Friday, November 15, 2013

Skinner v. Oklahoma case brief

Skinner v. Oklahoma case brief summary
316 U.S. 535 (1942)

Defendant was convicted of more than two felonies and, under the Habitual Criminal Sterilization Act (act), Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 57, § 171 et seq., was ordered to be rendered sterile. The Oklahoma Supreme Court affirmed the order that the operation be performed. Defendant was granted certiorari.

Defendant claimed that the act violated the Fourteenth Amendment, U.S. Constitutional amendment XIV.


  • The court held that the act failed to meet the requirements of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. 
  • The court found that defendant was convicted of larceny and that the act treated larceny and embezzlement, intrinsically the same crime and punishable in the same manner, the same except for the sterilization provision. 
  • The equal protection clause did not prevent a legislature from recognizing degrees of evil, and the constitution did not require things different in fact or opinion to be treated in law as though they were the same. 
  • However, where legislation laid an unequal hand on those who had committed the same quality of offense, the equal protection clause would be a formula of empty words if such conspicuously artificial lines could be drawn. 
  • The crimes of larceny and embezzlement rated the same terms of fines and imprisonment, but when it came to sterilization the pains and penalties of the law were different, which made for invidious discrimination against groups of individuals in violation of the constitutional guaranty of just and equal laws.


The judgment of the state supreme court affirming the order for sterilization was reversed.

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