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Skinner v. Oklahoma

Marriage And Procreation Rights

The Court ruled unanimously in favor of Skinner. Justice Douglas, writing for the Court, found the "case touches a sensitive and important area of human rights." Douglas wrote, "Marriage and procreation are fundamental to the very existence and survival of the race." Therefore, any classification a state makes in sterilization law should be subject to the closest judicial scrutiny to guard against "invidious discrimination." Douglas found certain aspects of the Oklahoma law so clearly violated the Equal Protection Clause it was unnecessary to consider arguments raised by Skinner. He found no basis for distinguishing which crimes allow sterilization and which do not since punishments for both embezzlement and larceny were nearly identical in Oklahoma law. Douglas wrote, "Sterilization of those who have thrice committed grand larceny with immunity for those who are embezzlers is a clear, pointed, unmistakable discrimination." Douglas further noted no scientific evidence was known to suggest that inheritability of criminal traits was associated with one form of violation and not the other. Therefore, the distinction was "conspicuously artificial." Douglas concluded that "Oklahoma deprives certain individuals of a right which is basic to the perpetuation of a race--the right to have off-spring." The Court reversed the decision of the two lower courts.

In concurring, Chief Justice Stone disagreed with Douglas' application of the Equal Protection Clause, choosing to respond instead to Skinner's due process argument. Stone wrote that the "real question" was whether a whole class of citizens could be subjected to "such an invasion of personal liberty" without opportunity to question "whether his criminal tendencies are of an inheritable type." Stone wrote, "A law which condemns, without hearing, all the individuals of a class to so harsh a measure as the present because some or even many merit condemnation, is lacking in the first principles of due process."

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