Richard Allen Epstein

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This article is about the legal scholar. For the game theorist, see Richard Arnold Epstein.
Richard Epstein
Born (1943-04-17) April 17, 1943 (age 71)
New York City, New York, United States
Nationality American
Fields Law and economics
Institutions University of Chicago Law School
New York University School of Law
Hoover Institution
Alma mater Yale University (LL.B.)
Oxford University (1st)
Columbia University (B.A.)

Richard Allen Epstein (born April 17, 1943) is an American scholar, educator, lawyer, and author, best known for his writings and studies on classical liberalism, libertarianism, and a wide variety of topics in law and economics. Epstein is currently the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of Law at New York University, the Peter and Kirsten Bedford Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institute of Stanford University, and the James Parker Hall Distinguished Service Professor of Law Emeritus and a senior lecturer at the University of Chicago. In 2008, Epstein was chosen in a poll as one of the most influential legal thinkers of modern times.[1]


Epstein was born in New York. He graduated summa cum laude from Columbia University with a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in 1964. He received a B.A. in jurisprudence from Oxford in 1966 (with first-class honours). He graduated cum laude from Yale Law School with an LL.B. in 1968. He began his teaching career at the University of Southern California Law School.


Epstein is an advocate of minimal legal regulation. In his book Simple Rules for a Complex World (1995), Epstein consolidated much of his previous work, arguing that simple rules work best because complexities create excessive costs. Complexity comes from attempting to do justice in individual cases. Complex rules are justifiable however, according to Epstein, if they can be opted out of. For instance, drawing on Gary Becker, he argues that the Civil Rights Act and other anti-discrimination legislation would be better if repealed. Consistent with the principles of classical liberalism, he believes that the federal regulation on same-sex marriage, DOMA, should be repealed,[2] stating:

Under our law, only the state may issue marriage licenses. That power carries with it a duty to serve all-comers on equal terms, which means that the state should not be able to pick and choose those on whom it bestows its favors. DOMA offends this principle in two ways. First, it excludes polygamous couples from receiving these marital benefits. Second, it excludes gay couples. Both groups contribute to the funds that support these various government programs. Both should share in its benefits.

In the two cases under discussion (Gill and Massachusetts, however, both of which had been heard by U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Tauro), Epstein observed that:

To strike down DOMA, Judge Tauro had to reject all state justifications for its definition of marriage. Congress advanced four such justifications for this statute: "(1) encouraging responsible procreation and child-bearing, (2) defending and nurturing the institution of traditional heterosexual marriage, (3) defending traditional notions of morality, and (4) preserving scarce resources." The Justice Department disavowed them all. So much for tradition. Its sole defense of DOMA was that it was needed to preserve the status quo until matters were sorted out politically. Given that open invitation Judge Tauro concluded that all of the justifications offered in DOMA flunked even the lowest "conceivable" standard of rationality. Religious people will surely take umbrage at his one-sentence rebuttals of centuries of tradition.

Epstein's criticism of these two decisions concluded:

Now there is no reason for principle to yield to pragmatism. We don't need a judicial precedent that will spark a nation-wide rerun of California's Proposition 8. We need courts to back off to democratic processes, imperfect as they are.

Epstein views market incentives against discrimination as sufficient to regulate the acknowledged evil, and attempting to give everyone a court hearing only encourages excessive litigation.[3]

In Takings: Private Property and the Power of Eminent Domain (1985) Epstein argues the government should be regarded with the same respect as any other private entity in a property dispute. Though then U.S. Senator Joseph Biden denounced the book during the confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas for Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, the book served as a focal point in the argument about the government's ability to control private property.[4] The book has also influenced how some courts view property rights[5] and has been cited by the United States Supreme Court in four cases, including Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council from 1992.[4] Epstein's defense of tobacco companies during the 1990s was controversial. Epstein serves on the advisory board of the New York University Journal of Law and Liberty, and introduces the keynote speaker every year at the Journal of Law and Liberty sponsored Annual Friedrich A. von Hayek Lecture.

During a live television broadcast on CNBC's Larry Kudlow's show Kudlow & Company (later the The Kudlow Report), Epstein famously called plaintiff lawyer Mark Lanier a “bully” and said that he would not "get away with it." This occurred during the discussion over the merits of the Ernst v. Merck verdict. His full statement was, "You're a bully, Mr. Lanier, and you're not going to get away with it now."[6]

The debate came on the heels of Epstein's impassioned criticism of the Merck/Vioxx fiasco in an op-ed article, in which Epstein accused Mr. Lanier of intentionally misleading the jury during the trial.[7]

Ultimately, Epstein’s arguments about misleading the jury were adopted when two appellate courts reversed the Vioxx verdicts[8] finding that the trials did not prove that Vioxx had caused the injuries claimed by Mark Lanier.[9]


Epstein has said that when voting, he chooses "anyone but the Big Two" who are "just two members of the same statist party fighting over whose friends will get favors"; he has voted Libertarian.[10] Epstein says he is "certainly a Calvin Coolidge fan; he made some mistakes, but he was a small-government guy".[10] Epstein agreed to serve on The Constitution Project's Guantanamo Task Force in December 2010.[11][12][13]

Personal life[edit]

Epstein is the first cousin of comedian Paul Reiser.[14]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Who Are the Top 20 Legal Thinkers in America?". Legal Affairs. Retrieved 2008-07-04. 
  2. ^ Richard A. Epstein (2010-07-12). "Judicial Offensive Against Defense Of Marriage Act". Forbes. Retrieved 2010-09-06. 
  3. ^ Simple Rules for a Complex World (1995) 171–176
  4. ^ a b News release
  5. ^ Steve Chapman (April 1995). "Takings Exception". Reason. Retrieved 2008-10-26. 
  6. ^ "Epstein Takes on Lanier on CNBC". The University of Chicago Law School. The University of Chicago Law School. August 23, 2005. Retrieved 28 October 2014. 
  7. ^ ""You're a bully, Mr. Lanier, and you're not going to get away with it now"". Houston's Clear Thinkers. Tom Kirkendall. August 30, 2005. 
  8. ^ Zapata, Ron (May 29, 2008). "Two Courts Overturn Vioxx Ruling Against Merck". Law 360. Portfolio Media. Retrieved 28 October 2014. 
  9. ^ "Vioxx Judgement Thrown Out by Houston Court of Appeals". Texas Retrieved 28 October 2014. 
  10. ^ a b "Who's Getting Your Vote?". Reason. November 2004. Retrieved 2008-10-27. 
  11. ^ "Task Force members". The Constitution Project. 2010-12-17. Archived from the original on 2010-12-18. Retrieved 2010-10-.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  12. ^ "Task Force on Detainee Treatment Launched". The Constitution Project. 2010-12-17. Archived from the original on 2010-12-18. 
  13. ^ "Think tank plans study of how US treats detainees". Wall Street Journal. 2010-12-17. Archived from the original on 2010-12-18. Former FBI Director William Sessions, former Arkansas U.S. Rep. Asa Hutchinson, a retired Army general and a retired appeals court judge in Washington are among 11 people selected for a task force that will meet for the first time in early January, said Virginia Sloan, a lawyer and president of The Constitution Project. 
  14. ^


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