• Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court ruled that states could not require sterilization because of criminality or moral turpitude.

Oklahoma, as well as other states in 1942, authorized sterilization of “habitual criminals” after multiple convictions for enumerated crimes of “moral turpitude.” The Oklahoma law did not apply to those persons guilty of embezzlement and other white-collar crimes. The justification for the law, inspired by the eugenics movement, was the theory that some traits of criminality and mental defect were biologically inherited. Skinner, who had been convicted once for stealing chickens and twice for armed robbery, was ordered to submit to a vasectomy.Compulsory sterilization;Skinner v. Oklahoma[Skinner v. Oklahoma]Reproductive rights;Skinner v. Oklahoma[Skinner v. Oklahoma]

By a 9-0 vote, the Supreme Court ruled that the law was unconstitutional, but two justices disagreed with the majority’s constitutional reasoning in the decision. Speaking for the majority, Justice William O. DouglasDouglas, William O.;Skinner v. Oklahoma[Skinner v. Oklahoma] found that the law violated the equal protection clauseEqual protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The state had presented no evidence that the tendency to engage in larceny was more likely to be inheritable than the tendency to commit embezzlement. Although Douglas did not base the decision on substantive due process, he nevertheless emphasized that the liberty of procreation was “one of the basic civil rights of man.” For this reason, Skinner helped prepare the foundation for a later constitutional right of privacy.[case]Skinner v. Oklahoma[Skinner v. Oklahoma]

Buck v. Bell

Fourteenth Amendment

Griswold v. Connecticut

Privacy, right to

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