Litigating Dignity

15 Pages Posted: 26 Sep 2012  

Johanna Kalb

Loyola University New Orleans College of Law; New York University (NYU) - Brennan Center for Justice

Date Written: September 04, 2011


In the years that followed the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the notion of a protected right to personal dignity began to appear in the jurisprudence of state and federal courts in the United States. The right to dignity also assumed a prominent role in many subsequent international human rights instruments, as well as in the laws of other nations. Nonetheless, despite the parallel development of the dignity concept in the domestic and international realms, only on rare occasions have U.S. courts — state, federal or territorial — considered international conceptions of “dignity” even those embodied in the human rights instruments signed and ratified by the U.S., when discussing the role that dignitary interests have to play in resolving the claims before them. In recent years, scholars and advocates have sought to amplify this connection as part of a broader attempt to situate the resolution of domestic legal claims within an international human rights framework. Particular attention has been paid to the potential for using human rights principles to inform state constitutional interpretation. This Essay proposes a strategy for “litigating dignity,” not only in those states in which dignity is an explicit constitutional principle, but more broadly, drawing on the many cases in which dignity animates state court decision-making on a wide variety of statutory, administrative, and common law claims.

Keywords: personal dignity, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, dignity, right to dignity

Suggested Citation

Kalb, Johanna, Litigating Dignity (September 04, 2011). 74 Albany Law Review 1725 (2011); Loyola University New Orleans College of Law Research Paper No. 2011-14. Available at SSRN:

Johanna Kalb (Contact Author)

Loyola University New Orleans College of Law ( email )

7214 St. Charles Ave., Box 901
Campus Box 901
New Orleans, LA 70118
United States

New York University (NYU) - Brennan Center for Justice ( email )

161 Avenue of the Americas
12th Floor
New York, NY 10013
United States

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