The Supreme Court decision in Buck v. Bell (1927) was the culmination of a national movement to improve the quality of the population by implementing eugenic notions of heredity and racial improvement at the expense of individual rights. It serves as an example of how government decisions can affect the most intimate and private aspects of American lives.

Advocates of negative eugenics pushed for state laws to sterilize the “unfit,” a word loosely defined to include imbeciles, “morons,” the “feebleminded,” and in some cases, ...

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