Human Dignity in the Roberts Court: A Story of Inchoate Institutions, Autonomous Individuals, and the Reluctant Recognition of a Right

51 Pages Posted: 9 Nov 2010 Last revised: 28 Aug 2011

Erin Daly

Widener University Delaware Law School

Date Written: November 4, 2010

Abstract

Throughout its history, the Supreme Court has assumed that dignity is relevant to constitutional interpretation, though it has rarely considered exactly how. In the post-war years, the Court (like its counterparts around the world) found that human dignity underlay many individual rights, and in the 1990s, the Court's federalism jurisprudence found that the dignity of states immunized them from most lawsuits in both state and federal courts. This article examines the Court's past references to dignity and argues that the conception of dignity that is evoked in the federalism cases - which focus, at root, on the autonomy of the states and their power of self-determination - helps to inform a constitutional conception of human dignity. Indeed, in cases from the Rehnquist years as well as in the Roberts Court, justices from both sides of the political and jurisprudential spectrum have acknowledged the importance of human dignity to constitutional interpretation. This article provides a theoretical framework for understand what the constitutionalization of human dignity might look like.

Keywords: Constitutional Law, Dignity, Human Rights, Constitutional Interpretation, Supreme Court

JEL Classification: K10, K19

Suggested Citation

Daly, Erin, Human Dignity in the Roberts Court: A Story of Inchoate Institutions, Autonomous Individuals, and the Reluctant Recognition of a Right (November 4, 2010). Ohio North University Law Review, Vol. 37, p. 381, 2011; Widener Law School Legal Studies Research Paper No. 10-39. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1703073

Erin Daly (Contact Author)

Widener University Delaware Law School ( email )

4601 Concord Pike
Wilmington, DE 19803-0406
United States
302-477-2143 (Phone)
304-477-2257 (Fax)

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