'A Sordid Case': Stump v. Sparkman, Judicial Immunity, and the Other Side of Reproductive Rights

89 Pages Posted: 31 Mar 2014 Last revised: 30 Aug 2018

See all articles by Laura T. Kessler

Laura T. Kessler

University of Utah - S.J. Quinney College of Law

Date Written: March 30, 2014


This Article presents a new historical account of Stump v. Sparkman, one of the most controversial Supreme Court decisions in the past fifty years. Stump is the 1978 judicial immunity opinion in which the Supreme Court declared that judges are absolutely immune from liability for their official judicial acts. The case involved the involuntary sterilization of a fifteen-year-old girl pursuant to an ex parte court order issued by a state judge. The basic project of the Article is to show why this largely overlooked case is important in American constitutional law beyond the narrow issue of judicial immunity, recovering it as a canonical decision relevant to contemporary debates about constitutional reproductive rights and procedural due process.

Stump emerged from an ongoing set of discussions about the nature and scope of then-nascent constitutional protections for reproductive rights, as well as access to the federal courts by civil rights claimants. These issues continue to be a matter of intense debate, as states and courts reign in the scope of reproductive rights, and as federal judges increasingly employ procedural rules limiting the ability of civil rights victims to pursue their claims and receive a decision on the merits in federal court. This Article’s close examination of the historical antecedents to these trends, as reflected in Stump, can help courts envision more just alternatives to the present course on these fundamentally important procedural and substantive questions.

Keywords: reproductive rights, civil rights, constitutional law, feminist jurisprudence, legal feminism, legal history, health law, remedies, legal ethics, sterilization, judicial immunity, judges, federal courts, gender, race, discrimination, sex, family law, economic inequality, socioeconomic inequality

Suggested Citation

Kessler, Laura T., 'A Sordid Case': Stump v. Sparkman, Judicial Immunity, and the Other Side of Reproductive Rights (March 30, 2014). University of Utah College of Law Research Paper No. 74, 74 Maryland Law Review 833 (2015), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2417972 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2417972

Laura T. Kessler (Contact Author)

University of Utah - S.J. Quinney College of Law ( email )

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United States
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HOME PAGE: http://faculty.utah.edu/u0294453-LAURA_T_KESSLER/hm/index.hml

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