Caleb E. Nelson

  • Emerson G. Spies Distinguished Professor of Law

Caleb Nelson teaches civil procedure, federal courts and statutory interpretation. He is a past winner of UVA’s All-University Teaching Award as well as the national Federalist Society’s Paul M. Bator Award (which recognizes excellence in both teaching and scholarship).  His articles have appeared in the Harvard Law Review, the Yale Law Journal, the Columbia Law Review, the University of Chicago Law Review, the Virginia Law Review and other leading journals. He is also the author of a casebook on statutory interpretation, published by Foundation Press. He is an elected member of the American Law Institute.

Nelson earned his undergraduate degree from Harvard, where he majored in mathematics, won the Wendell Prize and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa as a junior.  Before attending Yale Law School, he was managing editor of The Public Interest, a domestic-policy quarterly.  After earning his law degree, Nelson clerked for Judge Stephen F. Williams on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and Justice Clarence Thomas on the U.S. Supreme Court.  From 1995 to 1998, he practiced law with the Cincinnati firm of Taft, Stettinius & Hollister, where he focused on appellate litigation. He joined the Virginia faculty as an associate professor in 1998 and became a full professor in 2003. 

Scholarship Profile: Shedding New Light on Old Problems (Virginia Journal 2007)






  • J.D.
    Yale Law School
  • A.B.
    Harvard University

"Vested Rights, 'Franchises,' and the Separation of Powers," 169 U. Pa. L. Rev. (forthcoming 2021).

"Intervention," 106 Va. L. Rev. 271 (2020).
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"'Standing' and Remedial Rights in Administrative Law," 105 Va. L. Rev.  703 (2019).
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“The Constitutionality of Civil Forfeiture,” 125 Yale L.J. 2446 (2016).
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"Avoiding Constitutional Questions Versus Avoiding Unconstitutionality," 128 Harv. L. Rev. Forum 331 (2015). 
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"The Legitimacy of (Some) Federal Common Law," 101 Va. L. Rev. 1 (2015). 
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“A Critical Guide to Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins,” 54 Wm. & Mary L. Rev. 921 (2013).
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"State and Federal Models of the Interaction Between Statutes and Unwritten Law," 80 U. Chi. L. Rev. 657 (2013).
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Statutory Interpretation (Foundation Press, University Casebook Series 2011).

"Judicial Review of Legislative Purpose," 83 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 1784 (2008).
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"Adjudication in the Political Branches," 107 Colum. L. Rev. 559 (2007).
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"Statutory Interpretation and Decision Theory" 74 U. Chi. L. Rev. 329 (2007) (reviewing Adrian Vermeule, Judging under Uncertainty (2006)).
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"The Persistence of General Law," 106 Colum. L. Rev. 503 (2006).
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"A Response to Professor Manning," 91 Va. L. Rev. 451 (2005).
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"What Is Textualism?," 91 Va. L. Rev. 347 (2005).
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"Does History Defeat Standing Doctrine?" (with Ann Woolhandler), 102 Mich. L. Rev. 689 (2004).
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"Originalism and Interpretive Conventions," 70 U. Chi. L. Rev. 519 (2003).
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"Sovereign Immunity as a Doctrine of Personal Jurisdiction," 115 Harv. L. Rev. 1559 (2002).
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“The Treaty Power and Self-Execution: A Comment on Professor Woolhandler’s Article,” 42 Va. J. Int’l L. 801 (2002).
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"Stare Decisis and Demonstrably Erroneous Precedents," 87 Va. L. Rev. 1 (2001). 
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"Preemption," 86 Va L. Rev. 225 (2000). 
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"A Re-evaluation of Scholarly Explanations for the Rise of the Elective Judiciary in Antebellum America," 37 Am. J. Legal Hist. 190 (1993). 
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"Harvard's Hollow 'Core'," Atlantic Monthly, Sept. 1990, at 70.

"Bring Back the Old Math," Am. Spectator, Nov. 1989, at 36.

"The Paradox of the Exclusionary Rule," Pub. Int., Summer 1989, at 117.

Current Courses

All Courses

Civil Procedure
Constitutional Law
Federal Courts


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