The shocking story of the American eugenics movement has been told before, but Nourse's first book focuses on the Supreme Court case that dealt the movement its death blow: the 1942 decision in Skinner v. Oklahoma. Nourse conveys the popular acceptance of the idea of "race betterment" in the 1920s and '30s: in the permanent Eugenics Pavilion at the Kansas Free Fair, for instance, flashing lights toted up the cost to society of the criminal and the "feebleminded." Against this background, Nourse, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin, conveys the magnitude of the constitutional challenge facing Jack Skinner, an Oklahoma convict ordered sterilized pursuant to a eugenic statute aimed at "habitual criminals." Nourse is equally effective depicting the legal strategies and the impact of the Depression and the growing awareness of Nazi atrocities on the High Court. A bit more challenging is Nourse's analysis of Skinner's theoretical underpinnings. She argues convincingly that today, when genes are viewed as the "cause for everything from criminality to spirituality," America's flirtation with eugenics is a cautionary tale worth remembering. 11 photos. (July)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
In Reckless Hands: Skinner v. Oklahoma and the Near-Triumph of American Eugenicsby Victoria F. Nourse
The disturbing, forgotten history of America’s experiment with eugenics.In the 1920s and 1930s, thousands of men and women were sterilized at asylums and prisons across America. Believing that criminality and mental illness were inherited, state legislatures passed laws calling for the sterilization of “habitual criminals” and the/p>… See more details below
The disturbing, forgotten history of America’s experiment with eugenics.In the 1920s and 1930s, thousands of men and women were sterilized at asylums and prisons across America. Believing that criminality and mental illness were inherited, state legislatures passed laws calling for the sterilization of “habitual criminals” and the “feebleminded.” But in 1936, inmates at Oklahoma’s McAlester prison refused to cooperate; a man named Jack Skinner was the first to come to trial. A colorful and heroic cast of characters—from the inmates themselves to their devoted, self-taught lawyer—would fight the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Only after Americans learned the extent of another large-scale eugenics project—in Nazi Germany—would the inmates triumph. Combining engrossing narrative with sharp legal analysis, Victoria F. Nourse explains the consequences of this landmark decision, still vital today—and reveals the stories of these forgotten men and women who fought for human dignity and the basic right to have a family.
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Meet 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.
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