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Perry's book connects international human rights with U.S. Constitutional rights
By Kyle Cristofalo | Emory Law | Aug 8, 2013 12:08:00 AM

In today’s highly divided political climate conversations concerning capital punishment, same-sex marriage, and abortion often result in heated debates. Does the U.S. Constitution guarantee gay and lesbian couples the right to marry?  Should a fetus be granted the same rights as an adult woman? Is capital punishment “cruel and unusual” in every circumstance?

In Human Rights in the Constitutional Law of the United States (Cambridge University Press, 2013) Michael J. Perry, Robert W. Woodruff Professor of Law at Emory University and Senior Fellow at CSLR, addresses three of the most hotly debated human rights issues of our time. His approach is meticulous, expanding on his previous work tackling such controversial topics; Perry offers readers an insightful argument for the relationship between foundational principles of human rights and the U.S. Constitution as they apply to seminal issues of the day.

As Perry sees it, the period following the end of the Second World War marked a significant paradigm shift in regards to the articulation of universal human rights. The genesis of what Perry calls “a global political morality” provided a benchmark for human rights manifested in state policy, and for how certain rights “were recognized by the great majority of the countries of the world as human rights.”  

Perry devotes the first three chapters to defining human rights, explaining the “internationalization of human rights,” a concept buttressed in 1948 when the United Nations released its historic Universal Declaration of Human Rights admonishing governments to “act towards all human beings in a spirit of brotherhood.”

After providing readers with a better grasp of “the morality of human rights,” Perry turns to elucidating the ways in which three complex human rights issues interact with the constitutional morality of the United States. Perry sets out to analyze whether or not capital punishment coheres with “the right not to be subjected to ‘cruel and unusual punishment’” as well as if bans on same-sex marriage and abortion violate the right to “moral equality or the right to religious and moral freedom” for gay and lesbian couples and those seeking abortions, respectively. Perry also assesses the proper role the Supreme Court should play in “protecting (enforcing) the constitutional morality of the United States”— a crucial question, given the scrutiny with which lawmakers and grassroots activists from all sides of the political spectrum examine decisions from the Court.

Human Rights in the Constitutional Law of the United States will serve as a valuable resource to academics, lawyers, students, and anyone interested in the intersection of international human rights issues and the U.S. Constitution.