Adrian Vermeule

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


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

Professional career[edit]

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, was named John H. Watson Professor of Law in 2008, and was named Ralph S. Tyler Professor of Constitutional Law in 2016. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2012, at the age of 43.

In 2015, Vemeule co-founded the book review, The New Rambler.[2]

Scholarship and teaching[edit]

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[edit]

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."[3]

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."[4] 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.".[5]

Family and personal life[edit]

Vermeule is a member of a family of prominent scholars. His mother, Emily Vermeule, a classical scholar, was the Doris Zemurray Stone Professor at Radcliffe College of Harvard University. 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 was raised as an Episcopalian, abandoning the denomination in college, but returning to it later in life.[6] He announced his conversion to Catholicism in 2016.[7] He said in an October 2016 interview that the logic behind his Catholic beliefs is inspired by Blessed John Henry Newman, and added:

Raised a Protestant, despite all my thrashing and twisting, I eventually couldn't help but believe that the apostolic succession through Peter as the designated leader and primus inter pares is in some logical or theological sense prior to everything else – including even Scripture, whose formation was guided and completed by the apostles and their successors, themselves inspired by the Holy Spirit.[7]



  • Vermeule, Adrian (2006). Judging under uncertainty: An institutional theory of legal interpretation. Cambridge, Massachusettse: Harvard University Press.
  • Vermeule, Adrian; Posner, Eric (2007). Terror in the balance: Security, liberty, and the courts. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Vermeule, Adrian (2009). Law and the limits of reason. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Vermeule, Adrian; Posner, Eric (2010). The executive unbound: After the Madisonian republic. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Vermeule, Adrian (2011). The system of the constitution. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • 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.
  • Vermeule, Adrian (2014). The constitution of risk. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Journal articles[edit]


  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. ^ Kerr, Orin (March 3, 2015). "The New Rambler". Washington Post. Retrieved May 24, 2016.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ Jonathan R. Siegel, "Judicial Interpretation in the Cost-Benefit Crucible" (PDF), Minnesota Law Review, vol. 92 (January 2008), 387-88.
  5. ^ Jonathan R. Siegel, "Judicial Interpretation in the Cost–Benefit Crucible" (PDF), Minnesota Law Review, vol. 92 (January 2008), 390. Retrieved September 8, 2012.
  6. ^ Deardurff, Christina (October 2016) "Finding Stable Ground" (interview) Inside the Vatican
  7. ^ a b "There is no middle way between atheism and Catholicism, says Harvard professor who is converting". Catholic Herald. October 28, 2016.

External links[edit]