R.B. Bernstein

Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Law

R.B. Bernstein

Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Law

R. B. Bernstein’s work as a constitutional historian has made historical scholarship accessible to a wider audience through his lauded publications and dedication to teaching.

Professor Bernstein graduated from Amherst College in 1977 with a B.A. magna cum laude in American Studies and received his J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1980. After three years of practicing law, he left the legal profession to pursue a Ph.D. in history at New York University. Since 1983 he has been a member of the New York University Law School’s Legal History Colloquium.

Professor Bernstein was a visiting part-time lecturer in history at Rutgers University–Newark in 1998; he joined New York Law School as an assistant adjunct professor in 1991, teaching American Legal History and Law & Literature. From 1997 to 1998 he was the Daniel M. Lyons Visiting Professor of History at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. In 2007 he was named a distinguished adjunct professor at New York Law School.

From 1984 to 1987 Professor Bernstein was Research Curator for the Constitution Bicentennial Project of The New York Public Library. Among the products of this project was his first book, Are We to Be a Nation? The Making of the Constitution (Harvard University Press, 1987). From 1987 to 1990 he was the staff historian of the New York City Commission on the Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution, and from 1989 to 1990 he was Research Director of the New York State Commission on the Bicentennial of the Constitution.

Professor Bernstein continued to distinguish himself as an author with Amending America: If We Love the Constitution So Much, Why Do We Keep Trying to Change It? (Times Books/Random House, 1993; paperback, University Press of Kansas, 1995), a history of the constitutional amending process spanning the period from the origins of the Constitution in 1787-1789 through the early 1990s.

He also published the biography Thomas Jefferson (Oxford University Press, 2003) and Bolling v. Bolling: Law and the Legal Profession in Pre-Revolutionary America (Huntington Library Press, 1997), co-edited with Barbara Wilcie Kern and Bernard Schwartz.  Gordon S. Wood’s review in The New York Times called the biography “the best short biography of Jefferson ever written.” A young-adult version, Thomas Jefferson and the Revolution of Ideas, was published in 2004 in the Oxford Portraits series.

Other publications include “Charting the Bicentennial,” a review essay that appeared in the December 1987 Columbia Law Review; “The Sleeper Wakes: The History and Legacy of the Twenty-Seventh Amendment,” a study that appeared in the December 1992 issue of the Fordham Law Review; and the historiographical introduction to Law as Culture and Culture as Law: Essays in Honor of John Phillip Reid, a volume published by Madison House in 2000 honoring eminent legal historian John Phillip Reid, the Russell Niles Professor Emeritus of Law at New York University School of Law.

From 1997 to 2004 Professor Bernstein was co-editor of book reviews for H-LAW, the list-serv co-sponsored by H-NET (Humanities and Social Sciences Network On-Line) and the American Society for Legal History; he is also a member of H-LAW’s Editorial Board. For three years he served on the Editorial Board of Law and Social Inquiry, the journal of the American Bar Foundation. In November 2002 he became Director of Online Operations at Heights Books, Inc., a leading used-bookstore in Brooklyn, New York. In 2004 he was elected to the Board of Directors of the American Society for Legal History, stepping down with the end of his term in 2007.


THOMAS JEFFERSON.  Oxford University Press, 2003; paperback, 2005.  Nominee, 2004 Bancroft and Parkman Prizes in History, 2004 Pulitzer Prize in Biography; Honorable Mention, 2004 Fraunces Tavern Book Prize; Co-Winner, New York Law School 2004 Otto L. Walter Distinguished Faculty Writing Prize.  Young-adult version: THOMAS JEFFERSON: THE REVOLUTION OF IDEAS.  Oxford University Press, 2004 [Oxford Portraits series].

THOMAS JEFFERSON AND BOLLING V. BOLLING. [co-editor, with Barbara Wilcie Kern and Bernard Schwartz]. Huntington Library Press and New York University School of Law, 1997.  Nominee, 1998 Butterfield Prize, Association for Documentary Editing.

AMENDING AMERICA: IF WE LOVE THE CONSTITUTION SO MUCH, WHY DO WE KEEP TRYING TO CHANGE IT? Times Books/Random House, 1993; University Press of Kansas, 1995.  Nominee, 1994 Pulitzer, Bancroft, and Parkman Prizes in History; Co-Winner, New York Law School 1994 Distinguished Faculty Writing Prize.

ROOTS OF THE REPUBLIC: AMERICAN FOUNDING DOCUMENTS INTERPRETED [co-editor and contributor, with Stephen L. Schechter and Donald S. Lutz].  Madison House, 1990.

CONTEXTS OF THE BILL OF RIGHTS [co-editor, with Stephen L. Schechter]. NY State Commission on the Bicentennial, 1990.

ARE WE TO BE A NATION? THE MAKING OF THE CONSTITUTION [co-author, with Kym S. Rice].  Harvard University Press, 1987.  Nominee for 1988 Pulitzer, Bancroft, and Parkman Prizes in History.


“Wrestling with Jefferson: The Struggles of a Biographer.”  New York Law School Law Review 46 (2003): 757-774.

“Parliamentary Principles, American Realities: The Continental and Confederation Congresses” and “A New Matrix for National Politics: The First Federal Elections, 1788-90,” in Kenneth R. Bowling and Donald R. Kennon, eds., Inventing Congress (Ohio University Press, 1999). [originally papers at 1994 and 1995 U.S. Capitol Historical Historical Society conferences]. Co-Winners, New York Law School’s 2000 Otto L. Walter Distinguished Faculty Writing Prize.

“The Sleeper Wakes: The History and Legacy of the Twenty-Seventh Amendment.”  Fordham Law Review 61 (1992): 497-557.


“Review Essay: Rediscovering Thomas Paine.”  New York Law School Law Review 39 (1994): 873-929.

“Book Review: Mapping Legal History’s Middle Ground.”  NYU Law Review 68 (1993): 675-705.

“Review Essay: The First Federal Elections: Notes for a Sketch.”  Wisconsin Magazine of History 65 (1992): 141-144.

“Review Essay: Charting the Bicentennial.” Columbia Law Review 87 (1987): 1565-1624.

Book reviews for American Historical Review, Civil Rights Journal, Constitution, H-LAW, H-SHEAR, Journal of American History, Journal of the Early Republic, Journal of Supreme Court History, Law and History Review, New England Quarterly, The New Leader, Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Social Science Record, Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, William and Mary Quarterly.