Oklahoma Habitual Criminal Sterilization Act Essay

Good versus Evil, what makes a person good, what makes a person evil. This question has been debated for years by philosophers, politicians or just about any common debate. People say well someone like Hitler, he is evil and someone like Martin Luther King Jr. is good. Someone who supported thought him as a good person. To people who were against black rights thought Martin Luther to be bad. So this debate of good and evil can never be won because there are always two sides to the argument.

Another debate is bad people can make more bad people and vice versa. The Oklahoma Habitual Criminal Sterilization Act of 1935 stated that any male convicted two or more times or if incarcerated in Oklahoma would be sterilized. This law excluded crimes such as embezzlement or some nonviolent crimes. A habitual criminal is someone who has been convicted multiple times. The reason that these men were being sterilized is because they were believed they would raise kids who would also be criminals or have bad morals.

This was their way of trying to lower crime and make the world a “better” place. This act caused a lot of uproar, it violated the amendments and had a big impact on our society. In 1935 the The Oklahoma Habitual Criminal Sterilization Act was passed. In 1936 was when the act was first put into place against Hubert Moore. Moore was convicted five times for various criminal acts. The Attorney General filed for Moore to be sterilized. When Moore and the other inmate caught word of this they rioted.

The riot was so big that many inmate were injured and some escaped including Moore. With Moore on the loose the Attorney General filed for another criminal to be sterilized and this was Jack Skinner. Skinner was convicted three different times. “In 1926 Skinner was convicted of stealing three chickens and sentenced to the State Reformatory. In 1929 he was convicted of armed robbery and returned to the Reformatory. In 1934, he was again convicted of armed robbery but this time sent to the Oklahoma state penitentiary (Skinner v. Oklahoma – Oklahoma Prisoner Sterilization)”.

When Skinner heard about this instead of rioting he brought this to court. The Skinner v. Oklahoma was one of the first US Supreme Court cases to introduce the concept of strict scrutiny analysis as a means to evaluate the constitutionality of laws (Gur-Arie). Skinner was prosecuted under the act in front of a jury which he lost. The case was appealed by Skinner’s lawyers to the Supreme Court of Oklahoma. His lawyers argued that the act is violating the fourteenth amendment.

The Court ruled against the appeal and the majority was in favor of the Sterilization Act. The court was five votes for the sterilization and four against the act saying that it is against human rights. Two attorney generals by the names of Heba Irvin Aston and Guy Andrews appealed the case to the United States Supreme Court. They argued that it was cruel and unusual punishment and a denial of equal protection of the law (Hartman, Mersky and Tate 119).

Aston and Andrews claimed that under the terms of the Act, some of the most documented criminals in history, such as US gangster Al Capone or Giuseppe Zangara or the attempted-assass he attempted-assassin of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, would not be sterilized until convicted at least three times (Gur-Arie). These arguments caused the Supreme Court to accepted the appeal in 1942. A few months later the Supreme Court ruled that the act was unconstitutional and they got rid of the act. Although the act was abolished sterilizations for other reasons than punishment continued for decades after.

There was even a case from 2013 that from 2006-2010 there was over a hundred unlawfully sterilized at a women’s prison in California. As said before this case brought up violations of the eighth and fourteenth amendment. The eighth amendment states Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted (Reuters 1). For the Skinner case the focused on the cruel and unusual punishment. Skinner’s lawyers argued that sterilizing a human against their will for their actions was cruel and unusual.

The fourteenth amendment is a little bit hard to understand the attorney generals that help with the case said this “Aston and Andrews claimed that exempting crimes like embezzlement created an arbitrary distinction among criminals, thereby violating the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment” (Gur-Arie). This is saying that the act was poorly worded. The act stated that anyone convicted of two or more crimes would be sterilized. So this law excluded crimes such as embezzlement and the law also didn’t include murders and other people convicted of serious crimes once.

These were some of the big compelling arguments that helped them win the case. They also brought up the fifth amendment saying “The Fifth Amendment states that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of the law”(Gur-Arie). When they brought up the fifth amendment they were saying that the Sterilization Act deprived people from reproducing which was depriving them of life. The fight between Skinner V. Oklahoma was going on the same time as World War II. Although this case did not directly involve World War II they did bring it up.

The United States Supreme Court made part of their decision by how the way that the Germans were treating the Jews. They didn’t want america to be like that and they saw this as a first step on that path. This case however was of importance to the United States. This case help other important cases such as Roe V. Wade and reproductive rights and Planned Parenthood V. Casey. If it weren’t for Skinner’s case these very important cases may have not been won or brought up. Even though Skinner was a criminal and did wrong he started a revolution of standing up for your rights.

This case impacted the way that people looked at their rights. People began to change things, stand up for what they believed in. In the years to come after Skinner’s case rights such as voting rights, right to privacy and liberty rights were challenged. The People of America began to stand up for themselves and what they believed. This still even holds today like the women’s rights rally they had in New York. The gay rights rallies. People have these rallies because they are standing up for their rights just how Skinner did so many years ago.