Number of Victims
No person was sterilized under Nevada’s statute before it was struck down as unconstitutional by a Federal Circuit Court in 1918 (Paul, p. 553). Although no person was ever sterilized under Nevada’s eugenics program, the law remained functionally on the books from enactment in 1911 until the adjudication of Mickle v. Henrichs in 1918 (Paul, p. 553).
Passage of the Law
Nevada’s sterilization law was passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Republican Governor Tasker Oddie in 1911 (Paul, p. 522). It provided for the mandatory sterilization by means of vasectomy (but not castration) for men convicted of child molestation under the age of 10 and rape. It was modeled after a 1909 Washington State law (which also included castration). The law was challenged and struck down in Federal Circuit Court in the 1918 case of Mickles v. Hendrichs. The decision cited the Nevada State Constitution’s ban on “cruel and unusual” punishment, Article I/Section VI (Landman, p. 60), similar to the Federal Constitution’s Eight Amendment, as the reason for its decision. The Federal Circuit Court found that castration was an overly harsh punishment for the crimes, and while it was true that “rape is an infamous crime; the punishment should be severe; but even for such an offender the way to an upright life, if life is spared, then it should not be unnecessarily obstructed.” It thus implied that procreation is an inherent right to a person’s life. After the 1918 decision, the law remained on the books until 1961, when it was finally repealed (Paul, pp. 552-553).
Groups Identified in the Law
The Crimes and Punishments Act specifically targeted men convicted of “carnal abuse of a female person under the age of 10, or of rape in general.” It mandated that the presiding judge impose a sentence of sterilization, to be done exclusively by means of a vasectomy (Paul, p. 552). The courts were directed to target people with histories of “unsocial” characteristics in a “punitive” fashion (Laughlin, p. 8). The Nevada State Penitentiary in Carson City was intended to the location for the implementation of Nevada’s eugenics program, along with being a “feeder institution” for victims of the program (Laughlin, p. 79).
Landman, J. H. 1932. Human Sterilization: The History of the Sexual Sterilization Movement. New York: MacMillan.
Laughlin, Harry H. 1922. Eugenical Sterilization in the United States. Chicago: Municipal Court of Chicago.
Paul, Julius. 1965. "'Three Generations of Imbeciles Are Enough': State Eugenic Sterilization Laws in American Thought and Practice." Washington, D.C.: Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.