Ilya Somin

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Ilya Somin (born 1973) is a law professor at George Mason University, an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, a blogger for the Volokh Conspiracy, and a former co-editor of the Supreme Court Economic Review (2006 to 2013).[1][2][3] His research focuses on constitutional law, property law, and the study of popular political participation and its implications for constitutional democracy.[4]

He is the author of Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government Is Smarter,[5] and A Conspiracy Against Obamacare: The Volokh Conspiracy and the Health Care Case (co-authored with other Volokh Conspiracy bloggers).[6] A revised and expanded second edition of Democracy and Political Ignorance came out in June 2016.[7] He is also the author of two books about property rights and eminent domain: The Grasping Hand: "Kelo v. City of New London" and the Limits of Eminent Domain (University of Chicago Press, revised edition, 2016), a book on the topic of eminent domain, takings and the US Supreme Court's controversial decision in Kelo v. City of New London[8], and Eminent Domain: A Comparative Perspective (Cambridge University Press, 2017) (co-edited with Hojun Lee and Iljoong Kim).

Personal life[edit]

Somin was born in the USSR in 1973. At age five, he migrated along with his family to the United States. In a personal memoir, Somin recounted both the material poverty in the USSR (that he experienced firsthand) and the ideological indoctrination (that he learned about from family members, and saw glimpses of as a child).[9] Somin received his B.A. in political science and history from Amherst College, M.A. in political science from Harvard University and J.D. from Yale Law School.


Political ignorance[edit]

Like other public choice theorists, Somin argues that rational ignorance is a major problem for the successful functioning of democracy. He has argued for this position in a number of published articles, and has in particular been critical of the ideal of deliberative democracy.[10][11][12]

Somin notes that rational irrationality, as described by Bryan Caplan in The Myth of the Rational Voter, is a problem. Somin departs from traditional public choice theorists by carving out an important place for rational irrationality, while at the same time disagreeing with Caplan's assertion that rational ignorance alone would not be a problem.[13][14]

Somin's book Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government is Smarter elaborates on this thesis. He also defended the theory in the lead essay of Cato Unbound in October 2013.[15] Other participants in the exchange included Heather Gerken, Jeffrey Friedman, and Sean Trende.[16] Gerken's response essay used the fox versus hedgehog distinction, arguing that Somin's ideal voter was a fox, whereas David Schleicher's work stressed that voters tended to be hedgehogs and use their party affiliation as an informational shortcut.[17] Political commentator George Will reviewed the book favorably in a Washington Post op-ed.[18]

Somin's work on political ignorance stretches back some 15 years before the publication of Democracy and Political Ignorance. He published a much-cited article on political ignorance in the interdisciplinary journal Critical Review in 1998.[19] In 2004, he wrote a policy analysis for the Cato Institute titled "When Ignorance Isn't Bliss: How Political Ignorance Threatens Democracy" that laid out the case he would elaborate in his book.[20] In 2010, he wrote a critique of deliberative democracy based on his research on political ignorance.[21]

Somin's work on political ignorance has been covered by media around the world, including Washington Post columnist George Will[18] and the Chicago Tribune.[22]


Somin is a proponent of originalism: he argues that judges should make decisions, as far as possible, based on the original meaning of the relevant parts of the constitution. Somin has written an article about the relationship and tension between constitutional originalism and political ignorance.[23][24][25] He has also blogged about the history of originalism,[26] the relation between originalism and discrimination,[27] the relation between originalism and affirmative action,[28] and other topics related to originalism.[29]

Property rights[edit]

Somin has been critical of eminent domain laws that permit governments to take over land by force.[30][31] He was critical of the court decision in Kelo v. City of New London and has defended eminent domain reforms undertaken by US states in the wake of the incident,[32] while arguing that such reforms may not go far enough in protecting private property rights.[33][34] Somin has argued that Detroit's abuse of eminent domain "deter[red] investment by undermining confidence in the security of property rights."[35] Somin's book on the topic of property rights and eminent domain, titled The Grasping Hand: "Kelo v. City of New London" and the Limits of Eminent Domain was published by the University of Chicago Press and released on June 15, 2015.[8] Many commentators consider it the leading work on the controversial Kelo case, and "public use" restrictions on takings. The book was described as the definitive analysis and critique of Kelo by leading legal Richard Epstein and James Krier, and also endorsed by attorneys for both sides in the case.[36]


Somin is the author of Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government Is Smarter,[5] published by Stanford University Press) in 2013. A revised second edition was published in 2016. In the book, Somin expands on his public choice-style case for limited government.[37]

Somin's book, The Grasping Hand: "Kelo v. City of New London" and the Limits of Eminent Domain, expands on his work on eminent domain and property rights, and was published in June 2015 by the University of Chicago Press.[8]

Somin is also the co-author, along with other Volokh Conspiracy bloggers, of the book A Conspiracy Against Obamacare: The Volokh Conspiracy and the Health Care Case.[6] Somin's co-authors include Randy Barnett, Jonathan Adler, David Bernstein, Orin Kerr, and David Kopel. Trevor Burrus is the editor.

