Status Quo and Judicial Decisions

In 1928 the Sexual Sterilization Act was passed in Alberta to sterilize disabled people in order to protect Canada’s gene pool. There was a eugenics movement happening which promoted the idea that the disabled and people without desirable genes should not be able to reproduce. There were many negative aspects related to the involuntary sterilization movement, and many minority groups were targeted such as the disabled, women, youth and aboriginal people. This movement was legitimized through laws and even a eugenics board which banded together in 1929. Roscoe Pounds sociological jurisprudence held in high regard that law could advance society. With this idea in the wrong hands, there were numerous counts of human rights being violated during this movement. Roscoe saw law as being a form of social control and “ shaping individual feelings and desires to suit the needs of the group” ( Pavlich 60) . He also recognizes that we should always be cautious who is choosing the needs of the group. 2800 people were sterilized under this act, and this was the will of the people in charge at the time. I disagree that the purpose of law, particularly judicial decision making, is to preserve the status quo because to maintain the status quo is to keep things the way they are and that is not what happened during the eugenics movement. To clarify, I believe that judicial decisions do not maintain the traditional long-standing laws from the past, but change and conform to popular beliefs of the time. Pound believed that the main purpose of law was the ensure the survival and advancement of society ( Pavlich 60). Survival is achieved through resolving disputes and advancement is achieved through the creation of new laws and the striking down of laws that judges do not agree with.  The status quo was certainly not maintained or preserved when judicial decisions were made in favour of Alberta’s Sexual Sterilization Act. Coming from Pounds point of view of law and how its purpose is for the advancement of society I can see how the people who were in favour of these actions did so, because they wanted to purify the gene pool and filter out any undesirable genes. I absolutely do not agree with them but I understand how this was a social phenomena at the time and it was popular belief and culturally supported that the rights of the disabled should be trumped by the law for the betterment of society. I also understand how these laws were supported and maintained by judicial decisions because as Pound believed laws were influences by broader social processes. Sociological jurisprudence was supposed to be the science that law used to solve problems, and in this case those in charges believed what they were doing was for the benefit of society. Pound also warns that we should avoid one group using social control on another group for their own interests which is exactly what happened. But in 1986 the decision was reversed and it was ruled that handicapped people could not be forcibly sterilized. Once again this is an example how the purpose of law is not to preserve the status quo of the way things were, but to change alongside society. In the 1920’s when the eugenics movement was present, the law had adapted to cultural beliefs. In the 1980’s when human rights became important to society then laws also adapted.


Pavlich, G. (2011). Law & Society Redefined. Don Mills, Ontario: Oxford University Press.


1 Comment

Filed under Musing

One response to “Status Quo and Judicial Decisions

  1. You make a good argument! This post was a pleasure to read.

    It is important to note that this is not an either / or matter – law, as you note, can be an instrument of social change (for good or ill), but judicial decisions and statutory law also reproduce existing social relations and support the status quo by imposing sanctions on acts that deviate from it or seek to change it.

    Looking forward to future posts – paragraphs and links, please!