Lecture Provides Comparative Constitutional Law Examination of Dignity Rights
Web Editor - Published: September 24, 2013
Vice Dean and Professor Erin Daly emphasized the importance of looking abroad as a means of “expanding our constitutional horizons,” during the 2013 H. Albert Young lecture she delivered in the du Barry Room of the Hotel duPont in Wilmington on Thursday, September 19th.

The lecture, “Constitutional Comparisons: Emerging Dignity Rights at Home and Abroad,” represented the culmination of Daly’s tenure as the H. Albert Young Fellow in Constitutional Law. The Fellowship was endowed in 1998 by the Young Foundation of Wilmington to honor the memory of the late H. Albert Young, a highly respected lawyer and former Delaware attorney general known for his unwavering dedication to upholding justice even in unpopular cases. Distinguished Professor David R. Hodas succeeds Daly as the new H. Albert Young Fellow, with his term beginning this past July.

Daly recently wrote wrote Dignity Rights: Courts, Constitutions, and the Worth of the Human Person (U. Penn 2012) and has written extensively on comparative constitutional law and transitional justice issues around the world. She thanked the Young Family at the outset of her remarks for their support that provided the time to do the research for the book.

In discussing the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in United States v. Windsor, which struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, Daly explained that the Court seems to rely on "equal dignity" rather than on conventional applications of either the due process or equal protection clauses to protect same sex marriage from burdens at the federal level. Noting that the Court doesn't explain the meaning or source of "equal dignity" as a constiutitonal right, she indicated her belief that a closer look at the constitutional law of other nations could have led to a stronger and more comprehensible opinion.

Moving beyond the Windsor case, Daly delved into the value of comparative constitutional law, particularly as it concerns the right to dignity. She explained that while dignity is a broad concept, courts have refined it and applied it to same-sex marriage and to many other constitutional issues.

The thought-provoking lecture looked specifically at how comparative constitutional law could inform the dialogue on dignity, particularly with regards to same-sex marriage rights. Using specific examples from cases around the world – including a South African case that compared the denial of same-sex marriage rights to the racial discrimination of the apartheid era – Daly made the case that many courts around the world have resolved constitutional conflicts by considering them in light of human dignity.

She said that there is an abundance of transnational case law on human dignity encompassing everything from the death penalty to abortion to criminal procedural rights and beyond. She offered an expanded philosophical look at the growing body of law related to dignity rights, noting that it encompassed the seemingly paradoxical view of each human being as being of both “equal value” and yet also of “unique value,” and then discussed what that might mean for human dignity as a legal concept. She concluded that much can be gleaned by looking at our own constitutional values but perhaps even more can be learned by looking to the rest of the world as well.