Eugenics Compensation "No Record" Case Argued at the NC Court of Appeals

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Bob Bollinger takes questions from Professors Jack Boger, Erika Wilson, and Wyatt Orsbon during an argument mooting on Friday, November 20.
Bob Bollinger takes questions from (left to right) Professors Erika Wilson, Wyatt Orsbon, and Jack Boger during an argument mooting on Friday, November 20.

On Monday, November 30, the North Carolina Court of Appeals heard argument in one of eighteen remaining eugenics compensation appeals, which can be divided into two groups.  The first, argued by the Center’s Elizabeth Haddix and pro bono team member Ed Pressly on November 16, challenged the restitution program’s exclusion of eugenics victims who died before June 30, 2013 under the state constitution’s equal protection guarantee.  The second consists of the “no record” appeals, which seek to vindicate the rights of victims who were sterilized by the State, but have no records to confirm they were sterilized under the authority of the Eugenics Board of North Carolina.

Bob Bollinger, a leading member of the Center’s pro bono team in Charlotte, represents four eugenics clients in their no records appeals and argued on behalf of one sterilization victim on Monday.  Read Mr. Bollinger's brief here and the State's brief here.

In 1974, near the end of the State’s 40-year sterilization program, Mr. Bollinger’s client was involuntarily sterilized after a Department of Social Services worker in Cleveland County told her that she would lose her two children if she did not undergo the procedure.  Earlier this year, the North Carolina Industrial Commission agreed that Mr. Bollinger’s client was involuntarily sterilized, but denied her compensation because she had no records showing the State Eugenics Board approved that procedure.

During his argument, Mr. Bollinger contended the Court of Appeals should give precedent to policy, rather than paperwork, and allow his client to be compensated.  The facts demonstrate that his client could not have been sterilized under any other authority than the 1933 and 1937 Public Laws that empowered the State Eugenics Board.  Under these laws, the State Eugenics Board approved petitions for sterilization in advance of the procedure.

It is unclear whether the State Eugenics Board actually approved the procedure Mr. Bollinger’s client endured, and the records were simply lost, or if the harm done to her was compounded by the deprivation of even this minimal procedural safeguard.  Regardless, the 1933 and 1937 laws established the clear public policy of the State of North Carolina, placing an affirmative duty on county officials to identify individuals they believed should be sterilized.  Mr. Bollinger argued that Cleveland County officials were carrying out that duty as state actors when they coerced his client’s sterilization in 1974.

The same panel of judges (Chief Judge McGee, Judge Dillon, and Judge Davis) on the Court of Appeals may hear the remaining eugenics compensation appeals through early 2016, or it may decide to rule on all of the appeals based on the arguments heard on November 16 and 30.

Posted by Brent J. Ducharme on Thu. December 3, 2015 11:47 AM
Categories: Pro Bono, Sterilization
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