Jeffrey L. Amestoy


Uncommon Humanity: Reflections on Judging in a Post-Human Era

Jeffrey L. Amestoy

In this speech delivered for the annual Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. Lecture on State Courts and Social Justice, Vermont Supreme Court Chief Justice Jeffrey Amestoy uses the recent landmark Vermont decision of Baker v. Baker—the “same-sex marriage” case—as an occasion for deeper reflection on what it means to be human. In this “post-human” era—an era in which genetic manipulation, artificial intelligence, and cloning alter the human entity itself courts face unprecedented legal issues. Judges, as well as the rest of us, increasingly are forced to consider what to protect from such biotechnological advances, and where to draw lines among humans, animals, and chimera. The Chief Justice cautions that judges should not do so without consideration of what makes us human. This will require judges not to define humanity, but to describe and recognize it with, as Justice William Brennan urged, an awareness of the range of human experience. By imagining humanity—not through reason alone, but in a way that the heart can recognize—judges will be a humanizing counterweight in the legal challenges that lie ahead.