He is also co-editor of Eminent Domain in Comparative Perspective, published by Cambridge University Press in 2017.

Congressional testimony[edit]

Somin has testified to the United States Congress twice: once on the subject of drone warfare[38] and once on the subject of Sonia Sotomayor's record on property rights, in connection with her nomination as a justice for the Supreme Court.[39][40]


Somin has participated many times in the New York Times Room for Debate Forum.[41][42][43]

Somin's articles have been published by a number of mainstream news and opinion outlets in the United States including the Wall Street Journal,[44] USA Today,[45] CNN,[46] National Review,[47] Forbes,[48] Los Angeles Times,[49] the Daily Caller,[50] and others.[51]

Somin's blog posts at Volokh Conspiracy have been cited in many mainstream news outlets. Somin's blog post[52][53] about the Supreme Court decision in Fisher v. University of Texas was cited by a number of news outlets.[54][55] Blog posts by Ilya Somin about the Supreme Court's decisions related to gay marriage (specifically, decisions about the Defense of Marriage Act and California Proposition 8 made in June 2013)[56][57][58] were also widely cited.[59]


  1. ^ Somin, Ilya. "Personal webpage". Retrieved 2013-01-30. 
  2. ^ "Ilya Somin". Cato Institute. 
  3. ^ "Supreme Court Economic Review - Electronic Edition". University of Chicago Press. Retrieved 2013-07-09. 
  4. ^ "Ilya Somin". 
  5. ^ a b Somin, Ilya. Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government Is Smarter. Stanford University Press. ISBN 978-0804786614. 
  6. ^ a b "A Conspiracy Against Obamacare: The Volokh Conspiracy and the Health Care Case". Retrieved 2013-09-15. 
  7. ^
  8. ^ a b c Somin, Ilya. The Grasping Hand: "Kelo v. City of New London" and the Limits of Eminent Domain. University of Chicago Press. 
  9. ^ Somin, Ilya. "A Road to Freedom" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-07-10. 
  10. ^ Somin, Ilya (2010-10-19). "Deliberative Democracy and Political Ignorance". Critical Review, Vol. 22, Nos. 2-3, pp. 253-279, 2010. SSRN 1694650Freely accessible. 
  11. ^ Somin, Ilya (2004-09-22). "When Ignorance Isn't Bliss: How Political Ignorance Threatens Democracy". Cato Institute (Policy Analysis No. 525). Retrieved 2013-07-10. 
  12. ^ Somin, Ilya (2010-02-12). "An Inconvenient Truth". Retrieved 2013-07-10. 
  13. ^ Somin, Ilya (2007-05-17). "Bryan Caplan's Myth of the Rational Voter". Retrieved 2013-07-09. 
  14. ^ Somin, Ilya (2013-02-03). "Transparency and Political Ignorance". Volokh Conspiracy. Retrieved 2013-07-09. 
  15. ^ Somin, Ilya (2013-10-11). "Democracy and Political Ignorance". Cato Unbound. Retrieved 2013-10-14. 
  16. ^ "Is Smaller Government Smarter Government?". Cato Unbound (lead essay). October 2013. Retrieved 2013-10-14. 
  17. ^ Gerken, Heather (2013-10-14). "The Fox and the Hedgehog: How Do We Achieve Political Accountability Given What Voters (Don't) Know?". Cato Unbound (response essay). Retrieved 2013-10-14. 
  18. ^ a b Will, George F. (January 1, 2014). "The price of political ignorance: More government". Washington Post. Retrieved January 1, 2014. 
  19. ^ Ilya Somin, "Voter Ignorance and the Democratic Ideal," Critical Review 12 (1998), 413-58
  20. ^ Somin, Ilya (2004-09-22). "When Ignorance Isn't Bliss: How Political Ignorance Threatens Democracy". Cato Institute (Policy Analysis No. 525). Retrieved 2013-10-26. 
  21. ^ Somin, Ilya (2010-10-19). "Deliberative Democracy and Political Ignorance". Critical Review, Vol. 22, Nos. 2–3, pp. 253–79, 2010. SSRN 1694650Freely accessible. 
  22. ^ Chapman, Steve (2012-04-19). "Mixing ignorance and democracy: Can our system work with uninformed voters?". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2013-07-09. 
  23. ^ Somin, Ilya (2012-03-02). "Originalism and Political Ignorance". Minnesota Law Review, Vol. 97, No. 2, pp. 625-668, December 2012. SSRN 2015006Freely accessible. 
  24. ^ Somin, Ilya (2012-03-06). "Originalism and Political Ignorance". Volokh Conspiracy. Retrieved 2013-07-10. 
