Meet our JSD Students and Candidates

Emily Kidd White

Dissertation Title: The Role of Emotions in the Adjudication of Dignity Claims

Doctoral Supervisor: Professor Jeremy Waldron


Emily Kidd White is a JSD candidate from Canada and a Trudeau Foundation Scholar. In 2006 she earned her LLB at Queen’s Law School after having previously graduated from Queen’s University in Politics and Philosophy. After two years of litigation practice in Toronto, Emily entered the International Legal Studies LLM program at New York University School of Law. She graduated from this program in 2009 with the Jerome Lipper Prize for distinction. From 2009-2011, Emily held a research fellowship at the Jean Monnet Center for Regional and International Economic Law and Justice at New York University School of Law. During this time, Emily served as the Associate Editor of the European Journal of International Law and also as the teaching assistant for the Institute for International Law and Justice. 

Emily’s areas of interest are in legal theory, international law and comparative human rights. Her JSD project draws upon the philosophy of emotion to examine judicial reasoning in human rights and constitutional cases that involve dignity claims.


The dissertation examines the role of emotions in judicial interpretations of the concept of human dignity. Human dignity holds a central place in international human rights and domestic constitutional law. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights places the concept at the foundation of its rights regime, as do international covenants and a great many national constitutions. In countries where the concept is not explicitly adopted into the constitutional framework, it is increasingly read into existing rights. Yet theoretical accounts of human dignity fail to consider the important role that emotions play in judicial understandings of its infringement. Emily’s dissertation addresses this gap by investigating how the concept helps rights claimants expose the injustice of a legislative scheme or government act through the admission of evidence detailing suffering and degradation.

Legal theory has itself deep and old commitments to weeding out emotions from evaluative judgment, most especially from the evaluative judgments of judges and jurists. This makes it a particularly exciting and fertile starting point for Emily's central claim, which is that to adjudicate properly the evaluative legal concept of human dignity, legal reasoning must both draw on certain social emotions and keep negative emotions at bay. The dissertation offers a methodology for approaching the study of emotions in the law and an argument showing how particular emotions come to play an important role the evaluative judgments of judges and jurists. Emily’s research stands to enrich our understanding of the concept of human dignity and that of the role of emotions in legal reasoning.

Peer-Review Publication

Emily Kidd White, “Till Human Voices Wake Us: The Role of Emotion in the Adjudication of Dignity Claims” Journal of Law, Religion and State 3 (2014) 201-239.

Emily Kidd White, “There is No Such Thing as a Right to Human Dignity: A Reply to Conor O’Mahoney”, Int J Constitutional Law (2012) 10 (2): 575-584.

Emily Kidd White, “Humanity as the A and Ω of Sovereignty: Four Replies to Anne Peters” Eur J Int Law (2009) 20(3): 545-549. Available online at:

Conference Organization and Presentation

"Three Questions about Pity and Empathy in Judicial Reasoning", paper presented at the Compassion and Legal Reasoning Multidisciplinary Workshop at the XXVII World Congress of the International Association for the Philosophy of Law and Social Philosophy (IVR), Washington, (July 27-31, 2015).

"'An Unbearable Pity for the Suffering of Mankind': Compassion in the Adjudication of Human Dignity Claims", paper presented at the International Society of Public Law Conference (ICON-S), New York University School of Law, (July 1-3, 2015).

"Emotions in Dignity Jurisprudence"paper presented at the Law and Emotions in Comparative Perspective Conference at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University (April, 2014).

"Till Human Voices Wake Us: A Typology of Emotions in Dignity Jurisprudence", paper presented at the New York University School of Law JSD Forum (October, 2013). Commentator: Professor Moshe Halbertal.

"On the Edge of Reason: Studying Emotions in Adjudication", paper presented at the Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand Law and Society Conference convened at UBC Law School (July, 2013).

"Probing the Productive Possibility of Pity in the Law", paper presented at the Ontario Legal Philosophy Partnership Graduate Conference at Osgoode Law School (May, 2013).

"A Role of Emotion’s Own: How Emotions Help us Understand and Evaluate Human Dignity Jurisprudence", paper presented at the New York University School of Law JSD Forum (April, 2013). Commentator: Professor Avishai Margalit.

"The Role of Pity in International Law", paper presented at The Passions of International Law Symposium at Melbourne Law School (September, 2012). Funding for travel supplied by the Australian Research Council Discovery Project Grant.

"The Tragedy Before Our Eyes: Human Dignity and Emotion in Judicial Interpretation", paper presented at the New York University School of Law JSD Forum (February, 2012). Commentator: Professor Thomas Nagel.

"Passion and Persuasion in the Law", paper presented at the Yale Law School Doctoral Conference, Continuity and Change: 
Interrogating the Dynamics of Law and Transformation (December, 2011).

The Interpretation of Treaties - A Re-Examination convened by the European Journal of International Law. European University Institute in Florence, Italy (November, 2009). Conference Organizer and Symposium Editor for the Journal.

Emily's Bookshelf: