*Starred Review* Nourse blows the dust off one of the most momentous forgotten decisions in Supreme Court history, whose import for society is easily appreciated but whose rationale must be not just dusted off but salvaged and restored. Under the influence of the eugenics movement’s promises of an improved humanity, Oklahoma, like many other states, passed laws in the 1920s and 1930s authorizing the sexual sterilization of people of low intelligence, mental patients, and criminals. The first Oklahoma convict targeted for compulsory vasectomy, Jack Skinner became the plaintiff in a case that would effectually overturn legal sterilization in the U.S. From filing to Supreme Court decision took six years (1936–42) and, as Nourse demonstrates, involved state politics, classic underdog advocacy, riots and breakouts by frightened convicts, and FDR’s attempt to pack the high court, but not any rights talk, even of the human right to reproduce. Back then, community interests and duly enacted laws generally trumped appeals to personal rights. Skinner v. Oklahoma was decided by arguments about the evenhandedness of Oklahoma’s convict-sterilization law. The justices concluded that the statute was discriminatory, not inhumane. Americans would do well to recall Skinner’s egalitarianism, Nourse says, as the persuasiveness of rights talk wanes. Completely engrossing, this may be the legal-history book of the year. --Ray Olson
About the Author
Victoria F. Nourse received her JD degree from the University of California, Berkeley. Currently the Burrus-Bascom Professor of Criminal and Constitutional Law at the University of Wisconsin, she lives in Shorewood, Wisconsin.