  25. ^ Solum, Larry (2012-03-06). "Somin on Originalism & Political Ignorance". Legal Theory Blog. Retrieved 2013-07-10. 
  26. ^ Somin, Ilya (2011-07-15). "For Intellectual-History-of-Originalism Buffs". Retrieved 2013-07-10. 
  27. ^ Somin, Ilya (2013-04-12). "New Scholarship on Originalism and Discrimination". Retrieved 2013-07-10. 
  28. ^ Somin, Ilya (2012-09-07). "Originalism and Affirmative Action". Volokh Conspiracy. Retrieved 2013-07-10. 
  29. ^ "Originalism category". Volokh Conspiracy. Retrieved 2013-07-10. 
  30. ^ Somin, Ilya (2005-02-22). "Robin Hood in Reverse: The Case against Economic Development Takings" (PDF). Cato Institute Policy Analysis. Retrieved 2013-07-10. 
  31. ^ Somin, Ilya (2009-11-12). "A Turning Point for Eminent Domain?". New York Times Room for Debate Forum. Retrieved 2013-07-10. 
  32. ^ Somin, Ilya. "Is Post-Kelo Eminent Domain Reform Bad for the Poor?". Northwestern University Law Review, Vol. 101, No. 4, pp. 1931-1943, Fall 2007. SSRN 979201Freely accessible. 
  33. ^ Somin, Ilya (2009-06-11). "The Limits of Backlash: Assessing the Political Response to Kelo". Minnesota Law Review, Vol. 93, No. 6, pp. 2100-2178, June 2009. SSRN 976298Freely accessible. 
  34. ^ Somin, Ilya (2011-05-19). "The Judicial Reaction to Kelo". Albany Government Law Review, Vol. 4, No. 1, 2011 (Introduction to the Symposium on Eminent Domain in the United States). SSRN 1846751Freely accessible. 
  35. ^ de Rugy, Veronique (2013-07-23). "Did the Free Market Kill Detroit?". National Review. 
  36. ^*Version*=1&*entries*=0
  37. ^ Brennan, Jason (2013-09-30). "Democracy and Political Ignorance". Bleeding-Heart Libertarians. Retrieved 2013-09-30. 
  38. ^ Jiang, Jenny (May 6, 2013). "Transcript: Professor Ilya Somin's Testimony on Drone: Targeted Killing - Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on April 23, 2013". What The Folly?. Retrieved October 18, 2014. 
  39. ^ Phillips, Kate (July 9, 2009). "Judiciary Panel Releases Witness List for Sotomayor Hearing". New York Times. Retrieved October 18, 2014. 
  40. ^ "Judge Sonia Sotomayor's Record on Constitutional Property Rights: Testimony Before the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary" (PDF). July 16, 2009. Retrieved October 18, 2014. 
  41. ^ Somin, Ilya (2011-09-25). "A Right to Economic Liberty". Retrieved 2013-07-09. 
  42. ^ Somin, Ilya (2012-03-25). "Rein in Federal Power". Retrieved 2013-07-09. 
  43. ^ Somin, Ilya (2011-09-23). "The Problem with Broad Definitions". New York Times. Retrieved 2013-07-09. 
  44. ^
  45. ^
  46. ^
  47. ^ "Remembering Judge Bork". National Review. 2012-12-19. 
  48. ^ Somin, Ilya (2010-05-11). "Don't Dismiss Elena Kagan". Forbes. Retrieved 2013-07-09. 
  49. ^ Somin, Ilya (2009-05-29). "Obama, Sotomayor, and Empathy". Los Angeles Times. 
  50. ^ Somin, Ilya (2011-11-09). "Referendum initiatives prevent eminent domain abuse". Daily Caller. Retrieved 2013-07-09. 
  51. ^ Somin, Ilya. "Publications". Retrieved 2013-07-09. 
  52. ^ Somin, Ilya (2013-06-24). "Preliminary Thoughts on Fisher v. University of Texas". Volokh Conspiracy. Retrieved 2013-07-09. 
  53. ^ Somin, Ilya (2013-06-24). "Competing Interpretations of Fisher". Volokh Conspiracy. Retrieved 2013-07-09. 
  54. ^ Rayfield, Jillian (2013-06-24). "Could SCOTUS ruling actually endanger affirmative action policies?". Salon. Retrieved 2013-07-09. 
  55. ^ Whelan, Ed (2013-06-24). "Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin". National Review. Retrieved 2013-07-09. 
  56. ^ Somin, Ilya (2013-06-26). "The Impact of Today's Gay Marriage Decisions". Volokh Conspiracy. Retrieved 2013-07-09. 
  57. ^ Somin, Ilya (2013-06-26). "Right, Left, and the Standing Issues in the Gay Marriage Cases". Volokh Conspiracy. Retrieved 2013-07-09. 
  58. ^ Somin, Ilya (2013-06-26). "The DOMA Decision and Federalism". Retrieved 2013-07-09. 
  59. ^ Rayfield, Jillian (2013-06-26). "DOMA and Prop 8: Here's what it all means". Salon. Retrieved 2013-07-09. 

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