Stump v. Sparkman

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In Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349 (1978), the U.S. Supreme Court held that absolute judicial immunity applies to protect a decision by state judge to authorize the forced sterilization of a low-IQ girl without her consent or knowledge. She was told she was having an appendectomy.

Justice Byron White wrote the opinion for the 5-3 Court, and was joined by Justice William Rehnquist, Chief Justice Warren Burger and others. Justices Lewis Powell, Potter Stewart and Thurgood Marshall dissented.

Justice White wrote for the Court:

Disagreement with the action taken by the judge, however, does not justify depriving that judge of his immunity. Despite the unfairness to litigants that sometimes results, the doctrine of judicial immunity is thought to be in the best interests of "the proper administration of justice ... [, for it allows] a judicial officer, in exercising the authority vested in him [to] be free to act upon his own convictions, without apprehension of personal consequences to himself." Bradley v. Fisher, 13 Wall., at 347. The fact that the issue before the judge is a controversial one is all the more reason that he should be able to act without fear of suit. As the Court pointed out in Bradley:
"Controversies involving not merely great pecuniary interests, but the liberty and character of the parties, and consequently exciting the deepest feelings, are being constantly determined in those courts, in which there is great conflict in the evidence and great doubt as to the law which should govern their decision. It is this class of cases which impose upon the judge the severest labor, and often create in his mind a painful sense of responsibility." Id., at 348.
The Indiana law vested in Judge Stump the power to entertain and act upon the petition for sterilization. He is, therefore, under the controlling cases, immune from damages liability even if his approval of the petition was in error. Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.