Skinner v. Oklahoma ex rel. Attorney General, 316 U.S. 535 (1942)

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Skinner v. Oklahoma ex rel. Attorney General, 316 U.S. 535 (1942) by Mind Map: Skinner v. Oklahoma ex rel. Attorney General, 316 U.S. 535 (1942)

1. Rule of Law

1.1. U.S. Constitution, Amendment 14, Section 1: No state can enact any law that abridges the privileges of a citizen or that deprives them of lift and liberty without due process; No state can enact a law that denies anyone in its jurisdiction equal protection of the law.

1.1.1. “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

2. Facts

2.1. Parties

2.1.1. Petitioner: Jack T. Skinner

2.1.2. Respondent: State of Oklahoma ex. Rel. Mac Williamson, Attorney General

2.2. What Happened

2.2.1. Jack Skinner was convicted of multiple felonies: stealing chickens in 1926, armed robbery in 1929 and 1934, when he was sentenced to jail time. In 1935, the Habitual Criminal Sterilization Act was passed. The act allowed those convicted of three or more felonies “involving moral turpitude” to be sterilized (i.e. vasectomy, salpingectomy).

2.2.2. Embezzlement is excluded from coverage. Mr. Skinner was subsequently ordered to be sterilized. Mr. Skinner appealed, arguing that the law violated the 14th amendment.

2.3. Procedural History

2.3.1. July 12, 1937: Jack Spinner ordered to undergo sterilization by the District Court of Pittsburg County, Oklahoma. Mr. Spinner appealed.

2.3.2. Feb 18, 1941: Oklahoma Supreme Court upheld decision of the trial court with a 5-4 vote

2.3.3. July 8th, 1941: Rehearing requested and denied

2.3.4. May 6, 1942: Argued in the Supreme court

2.3.5. June 1, 1942: Decided by the Supreme court, decision reversed

3. Issue Before the Court

3.1. Whether the Habitual Criminal Sterilization Act violates the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment

4. Conclusion

4.1. The right to procreate is a fundamental right and, by depriving prisoners of this right with vasectomies, the act was in direct violation of the 14th amendment.

4.2. By specifically excluding white collar crimes (embezzlement) from the list of punishable offenses, Oklahoma’s Habitual Criminal Sterilization Act was in direct violation of Section 1 of the 14th amendment guaranteeing equal protection of the law. .

4.3. Crimes and embezzlement rated the same terms of fines and imprisonment however the law was different from sterilization perspective. Discrimination against groups of individuals in violation of the constitutional guaranty of equal and just laws.

4.4. The decision was overturned in a unanimous decision.

5. Analysis


5.1.1. The Act specifically excluded those that commit white collar crimes (e.g. embezzlement, political crimes) from its definition of “habitual criminals,” thus creating an “aristocracy of crime” where the less fortunate will be subject to harsher penalties for the same level of crime. This violates the equal protection from the law clause The process for determining the appropriateness of the procedure consisted of affirmative answers to two questions: (1) Has the defendant been convicted three times in the state of Oklahoma and (2) Will the procedure endanger the defendant’s health? This does not meet the standard of due process.

5.1.2. The Act presupposes two things (1) the accused is capable of reproducing and (2) the accused will transmit “criminal traits.” As no reasonable evidence could be provided to support this and, furthermore, Mr. Skinner was not allowed to testify to the contrary, due process was denied. Cited Manley v. State of Georgia to support their position that the Act violates the 14th amendment based on invalidity and sufficiency Invalidity: A law that arbitrarily creates a presumption or that limits the ability of the accused to defend themselves against it violates the due process clause of the Sufficiency: “Mere legislative fiat may not take the place of fact in the determination of issues involving life, liberty, or property.”


5.2.1. The Act is a eugenic measure (i.e. measure intended to improve the genetic quality of the population) and is an exercise of the police power of the state. In support of this position, the attorney general cited State v Troutman where it was determined that the sterilization of “feeble-minded, insane, epileptic, habitual criminals” did not deny the rights of life, livery and they the pursuit of safety. Rather, it was a demonstration of a state’s police power intended to promote the general welfare of the society. Therefore, it did NOT violate the 14th amendment.

