The Brief

The Brief, Vol. 42, Fall 2022

Buck v. Bell: Understanding Its Past, Present, and Future

by Michael Conklin

The 1927 Supreme Court case of Buck v. Bell held that it would not violate Carrie Buck’s constitutional rights to forcibly sterilize her in order to provide the public good of a more intelligent populace. As the 100-year anniversary of Buck approaches, there remains a great deal of misunderstanding regarding the case. Paul A. Lombardo’s book Three Generations, No Imbeciles: Eugenics, the Supreme Court, and Buck v. Bell provides an excellent catalyst for examining the infamous case and its relevance in the twenty-first century. Lombardo shows that Buck is not just a historical peculiarity with no relevance to modern jurisprudence. This point has become even clearer in recent years. In 2019 a Justice Clarence Thomas concurrence included a twenty-page essay on the history of eugenics and how it relates to the subject of abortion. And in May 2022, a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade contained references to the use of abortion for the purposes of minimizing the Black population.