Lawsuit Seeks to End White County’s Ongoing Sterilization Program

An inmate in White County, Tennessee, has filed a lawsuit in White County Chancery Court seeking to put an end to an ongoing sterilization program instituted by White County General Sessions Judge Sam Benningfield.  Under the program, White County inmates who refuse to submit to long-term surgical sterilization are required to serve jail sentences that are 30 days longer than similarly situated inmates who agree to be sterilized.  The lawsuit—filed directly against Judge Benningfield and the White County Sheriff—asks the Chancery Court to declare Judge Benningfield’s sterilization program unconstitutional and prevent the Sheriff from enforcing it.

“This program is outrageous, it is morally indefensible, and it’s illegal,” said attorney Daniel Horwitz, who is representing the inmate.  “We fully expect the Chancery Court to put an end to this abusive and reprehensible program and ensure that it never returns again.”

“Eugenics is illegal in Tennessee and across the United States,” the lawsuit reads.  “Tennessee law provides absolutely no authority to institute or enforce such a program, and both the Tennessee Constitution and the United States Constitution forbid it.  From mass sterilizations in Nazi Germany to eugenics experimentation in Tuskegee, Alabama, eugenics is anathema to any conception of morality and represents one of the most disturbing chapters in the dark history of human cruelty.  Judge Benningfield’s eugenics program should be—and must be—declared illegal and permanently enjoined as a result.”

Judge Benningfield’s sterilization program gained national attention after White County District Attorney Bryant Dunaway expressed concerns about the program’s rank illegality and immorality to a reporter in July 2017.  Thereafter, Judge Benningfield partially rescinded his standing order in response to national outcry.  Because Judge Benningfield’s supplemental order still provides that inmates who refuse to be sterilized must serve sentences that are 30 days longer than those who agree to surgical sterilization, however, the program is still ongoing.

In addition to asking the Court to declare the program unconstitutional, the lawsuit seeks to “[e]njoin the Defendants from subjecting the Plaintiff to an additional 30 days of incarceration for exercising his constitutional right to reproductive freedom.”  It further asks the Court to award the Plaintiff attorney’s fees and have the fee award “donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Tuskegee History Center.”

Selected media coverage regarding the program appears below:

-Judge under scrutiny for offering reduced sentences for vasectomies, birth control implants

-White County Inmates Given Reduced Jail Time If They Get Vasectomy

‘We were guinea pigs’: Jailed inmates agreed to birth control

Tennessee judge rescinds inmate sterilization-for-freedom program

Judge to inmates: Get sterilized and I’ll shave off jail time