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Matthew T. Mangino: Buck v. Bell: The high court’s low point

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There is a scene in the American film classic “Judgment at Nuremberg” where defense attorney Hans Rolfe, played by Maximilian Schell, is cross-examining a Nazi judge about the Nazi sterilization of undesirable women. Schell cites a case where the high court of another country authorized the sterilization of a “feeble-minded” woman who was the daughter of a “feeble-minded” mother. The court opinion concluded, “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”

Schell dramatically concluded his cross-examination by revealing that the author of the opinion was the vaunted American jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes. “Judgement at Nuremberg” was a fictional account of the war crime trials of German judges. However, Justice Holmes’ opinion in Buck v. Bell - which upheld the sterilization of women in the state of Virginia - was indeed cited in Nuremberg.

During the trial of German SS Officer Otto Hoffman, his defense cited Buck v. Bell as proof that a so-called enlightened country like the U.S. was also involved in the “science” of human improvement through........

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