Adrian Vermeule

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Cornelius Adrian Comstock Vermeule (last syllable pronounced “mule”)[1] (born 1968) is an American legal scholar. He writes as "Adrian Vermeule."


Vermeule is a graduate of Harvard College (A.B., 1990) and Harvard Law School (J.D., 1993).

Professional career

Vermeule clerked for Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia and Judge David Sentelle of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

He joined the faculty of the University of Chicago Law School in 1998 and was twice awarded the Graduating Students’ Award for Teaching Excellence (2002, 2004).

Vermeule became professor of law at Harvard Law School in 2006 and was named John H. Watson Professor of Law in 2008. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2012, at the age of 43.

Scholarship and teaching

Vermeule's writings focus on constitutional law, administrative law, and the theory of institutional design. He has authored or co-authored eight books. He teaches administrative law, legislation, and constitutional law.

Philosophy of judicial interpretation

According to Vermeule, “The central question is not ‘How, in principle, should a text be interpreted?’ The question instead should be, ‘How should certain institutions, with their distinctive abilities and limitations, interpret certain texts?’ My conclusions are that judges acting under uncertainty should strive, above all, to minimize the costs of mistaken decisions and the costs of decision making, and to maximize the predictability of their decisions.”[2]

Vermeule is a judicial review skeptic. One legal scholar has written that Vermeule's approach to the interpretation of law "eschews, and attempts to transcend, the main elements of the long-standing debates over methods that courts should use to interpret statutes and the Constitution. . . . he sees no need to resolve apparently burning questions such as whether courts are bound by what legislatures write, or by what legislatures intend . . . For Vermeule, everything comes down to a simple but withering cost–benefit analysis."[3] Vermeule argues for a form of popular constitutionalism, in which the courts "should enforce clear and specific constitutional texts, but should disclaim any role beyond that. Where constitutional texts are ambiguous or open ended, courts should let legislatures interpret them. Under this rule, courts would cease enforcing the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment. In particular, freedom of speech, due process, and equal protection of the laws would all be remitted to legislative enforcement.".[4]


Vermeule is a member of a family of prominent scholars. His mother, Emily Vermeule, a classical scholar, was the Doris Zemurray Stone Professor at Harvard (Radcliffe). His father Cornelius Clarkson Vermeule III served for many years as Curator of the Classical Department at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. His sister, Blakey Vermeule, is a literary scholar and a Professor of English at Stanford University.



  • Vermeule, Adrian (2006). Judging under uncertainty: An institutional theory of legal interpretation. Havard: Havard University Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Vermeule, Adrian; Posner, Eric (2007). Terror in the balance: Security, liberty, and the courts. Oxford: Oxford University Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> "In Terror in the Balance, Posner and Vermeule take on civil libertarians of both the left and the right, arguing that the government should be given wide latitude to adjust policy and liberties in the times of emergency. They emphasize the virtues of unilateral executive actions and argue for making extensive powers available to the executive as warranted. The judiciary should neither second-guess security policy nor interfere on constitutional grounds. In order to protect citizens, government can and should use any legal instrument that is warranted under ordinary cost-benefit analysis. The value gained from the increase in security will exceed the losses from the decrease in liberty. At a time when the 'struggle against violent extremism' dominates the United States' agenda, this important and controversial work will spark discussion in the classroom and intellectual press alike" (Publisher's description).
  • Vermeule, Adrian (2009). Law and the limits of reason. Oxford: Oxford University Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Vermeule, Adrian; Posner, Eric (2010). The executive unbound: After the Madisonian republic. Oxford: Oxford University Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Vermeule, Adrian (2011). The system of the constitution. Oxford: Oxford University Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> "A constitutional order is a system of systems. It is an aggregate of interacting institutions, which are themselves aggregates of interacting individuals. In The System of the Constitution, Adrian Vermeule analyzes constitutionalism through the lens of systems theory, originally developed in biology, computer science, political science and other disciplines. Systems theory illuminates both the structural constitution and constitutional judging, and reveals that standard views and claims about constitutional theory commit fallacies of aggregation and are thus invalid. By contrast, Vermeule explains and illustrates an approach to constitutionalism that considers the systemic interactions of legal and political institutions and of the individuals who act within them" (Publisher's description).
  • Vermeule, Adrian; Breyer, Stephen G.; Stewart, Richard B.; Sunstein, Cass R.; Herz, Michael (2011). Administrative law and regulatory policy: Problems text, and cases (7th ed.). New York: Wolters Kluwer Law & Business. ISBN 9780735587441.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Vermeule, Adrian (2014). The constitution of risk. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> "The Constitution of Risk is the first book to combine constitutional theory with the theory of risk regulation. The book argues that constitutional rulemaking is best understood as a means of managing political risks. Constitutional law structures and regulates the risks that arise in and from political life, such as an executive coup or military putsch, political abuse of ideological or ethnic minorities, or corrupt self-dealing by officials. The book claims that the best way to manage political risks is an approach it calls 'optimizing constitutionalism' - in contrast to the worst-case thinking that underpins 'precautionary constitutionalism,' a mainstay of liberal constitutional theory. Drawing on a broad range of disciplines such as decision theory, game theory, welfare economics, political science, and psychology, this book advocates constitutional rulemaking undertaken in a spirit of welfare maximization, and offers a corrective to the pervasive and frequently irrational attitude of distrust of official power that is so prominent in American constitutional history and discourse." (Publisher's Description).

Journal articles

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  1. Douglas Martin, "Cornelius C. Vermeule III, a Curator of Classical Antiquities, Is Dead at 83", New York Times (December 9, 2008). Retrieved September 8, 2012.
  2. Peter Schuler, "Adrian Vermeule, Professor in the Law School", The University of Chicago Chronicle, Vol. 23, No. 18 (June 10, 2004). Retrieved September 8, 2012.
  3. Jonathan R. Siegel, "Judicial Interpretation in the Cost-Benefit Crucible" (PDF), Minnesota Law Review, vol. 92 (January 2008), 387-88.
  4. Jonathan R. Siegel, "Judicial Interpretation in the Cost–Benefit Crucible" (PDF), Minnesota Law Review, vol. 92 (January 2008), 390. Retrieved September 8, 2012.

External links