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Advanced Introduction to Human Dignity and Law

James R. May Erin Daly

This thought-provoking introduction provides an incisive overview of dignity law, a field of law emerging in every region of the globe that touches all significant aspects of the human experience. Through an examination of the burgeoning case law in this area, James R. May and Erin Daly reveal a strong overlapping consensus surrounding the meaning of human dignity as a legal right and a fundamental value of nations large and small, and how this global jurisprudence is redefining the relationship between individuals and the state.
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James R. May Erin Daly


This book provides an overview of dignity under law. That simple goal may itself invite skepticism. Is there a body of “dignity law” – just as there is a body of law that coalesces under the rubric of constitutional law, or property law, or criminal law? There is reason for doubt, given that, as of this writing, there is no casebook on the subject and there are few courses on this specific topic.

And yet, a different story is revealed in more than 160 constitutions and thousands of cases from around the world – not to mention a dozen international human rights instruments and every major regional human rights institution and convention. And the American Bar Association – representing the nation’s 400,000 lawyers – recently adopted a resolution to recognize dignity as fundamental to the rule of law. This mass of documentary evidence attests to the growing importance throughout law of the recognition of human dignity and the rights that flow from it by judges, lawyers, scholars, and advocates across the globe.

But the incidents of dignity in law only begin to tell the story. Its breathtaking scope provides another testament to its importance in law, both as a foundational value and as an actionable right. In positive law and in judicial decisions, dignity is associated with civil and political rights (including the right to free expression, the right to political participation, and rights of conscience) and with the full panoply of economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights (including...

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