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DignityA History$
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Remy Debes

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780199385997

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: June 2017

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199385997.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 31 July 2021

Death and Dignity in American Law

Death and Dignity in American Law

(p.361) Reflection Death and Dignity in American Law

Emma Kaufman

Oxford University Press

Dignity serves many purposes in American law, but the concept is perhaps most vital in decisions on the death penalty. Since 1972, when the Supreme Court briefly banned capital punishment, American jurists have debated whether death sentences violate “the dignity of man.” These legal debates describe dignity as an innately human attribute and a core feature of human nature. In practice, however, courts employ dignity to instantiate a particular model of democratic governance. Legal cases on the death penalty treat dignity as a fundamentally relational concept, less a characteristic of personhood than a state of existing in dialogue with the law. This vision of dignity is more institutional and alienable than conceptions that emphasize unwavering worth. Ultimately, the approach to dignity in death penalty cases displaces an individuated account of the term and raises a basic question about whether dignity can exist in the absence of the law.

Keywords:   capital punishment, death, law, jurisprudence, governance, rights, dignity

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