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Skinner v. Oklahoma

Oklahoma Prisoner Sterilization

Arthur Skinner, a citizen of the State of Oklahoma, was habitually in trouble with the law. In 1926 Skinner was convicted of stealing three chickens and sentenced to the State Reformatory. In 1929 he was convicted of armed robbery and returned to the Reformatory. In 1934, he was again convicted of armed robbery but this time sent to the Oklahoma state penitentiary. The following year, in 1935, the Oklahoma state legislature passed the Habitual Criminal Sterilization Act. The law defined a "habitual criminal" as one who is convicted of two or more felony convictions in Oklahoma or any other state for crimes of "moral turpitude" and then convicted of a third felony and imprisoned in the State of Oklahoma. The Oklahoma attorney general had authority to initiate actions to sexually sterilize such a felon. If male, sterilization would be by vasectomy. The law provided a right to a jury trial for the felon, but limited the grounds for challenge to whether he fit the definition of a habitual criminal and did not have a health condition precluding sterilization. The law excluded certain crimes, such as embezzlement, as constituting a conviction for sterilization purposes. In 1936 the attorney general selected Skinner for sterilization. Skinner challenged the action and the case went to trial, where he lost. The Oklahoma Supreme Court soon affirmed the decision.

Skinner then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court arguing the Oklahoma law violated the Fourteenth Amendment's due process guarantee. He was given no opportunity to challenge the notion that he might parent socially undesirable children. He also contended sterilization was cruel and unusual punishment. Because of the fundamental constitutional questions raised by the case, the Court granted the petition for certiorari.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1941 to 1953Skinner v. Oklahoma - Significance, Oklahoma Prisoner Sterilization, Marriage And Procreation Rights, Impact, Further Readings