Skinner v. Oklahoma ex rel. Williamson Case Brief

Summary of Skinner v. Oklahoma ex rel. Williamson (1942)

Relevant Facts: OK law allowed state to sterilize a person if convicted of three or more times for crime amounting to felonies involving moral turpitude. PL was convicted of robbery twice and once for stealing chickens.

Issue: Under Constitutional law, does this law violate the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the 14th Amendment?

Holding: Yes. Procreation is fundamental rights and any encroachment in it must be met with strict scrutiny. Furthermore, the law unequally applied to pretty similar crimes.

Court's Rationale/Reasoning: The court found this to be “abstract symmetry” of making law. As making such a decision is usually a “last resort” for the Court, the combination of an overly arbitrary system for qualifying victims for sterilization and the sterilization itself being a deprivation of a fundamental right were factors in the Court's application of strict scrutiny here.

Discriminating class: felons of moral turpitude

Non-discriminated: non-felons, felons of certain crimes not of moral turpitude

Reason: not compelling as police power; no way to tell if sterilee would be parent to a potentially dangerous criminal

Reason 2: no due process to be heard otherwise

Rule: A law which deprives a person of their constitutional and procedural due process is applied strict scrutiny.

Important Dicta: Court passes on the cruel and excessive punishment portion of the PL's argument.


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