In Reckless Hands by Victoria F. Nourse
Skinner v. Oklahoma and the Near-Triumph of American Eugenics

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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.

About Victoria F. Nourse

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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.
Published July 17, 2008 by W. W. Norton & Company. 240 pages
Genres: History, Education & Reference, Law & Philosophy, Professional & Technical. Non-fiction

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Douglas wrote in the deciding opinion on June 1, 1942, that “in reckless hands,” entire “races or types” might “wither and disappear.” Moreover, the law violated equal protection because it did not mandate sterilization for embezzlers or tax cheats (non-felons).

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Publishers Weekly

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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 profe...

May 26 2008 | Read Full Review of In Reckless Hands: Skinner v....


Elizabeth Kolbert proves she is able to frame such realities for maximum impact in her extraordinary book, “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History.” In both ominous and amusing tones, she weaves together stories of mass and single species extinctions, competing scientific theories through his...

Oct 01 2014 | Read Full Review of In Reckless Hands: Skinner v....


Now they became derisive—Will accused Reagan of “moral disarmament”—or even abusive, as in the case of Howard Phillips of the Conservative Caucus, who described Reagan as “a useful idiot for Soviet propaganda.” Mann usefully revisits this ground, although he doesn’t seem to realize that Reagan wa...

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Despite all the attention focused on the Iraq Study Group’s report, one of its more damaging allegations has largely escaped media scrutiny: The Pentagon and intelligence agencies are drastically underreporting acts of violence in Iraq.

Dec 08 2006 | Read Full Review of In Reckless Hands: Skinner v....


And he lost in New Hampshire, where twice as many Republicans voted for him (12%) and for Nader (2%) as Democrats voted for Bush and for Nader.

Dec 21 2009 | Read Full Review of In Reckless Hands: Skinner v....

Oklahoma and the Near-Triumph of American Eugenics” demonstrates that Skinner also opens a window into a little-known chapter of American eugenics: how prisoners at a hardscrabble prison in Oklahoma in the aftermath of the Depression led a sophisticated struggle to limit the practice of compulsor...

Jun 20 2008 | Read Full Review of In Reckless Hands: Skinner v....

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