Home » Intelligent Design » Eugenics Impulse Alive and Well on SCOTUS

Eugenics Impulse Alive and Well on SCOTUS

As I have observed in these pages before, the United States Supreme Court has a very uneven record on the issue of eugenics.  Indeed, one of the justices we lawyers are taught in law school to revere without question, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., was an uber-Darwinist and philosophical materialist who also happened to be, not coincidentally, a great admirer of the American eugenics project of the 1920’s.  In the infamous case of Buck v. Bell the court considered a Virginia law authorizing the forced sterilization of mentally challenged people.  The state proposed to use the law to sterilize Carrie Buck on the ground that she was feeble minded and thus a genetic threat to society.  The court upheld the law, and Ms. Buck was in fact forcibly sterilized, as were tens of thousands of other people across the nation after Buck v. Bell was decided. 

In his opinion upholding the law Holmes wrote:

We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives. It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the State for these lesser sacrifices, often not felt to be such by those concerned, in order to prevent our being swamped with incompetence. 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. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes.

Famously, Holmes concluded his argument with the phrase: “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”

Buck v. Bell has NEVER been overturned.  It remains the law of the land in the United States of America. To be sure, forced sterilization of the mentally challenged is currently out of fashion among legislators and the last such procedure was performed in 1981. But what if eugenics were to make a legislative comeback, perhaps in response to a crime wave. Would the current United States Supreme Court follow Buck v. Bell?  Yes, I am afraid it would if Ruth Bader Ginsburg is to be believed.

In a recent interview Ginsburg was asked what she thought of the lack of federal funding for abortions. She replied:

Yes, the ruling about that surprised me. [She’s talking about Harris v. McRae, which upheld the Hyde Amendment which prohibits federal funding of abortions.] Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of.

Scary stuff that. Does anyone else get a chill down their spine when a high ranking official of their government starts talking about controlling the growth of “populations that we don’t want to have too many of”?

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5 Responses to Eugenics Impulse Alive and Well on SCOTUS

  1. Buck v. Bell has NEVER been overturned. It remains the law of the land in the United States of America.

    Lots of Supreme Court cases have never been explicitly abrogated. It doesn’t mean that they are necessarily “the law of the land.” No federal court would consider Buck binding precedent, for instance, following the related case of Skinner v. Oklahoma and eighty years of other due process cases.

    Scary stuff that.

    It’s not that scary if you include the entire comment. Starting at the bottom of page three, she is asked a question about public funding for abortions as part of an equal-access analysis. She describes where she thought the court was going, based on what she believed was the momentum at the time.

    She goes on to say, in the part Mr. Arrington forgot to quote or link to, “then I realized that my perception of it had been altogether wrong.” She was not advocating eugenics; she is describing a mistaken impression she had in the 70s that others had that goal.

    She goes on to express her own perspective on substantive due process: “The basic thing is that the government has no business making that choice for a woman.” That is not the philosophy that sterilized Ms. Buck. In fact, the Court in Buck rejected her due process claims. Justice Ginsburg’s philosophy would have reached the opposite conclusion, and prohibited the state from sterilizing Ms. Buck without her consent.

    Does anyone else get a chill down their spine when a high ranking official of their government starts talking about controlling the growth of “populations that we don’t want to have too many of”?

    No, but I get a stress headache when a blogger quotemines.

  2. Hi ,

    my question here is not related to this post but its addressed to Mr Dembski.

    I’m a supporter of the Intelligent Design but I don’t understand something.

    I read your Explanatory Filter.but I came upon the FAQ on this website.”. Intelligent design moves backward: that is, it observes something interesting in nature (complex, specified information) and then theorises and tests possible ways how that might have come to be. ”
    If ID moves backward then what’s the point of the terms specification/fabrication if ID is only backwards then only fabrication in this sense is needed.

    Thanks.

    p.s. if the moderater is not planning to publish this.Then I hope Mr Dembski could reply to my email. [email protected] Thanks!!!

  3. JL:

    Please, read in context.

    The “backward” refers to the inference from empirical data to most reasonable explanatory cause. that is, inference to best, empirically anchored explanation.

    (BTW, where did you get your apparent equation of terms, “specification/fabrication,” from?)

    GEM of TKI

    PS: the original context of WAC 5:

    >> 5] Intelligent Design is “Creationism in a Cheap Tuxedo”

    In fact, the two theories are radically different. Creationism moves forward: that is, it assumes, asserts or accepts something about God and what he has to say about origins; then interprets nature in that context. Intelligent design moves backward: that is, it observes something interesting in nature (complex, specified information) and then theorises and tests possible ways how that might have come to be. Creationism is faith-based; Intelligent Design is empirically-based.

    Each approach has a pedigree that goes back over two thousand years. We notice the “forward” approach in Tertullian, Augustine, Bonaventure, and Anselm. Augustine described it best with the phrase, “faith seeking understanding.” With these thinkers, the investigation was faith-based. By contrast, we discover the “backward” orientation in Aristotle, Aquinas, and Paley. Aristotle’s argument, which begins with “motion in nature” and reasons BACK to a “prime mover” — i.e. from effect to its “best” causal explanation — is obviously empirically based.

    To say then, that Tertullian, Augustine, Anselm (Creationism) is similar to Aristotle, Aquinas, Paley (ID) is equivalent to saying forward equals backward. What could be more illogical? >>

  4. kairosfocus

    “Intelligent design moves backward: that is, it observes something interesting in nature (complex, specified information) and then theorises and tests possible ways how that might have come to be.”

    Could you provide some examples, please?

  5. Kairo,

    Thanks I understand the backwards part.

    I just don’t understand what’s the specification part.In ID when one spots an object,say the eye,then one infer backwards to see if its designed or not.

    Dembski’s specification from The Design Inference means before the existence of the existence of the object.I wonder what’s the point of specification before the existence of the object if what ID usually does is try to infer the causes.

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