Sociological Jurisprudence: Status Quo

The food for thought on the topic of Sociological Jurisprudence is, “The purpose of law and particularly judicial decision-making is to preserve the status quo. Do you agree or disagree”?

I am not sure if I entirely agree or disagree with this statement because law changes overtime and it conforms to society. According to the Merriam-Webster, status quo is defined as, “the current or existing state of affairs”; therefore, status quo means to keep things the way they are presently.

The key term in that statement is, ‘current’ because what was considered to be just or unjust, in the 18th or the 19th century, may not mean the same thing in today’s society. For example, Oliver Wendell Holmes was the judge in the famous case of Buck v. Bell (1927). This case involved Carrie Buck, an 18 year old ‘feeble-minded white woman’ who was institutionalized and she gave birth to an illegitimate feeble-minded child. Buck’s mom was also institutionalized at the same institution who was also feeble minded. Holmes decided that, “Three generations of imbeciles are enough” (Pavlich, 2011, p.57) and ruled that Buck be sterilized under the State of Virginia Act. Considering what era this was, feeblemindedness was considered to be “social problems” and eradicating them for the benefit of the society seemed to be the status quo; and sterilization was the answer (Pavlich, 2011). According to Holmes, “the law does all that is needed when it does all that it can, indicates a policy, applies it to all within the lines, and seeks to bring within the lines all similarly situated so far and so fast as its means allow” (Pavlich, 2011, p. 58); clearly suggests to me that the purpose of law and judicial decision making is to preserve the status quo. Public morals, politics and prejudices were all factors that were accounted for when Holmes made his decision and Holmes also stated that, due process was not breached in Buck’s case because sterilization concerning people who are mentally incapable, not only benefits the individual but also the society (Pavlich, 2011).

Times have changed from when this case took place and society as a whole is a lot more accepting of people who are handicapped and they are no longer considered to be “social problems. What happened to Buck is considered to be morally unjust and infringes on her right and due process was clearly neglected in this era. According to Merriam-Webster, due process is defined as “a judicial requirement that enacted laws may not contain provisions that result in the unfair, arbitrary, or unreasonable treatment of an individual”. In this day and age, society would have never attempted to eradicate social problems such as feeblemindedness. Decision that was passed regarding the Buck case in today’s society would have caused an uproar and citizens would have taken it upon themselves to fight for the rights of people who are unable too.


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


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One response to “Sociological Jurisprudence: Status Quo

  1. This is an interesting post. I think that you are partially correct in your analysis of Holmes’ decision in Buck v. Bell.

    The suggestion that the purpose of law is to preserve the status quo is meant to distinguish the approach to decision-making described by the legal positivists from the more activist approach advanced by proponents of sociological jurisprudence (including Holmes). The positivist approach to decision making – captured in the phrase ‘law is law’ – regards the judge as a trier of fact and applier of statutes and precent, but not an agent involved in the shaping and transformation of law. If Holmes had been a proponent of positivism, he – and the rest of the court – would have adopted a strict constitutional interpretation of the case. Instead, Holmes’ decision disrupts the existing legal status quo in the interests of advancing a then-popular social trend.