NC Court of Appeals Rules in Eugenics Cases

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On February 16, 2016, the North Carolina Court of Appeals issued an opinion in the consolidated appeals of three victims of the state’s more than forty-year forced sterilization eugenics program. Those appeals challenged as unconstitutional the Eugenics Compensation Act’s requirement that a victim be alive on June 30, 2013, to be eligible for compensation. Compensation was meant to be “restitution” for the injustices suffered under the state’s eugenics policy, which left more than 7,600 people — disproportionately non-white women — unable to conceive or bear children. The appellants, through their counsel at the Center for Civil Rights and pro bono lawyer Ed Pressley of Statesville, argued that the State had no legitimate basis to deny restitution to a victim’s heirs because the victim died before June 30, 2013 while granting it to heirs of a victim alive on that day. Without ruling on the merits, Chief Judge McGee, joined by Judge Davis concluded that, despite the language in the Eugenics Compensation Act providing for an appeal of compensation claims to Court of Appeals, the court lacked the authority to consider these victims’ claims. Instead, the majority held, the victims must pursue independent legal action challenging the constitutionality of the living victim threshold before a three-judge panel convened in Wake County Superior Court, pursuant to 2014 legislation restricting the process for making constitutional claims. Judge Dillon dissented, finding no justification in the law to diverge from the appellate process established under the Eugenics Compensation Act, and that the Court of Appeals should assert its jurisdiction and rule on the merits of the claims.

In a related case, the same panel again narrowly construed the Compensation Act to unanimously reject the appeal of a victim that was forcibly sterilized by the State pursuant to the broad authority of the eugenics law, but for whom there were no records to confirm that the procedure was formally approved by the Eugenics Board of North Carolina. Read the no records opinion.

Posted by Elizabeth M. Haddix on Wed. February 17, 2016 1:00 PM
Categories: Race Discrimination, Sterilization
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