5.2.2. The Act does not explicitly deny anyone of a hearing or ample notice of said hearing. They are given a jury trial and allowed to appeal, as evidenced in this case. Therefore, there is no violation of the due process clause of the 14th amendment In defense of the violation of the equal protection clause, the respondent cited multiple cases, as well as the following line form the Corpus Juris Secundum: “Discrimination alone, irrespective of its basis or effect, is not the test of denial of equal protection of the laws by a statute”

5.3. COURT

5.3.1. The court cites that the Act fails to meet the 14th amendment right of equal protection under the law and cites the following examples: They compared the crime of larceny and embezzlement under Oklahoma statute. Though both are considered felonies if the amount in question is greater than $20, someone that commits larceny three times would be sterilized, but someone that repeatedly embezzles would not, irrespective of the frequency and amount embezzled. The court acknowledges, by citing a number of cases, that the constitution does allow for some flexibility with regards to legislature and the constitution does allow for the legislations to recognize and address “different degrees of evil.” As well, they concede that a state can use its policing power to address offenses it classifies as “evil,” without violating the 14th amendment as determined in Patsone v. Pennsylvania. This case, however, deviates from all cases because the legislation in question directly affects the basic human right of procreation. In their interpretation of the law, depriving citizens of this basic liberty is a direct violation of the 14th amendment. The power to sterilize a particular class has the potential to eliminate entire races if abused. The Oklahoma code has identical fines and prison times for embezzlement and larceny, but the punishment arbitrarily deviates with regards to sterilization. Citing Yick Wo v Hopkins, the court also states that sterilizing one group and sparing another for committing what are essentially the same type of crime is just as discriminatory as if they selected a particular race or nationality for oppressive treatment. As the Act clearly discriminatory, the court interpreted the law to find that the Habitual Criminal Sterilization Act does violate the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment.

5.3.2. Chief Justice Stone concurred, but he was not swayed by the equal protection clause arguments. Rather, he was of the opinion that the act violated due process. In answer to the attorney general’s claim that due process was met because there was a hearing, Judge Stone rebutted that the hearing was insufficient as the purpose of the hearing was simply to determine if the procedure would be detrimental to his health and not to determine whether he did, in fact, have inheritable criminal traits. Citing Buck v Bell, he acknowledged that a state can limit the personal liberty of an individual to prevent the inheritance of socially dangerous behaviors, but this could only be done after a hearing that provides them with the opportunity to challenge the motion. In his interpretation of the law, subjecting an entire class of people to such an invasion of privacy and personal liberty without affording individuals the opportunity to defend themselves violates the due process clause of the 14th amendment

6. Influence

6.1. Involuntary sterilization has not been completely eliminated from practice. However, the process to get approval for these procedures is more complex in order to comply with the constitution. For example, Georgia requires a petition be filed by the guardians, an examination by two physicians, hospital approval for the procedure, and a hearing that provides a judge with clear and convincing evidence that the procedure is necessary

6.2. This case set a precedent that legislation cannot impede on fundamental rights such as marriage and procreation without due process. One ruling that expanded on this was that of Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), where it was determined that the use of contraception was a family right and a right of privacy that cannot be impeded without due process. Evidence of this can be seen in the increased availability of contraception and the fact that minors do not need parental consent to obtain birth control.

7. Impact

7.1. T.M.H. v. D.M.T., 79 So.3d 787 (2011)

7.1.1. Citing Skinner v Oklahoma’s finding that procreation is one of the basic civil rights, the appeals court ruled that the trial court interpretation of the statute violated the constitution and this basic right.

7.2. Gerber v. Hickman, 264 F.3d 882 (2001)

7.2.1. Citing Skinner v Oklahoma, the court ruled that Skinner v Oklahoma established the principle that procreation is a fundamental right and that the case set a precedent that prisoners do have a right to maintain their ability to bear children after their imprisonment. They expanded on this by concluding that, because the finding in Skinner v Oklahoma relied heavily on the right to procreate, it can be inferred that prisoners should be allowed the right to retain these rights while in prison, albeit in an alternative form in this case.

8. Importance

8.1. As healthcare professionals, we are ethically required to do no harm. This state-mandated practice had the protection to create an ethical dilemma for the providers involved in the process. Knowing the outcome of this case, providers are empowered to question or object to new policies or laws that force them to engage in providing care that is not evidence-based.

9. References

9.1. Gerber v. Hickman, 264 F.3d 882 (2001) Parental consent and notice for contraceptives threatens teen health and constitutional rights.(2006). Center for Reproductive Rights. Accessed from Parental Consent and Notice for Contraceptives Threatens Teen Health and Constitutional Rights | Center for Reproductive Rights Ne’eman, A. (2018). Washington state may make it easier to sterlize people with disabilities. ACLU. Access from Skinner v. Oklahoma, 316 U.S. 535 (1942) T.M.H. v. D.M.T., 79 So.3d 787 (2011) 1942 WL 54254 (U.S.) (Appellate Brief) Supreme Court of the United States. Jack T. SKINNER, Petitioner, v. STATE of Oklahoma, ex rel. Mac Q. Williamson, Attorney General.

9.2. Eugenics - Wikipedia KeyCite Yellow Flag - Negative Treatment Overruling Recognized by State, Dept. of Social and Health Services v. Parvin, Wash.App. Div. 1, June 9, 2014 62 S.Ct. 1110 Supreme Court of the United States SKINNER v. STATE OF OKLAHOMA ex rel. WILLIAMSON, Atty. Gen. of Oklahoma. No. 782. | Argued and Submitted May 6, 1942. | Decided June 1, 1942.