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Why hero worship is a mistake for the left

Earl Warren is remembered as one of the greatest liberals in modern U.S. history. During his 16 years on the Supreme Court, he safeguarded voting rights, expanded the rights of the accused and, of course, wrote the opinion in Brown v. Board of Education, striking down racial segregation in public schools.

Yet there is another, darker side of Warren’s legacy, one that few people remember. For years, he was instrumental in a government program that deprived poor and marginalized women of their rights, violated their privacy and incarcerated them without due process. As California’s attorney general and later as its governor, Warren led state and local officials as they detained women whom they “reasonably suspected” of having sexually transmitted infections (syphilis or gonorrhea), examined them for these STIs without their consent and then imprisoned the infected ones for weeks or months for forced treatments.

Warren’s complicity in this program is a good reminder that many of our political heroes were far more complicated figures than we remember. For many people, these figures were never heroes at all. And this, in turn, provides a lesson for those seeking to improve the world today: Relying on the rich, the famous and the powerful to change the world is a losing proposition, one that can hurt as many as it helps.

Beginning during World War I, and continuing into the 1950s and beyond, government officials across the United States imprisoned tens of thousands — perhaps even hundreds of thousands — of women and girls in squalid detention facilities, without due process, because they were suspected of having STIs. This largely forgotten quarantine program was called the “American Plan.” The detentions occurred for decades before the discovery of penicillin or sulfa drugs, so these women had to endure dangerous injections of mercury and doses of arsenic-based drugs. Some were even sterilized.

 In February 1941, federal officials urging enforcement of the American Plan met for the first time with Warren, then the state attorney general. He impressed them by voicing strong support for the plan, and “let it slip that he had already been advising the authorities” in San Bernardino, who were enthusiastically detaining and examining hundreds of “suspected sources of venereal disease infection.” In the weeks that followed, Warren would persuade his law enforcement colleagues to pledge “their cooperation in getting rid of prostitutes” on a statewide level. At his urging, several cities across California immediately began rounding up and examining suspected women. ...

Read entire article at The Washington Post