Politics & Government

NC appeals court rules on eugenics cases

Editor’s Note: Since publication, the N&O has learned that passages from this story were taken in large part or in whole from “Sterilized by North Carolina, she felt raped once more” by the Los Angeles Times without attribution. This is a violation of our standards. We apologize to our readers.

The N.C. Court of Appeals issued rulings Tuesday in a series of cases related to people who were involuntarily sterilized by the state, ruling that one woman was ineligible for compensation and saying a three-judge Superior Court panel should address whether the families of victims who are no longer alive should be compensated.

The rulings come almost three years after the state adopted a 2013 law to compensate the victims.

Between 1929 and 1974, nearly 7,600 people were sterilized under orders from North Carolina’s Eugenics Board. Nearly 85 percent of those were women or girls, some as young as 10.

The board’s declared goal was to purify the state’s population by weeding out the mentally ill, diseased, feeble-minded and others deemed undesirable.

In a 1950 pamphlet, the Human Betterment League of North Carolina said the board was protecting “the children of future generations and the community at large,” adding that “you wouldn’t expect a moron to run a train or a feebleminded woman to teach school.”

The pamphlet went on: “It is not barnyard castration!”

At issue in three of the four cases decided by the three-judge appeals court panel Tuesday was whether the estates of victims of the state-sponsored sterilizations should have access to the $50,000 compensation that living victims did.

Two of the three judges ruled that the Court of Appeals was not the proper venue for deciding that issue and sent it back to the state’s Industrial Commission to forward the matter to a three-judge Superior Court panel to determine the constitutionality of the state law. The judge who was opposed to sending the case back thought the Court of Appeals was the proper venue for hearing the matter.

The fourth case ruled on by the appeals court was about a woman who contended she was forced to have an abortion and to be sterilized by a county social worker.

Because the procedures had not been ordered by the Eugenics Board, the court ruled, state law did not include her as a victim qualified for compensation.

Anne Blythe: 919-836-4948, @AnneBlythe1