316 U.S. 535 (1942).

Synopsis:

As applied to one convicted once of stealing chickens, and twice of robbery, an Oklahoma statute providing for the sterilization of habitual criminals, other than those convicted of embezzlement, or violation of prohibition and revenue laws, violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Detailed Summary:

A 1942 U.S. Supreme Court opinion that struck the Oklahoma Habitual Criminal Sterilization Act as unconstitutional.  The Oklahoma law permitted courts to order sterilization of those convicted two or more times for crimes involving moral turpitude.  Justice Douglas wrote the opinion for the Court and noted that the case touched upon “a sensitive and important area of human rights.”  Id. at 536.  He further stated that, “Oklahoma deprive[d] certain individual of a right which [was] basic to perpetuation of a race — the right to have offspring.”  Id.

The Court determined that the Oklahoma law violated the equal protection clause of the Constitution and the fundamental right to procreate.  The Court reasoned:  “We are dealing here with legislation which involves one of the basic civil rights of man.  Marriage and procreation are fundamental to the very existence and survival of the race.  The power to sterilize, if exercised, may have subtle, far-reaching and devastating effects.  In evil or reckless hands it can cause races or types which are inimical to the dominant group to whither and disappear.  There is no redemption for the individual whom the law touches . . . He is forever deprived of a basic liberty.”  Id. at 541.

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