LIVE WEBCAST: Feldman to hold master class on 1927 Supreme Court Ruling Buck v. Bell

Noah Feldman

Credit: Phil Farnsworth Noah Feldman

Harvard Law School Professor Noah Feldman will give a Master Class on the 1927 Supreme Court Ruling Buck v. Bell on Oct. 9 at 6:00 p.m., at an event sponsored by the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard University.

You can watch a live stream of the lecture here. The lecture will take place in the Barker Center, Room 110, Harvard University.

In the Buck v. Bell decision of May 2, 1927, the United States Supreme Court upheld a Virginia statute that provided for the eugenic sterilization of people considered genetically unfit.

The co-plaintiff in the case, Carrie E. Buck and her mother Emma had been committed to the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded. 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.

The Supreme Court ruled 8 to 1—in an opinion written by Oliver Wendell Holmes—that the state statue permitting compulsory sterilization of those not deemed fit for reproduction did not violate the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United State Constitution. (An abbreviated version of the decision can be read here.) After the ruling, sterilization rates for the purpose of eugenics boomed until 1943 and the Skinner v. Oklahoma decision, in which the Court held that sterilization could not be used as punishment for a crime.

The Mahindra Humanities Center is a crossroads for interdisciplinary discussions among Harvard faculty, faculty from other area institutions, graduate students, undergraduates, and the public. It sponsors lectures, panels, readings, conferences, workshops, and seminars on a wide range of topics. It also supports informal occasions for the exchange of ideas and the sharing of scholarly and artistic work.

Feldman is the Bemis Professor of Law at Harvard University, as well as a Senior Fellow of the Society of Fellows. He is a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and the Bloomberg View. Feldman specializes in comparative and foreign law, constitutional law, and legal theory. He is the author of six books including “Cool War: The Future of Global Competition” (Random House, May 21, 2013) and the award winning “Scorpions: The Battles and Triumphs of FDR’s Great Justices” (Twelve, 2010).