Decided: Stump v. Sparkman - The U.S. Supreme Court rules that a judge cannot be sued for ordering a minor girl be sterilized at her mother's request. According to the mother, her her 15-year-old daughter was "somewhat retarded" and that it would be better if she were sterilized "to prevent unfortunate circumstances." Judge Harold D. Stump of the DeKalb County Circuit Court is quick to grant the petition.
What makes this case problematic is what Stump doesn't do. The daughter, Linda Spitler, is given no notice of what's happened (when she's taken to the hospital, she's told it's to have her appendix removed). No one is assigned to represent the interests of the daughter before the court. No investigation is made of the daughter's mental capacity or behavior.
No hearings whatsoever are held at all. Neither the mother's petition nor Stump's order are filed with the clerk of the circuit court for the court's records. Judge Stump doesn't cite any judicial or legal authority to support signing the order.
Linda Spitler doesn't find out she's been sterilized until after she is married and she sues. The Supreme Court rules 5-3 that Judge Stump enjoyed judicial immunity. According to the decision, it doesn't matter if there is no law authorizing a judge's actions or if there is a total absence of basic due process; all that matters is if the judge is performing a function which judges normally do and if the parties to the case deal with the judge in his capacity as a judge:
"A judge will not be deprived of immunity because the action he took was in error, was done maliciously, or was in excess of his authority; rather, he will be subject to liability only when he has acted in the 'clear absence of all jurisdiction'."
Associate Justice Potter Stewart writes a scathing dissent, horrified that the majority would grant immunity to judges to flout all law and procedure in such a manner:
"A judge is not free, like a loose cannon to inflict indiscriminate damage whenever he announces that he is acting in his judicial capacity. ..
Not one of the considerations...summarized in the Pierson opinion was present here. There was no "case," controversial or otherwise. There were no litigants. There was and could be no appeal. And there was not even the pretext of principled decision-making.
The total absence of any of these normal attributes of a judicial proceeding convinces me that the conduct complained of in this case was not a judicial act."