A fundamental interest is where the court does not recognize a fundamental right, but that there is still a substantial interest (almost a policy interest) in the alleged right to be protected.

Skinner v. Oklahoma

316 U.S. 535 (1942).

Skinner lost and appealed.


Is a statute that authorizes the use of sterilization of a habitual criminal (of some crimes) a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?


When there is a fundamental right, a statute that treats different groups unequally is a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.


The statute here is unconstitutional, reversed.


Oklahoma passed a law that authorized sterilization of habitual criminals (the idea was to prevent the genes of criminality being passed onto offspring). However, certain crimes, such as embezzlement, were excluded from this statute.

Skinner, stole chickens several times (while armed) and was therefore convicted of armed robbery. He was then sentenced to become sterile. His objection was that this was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.


There is no disagreement between the court about there being a fundamental interest in the right to have offspring. However, there are two conflicting views of how this should be applied.

The majority believes this is a violation of the Equal Protection Clause. This is because the law treats one crime (with similar consequences, or differing in magnitude) different from another. The state could have remedied this issue by treating all crimes the same.

However, the concurrence would have applied the Due Process Clause. They argue that this fundamental right is so important that the Due Process clause should protect all of those involved.

Additional Notes

Our goal of evaluating this case is to compare the difference between the equal protection clause and the due process. The court is getting pretty close to affirming a substantive due process approach (after getting rid of economic substantive due process shortly before), but decides not to do so.

Additionally, this case adopts the idea of strict scrutiny. The law must be narrowly tailored with the least restrictive means. Here, the law was not narrowly tailored because it targets a specific class (those who commit the crimes have different classes. For example, the law protects white collared jobs more).

The concurrence says this should be substantive due process because the equal protection could allow the law to be altered for sterilization to occur for every crime (when the idea is to avoid the sterilization in the first place. See WWII issues with genocide).


The content contained in this article may contain inaccuracies and is not intended to reflect the opinions, views, beliefs, or practices of any academic professor or publication. Instead, this content is a reflection on the author’s understanding of the law and legal practices.

Will Laursen

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