One of the skeletons in the Old Dominion State’s closet is the 1924 “Virginia Eugenical Sterilization Act,” a law allowing the sterilization of citizens adjudged to be in a long line of mentally deficient idiots. The law was upheld in the infamous 1927 Supreme Court opinion in Buck v. Bell, in which the great Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, to his undying shame, wrote,
“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…Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”
So approved, Virginia’s eugenics law lasted into the 1970s, allowing the state to sterilize more than 7,000 people in mental institutions. The law was repealed in 1979, and victims are seeking reparations. Now the ghost of that law is hovering over the resolution of a current case.
The only thing Virginian Jessie Lee Herald has done on his 27 years more than get in trouble with the law is have children: so far he has had seven (with six mothers) and his current wife says she wants more. He recently fled the scene of a car crash with his injured 3-year-old son. Herald pleaded guilty to felony child endangerment, felony hit-and-run, and misdemeanor driving on a suspended license. Investigators who went to his home found his child to have been neglected, with, among other things, shards of glass in his diapers.
A Shenandoah County prosecutor, Illona White, proposed a plea deal that would reduce Herald’s prison sentence to just four years: he would have to agree to a vasectomy. He took the deal, which also requires him to pay for the operation.
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