Emily White

Study program:
JSD legal theory and human rights
Current affiliation:
New York University

Traditionally, courts have hesitated to give emotions a place in judicial decisions. Emily White is looking into a way to use emotions in the service of human rights and dignity.

Emily White (legal theory and human rights, New York University School of Law), analyzes the roles that emotions play in judicial reasoning about rights and dignity claims. Her work touches on constitutional law, human rights law, evidence law, international and comparative law, legal theory, and the relation of law to emotion.

Doctoral research

Locating Indignity: A Study of the Role of Emotions in Human Dignity Adjudication

Emily’s research examines the role that emotions such as pity, empathy, and disgust play in cases that invoke the legal 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 like Canada 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. Emily’s research stands to enrich our understanding of the concept of human dignity and that of the role of emotions in legal reasoning.

Emily Kidd White is a doctoral candidate at the New York University School of Law. Her JSD project, supervised by Professor Jeremy Waldron, draws upon the philosophy of emotion to examine the legal concept of human dignity. Emily specializes in legal theory, constitutional law, and international human rights law. After completing her doctorate, Emily plans to pursue an academic career in law.

Born in Toronto, Emily studied politics and philosophy at Queen’s University, where she graduated with a first-class BA (honours). At Queen’s, Emily played varsity rugby, winning the team’s leadership award for four consecutive years.  It was there that Professor Stephen Leighton introduced Emily to Aristotle’s Rhetoric and Poetics, works on which Emily continues to draw for her research. For three summers, Emily worked as a policy intern at the Ontario Ministry for Public Safety and Security, a position that deepened her commitment to the study of law. At Queen’s Law School, Emily served as the equity commissioner, participated in the Wilson Moot, and spent a summer studying public international law in England. Emily graduated from Queen’s Law on the Dean’s Honour List, receiving the C. Thomas Asplund Memorial Award in Legal Ethics and the Denis Marshall Community Contribution Award.

Emily spent two exciting years working with the Litigation Group at McMillan LLP before entering the International Legal Studies LLM program at the New York University School of Law. Emily relished the opportunity to be back in school, taking courses in transitional justice, global governance, human rights and humanitarian law, and legal philosophy. In each course, she found herself pressing the same sorts of questions about the persistent gaps in legal theory and practice pertaining to emotions. Upon graduation, Emily was awarded the Jerome Lipper Prize for distinction in the program and was offered a two-year research fellowship under Professor Joseph Weiler at the Jean Monnet Center for Regional and International Economic Law and Justice. During this time, Emily served as the associate editor of the European Journal of International Law and as the teaching assistant for the Institute for International Law and Justice Colloquium.

Emily’s intellectual agenda is to examine the productive and critical potential of emotions such as disgust, humiliation, pity, and empathy, in international human rights and constitutional law.