Professor Jeffrey Shulman Authors New Book

August 4, 2014 —

Professor Jeffrey Shulman Professor Jeffrey Shulman

In The Constitutional Parent: Rights, Responsibilities and the Enfranchisement of the Child (Yale University Press, 2014), Georgetown University Law Center Professor Jeffrey Shulman argues that parental rights are neither implicit in our Constitution nor enshrined in our legal history. Parental power rests on parental responsibility, Shulman says, describing a “trust model of parent-child relations” already recognized in early 19th-century cases. Subsequent rulings throughout the 19th and 20th centuries affirmed this connection between rights and responsibilities. 

“What is deeply rooted in our legal traditions and social conscience,” Shulman writes, “is the idea that the state entrusts parents with custody of the child … only as long as parents meet their legal duty to take proper care of the child.” Shulman explores these ideas through a legal-historical examination of parental custody, education, religion and non-parental third-party rights — and with references to John Milton and William Shakespeare as well as laws and cases. 

The “Constitutional Parent”“With all its attendant joys, parenting is a somber task, for it entails, in a profound and poignant way, the loss of the child …” Shulman writes. “Is it any wonder that we would want to transform the sacred trust of parenthood into a sacred right? But such a right comes at too great a cost. When Adam and Eve leave Paradise, as Milton recounts the story, they shed some natural tears, but ‘the World was all before them,’ as it should be for all children as they enter on the path to adulthood.”

Georgetown Law Professor Mike Seidman calls the book “deeply learned, beautifully written and courageous.” And Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Bartholet, author of Family Bonds and Nobody’s Children, says, “This beautifully written history is enormously important to the current debate about the state’s ability to protect children. Shulman’s compelling story of the constitutional parent brings new light to the issues, and new support for child rights.” 

Shulman (L’05) has taught legal research and writing and constitutional family law at Georgetown University Law Center since 2006. He holds a Ph.D. in English Literature (University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1980) as well as a J.D. (Georgetown Law, 2005, magna cum laude). From 1984 to 2005, he taught in the Department of English at Georgetown University with a focus on the literature of the English Renaissance. Upon graduation from the Law Center, Shulman worked for the Washington, D.C., Public Defenders Service as a D.C. Bar Pro Bono Fellow. He was an associate at Sidley Austin in Washington, D.C., from 2005 to 2006. Shulman co-edited Robert Kennedy In His Own Words (Bantam, 1988), a New York Times best-seller, and his articles have been published in the Charleston Law Review, Cardozo Law Review de novo, the Nebraska Law Review, the Penn State Law Review and the Journal of Law and Religion (2011).