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(Moreover, as analyses of Kennedy’s Supreme Court legacy often point out, the justice built landmark decisions on a word that never appears in the foundational document of U.S. government and jurisprudence, the U.S. Constitution.) Kennedy’s own record illustrates dignity’s onesize-fits-all quality. “He has used dignity as a foundation for legal decisions that, I think, political progressives and liberals would be very worried about,” said Engel, pointing to the 2007 abortion decision and a ruling that same year that weakened school integration in Seattle. Finally, dignity as a legal concept offers no durable means of resolving an essential, and definitive, paradox in U.S. society — a paradox that could become more inflammatory than ever as the Supreme Court ventures into a new era of conservative jurisprudence. It’s the paradox created when constitutional rights, notably First Amendment rights, collide with constitutional safeguards such as the Equal Protection Clause. Imagine a case in which religious freedom, protected by the First Amendment, conflicts with the right to equal protection that’s promised by the 14th. Perhaps there’s an “LGBT person who wants to retain their housing or keep their job,” Engel suggests, “vs. the landlord or the employer who doesn’t want to have that LGBT person because it’s against their religious beliefs. “Dignity doesn’t seem to be a way to negotiate that conflict.” n

PHYLLIS GRABER JENSEN

As a legal concept, “dignity is like an empty vessel.”

Professor of Politics Stephen Engel’s research focuses on jurisprudence involving LGBT issues.

ANDREW HARRER/ BLOOMBERG VIA GETTY IMAGES

Below: In June 2015, James Obergefell, plaintiff in the Obergefell v. Hodges case, speaks to the media after the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling, which hinged on the concept of dignity.

Fall 2018

33

Profile for Bates College

Bates Magazine, Fall 2018  

The issue's cover story looks at Bates alumni and their cool Antarctic doings. The photo, by Billy Collins ’14, shows an equipment operator...

Bates Magazine, Fall 2018  

The issue's cover story looks at Bates alumni and their cool Antarctic doings. The photo, by Billy Collins ’14, shows an equipment operator...