Human Dignity and Supreme Court Jurisprudence

SSRN has a new article entitled The Jurisprudence of Dignity (http://ssrn.com/abstract=1928768). The author, Leslie Meltzer Henry, identifies the variety of meanings given to the word “dignity” in Supreme Court cases: institutional status as dignity, liberty as dignity, equality as dignity, personal integrity as dignity, and collective virtue as dignity. The article reveals that the Court’s reliance on dignity is increasing, and the current Supreme Court is accelerating that trend. Professor Henry notes that the more conservative Justices on the Court are now as likely to invoke dignity as their more liberal counterparts. Understanding how “dignity” is used by various members of the Court is important in thinking about the changes we see in abortion jurisprudence. The contested nature of the concept of dignity reflects a similar debate occuring in bioethics.

Readers of this blog may be familiar with the report by the President’s Bioethics Council, Human Dignity and Bioethics (http://bioethics.georgetown.edu/pcbe/reports/human_dignity/). Professor Steven Pinker attacked the report in his colorfully titled article, The Stupidity of Dignity (http://pinker.wjh.harvard.edu/articles/media/The%20Stupidity%20of%20Dignity.htm). UFL member, Frank Beckwith, provided a strong response to Pinker in Dignity has Never Been Photographed (http://homepage.mac.com/francis.beckwith/EM2.pdf).

The jurisprudential and philosophical debate over human dignity signifies two important and foundational questions in both disciplines: 1) How do human beings differ from animals, and 2) What is the moral significance of those differences. Answering these questions persuasively is key to ensuring the protection of all innocent human beings.

Teresa Collett

Teresa Stanton Collett is a professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she teaches bioethics, property law, and constitutional law. A nationally prominent speaker and scholar, she is active in attempts to rebuild the Culture of Life and protect the institutions of marriage and family. She often represents groups of state legislators, the Catholic Medical Association, and the Christian Medical and Dental Association in appellate case related to medical-legal matters. She represented the governors of Minnesota and North Dakota before the U.S. Supreme Court as amici curiae regarding the effectiveness of those states’ parental involvement laws. She has served as special attorney general for Oklahoma and Kansas related to legislation designed to protect the well-being of minors and unborn children. She is an elected member of the American Law Institute and has testified before committees of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittees on the Constitution, as well as numerous legislative committees in the states.