the Road to Ruin

[34]Tragedy and Hope, page 324

[35]Tragedy and Hope, page 950

[36]To End All Wars: Woodrow Wilson and the Quest for a New World Order, page 20

[37]The Shadows of Power—The Council on Foreign Relations and the American Decline, page 27

[38]The Creature from Jekyll Island, page 455

[39]The Creature from Jekyll Island, page 453

[40]The Shadows of Power—The Council on Foreign Relations and the American Decline, page 27

[41]Wikipedia, 1912 presidential campaign

[42] As quoted in The Creature from Jekyll Island, page 456