BUCK v. BELL
Carrie Buck was a feeble minded woman who was committed to a state mental institution. Her condition had been present in her family for the last three generations. A Virginia law allowed for the sexual sterilization of inmates of institutions to promote the "health of the patient and the welfare of society." Before the procedure could be performed, however, a hearing was required to determine whether or not the operation was a wise thing to do.
Did the Virginia statute which authorized sterilization deny Buck the right to due process of the law and the equal protection of the laws as protected by the Fourteenth Amendment?
The Court found that the statute did not violate the Constitution. Justice Holmes made clear that Buck's challenge was not upon the medical procedure involved but on the process of the substantive law. Since sterilization could not occur until a proper hearing had occurred (at which the patient and a guardian could be present) and after the Circuit Court of the County and the Supreme Court of Appeals had reviewed the case, if so requested by the patient. Only after "months of observation" could the operation take place. That was enough to satisfy the Court that there was no Constitutional violation. Citing the best interests of the state, Justice Holmes affirmed the value of a law like Virginia's in order to prevent the nation from "being swamped with incompetence . . . Three generations of imbeciles are enough."