Caleb E. Nelson

  • Emerson G. Spies Distinguished Professor of Law
  • Edward F. Howrey 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


Statutory Interpretation, Foundation Press (2011).

Articles & Reviews

Vested Rights, “Franchises,” and the Separation of Powers, 169 University of Pennsylvania Law Review 1429 (2021).
Intervention, 106 Virginia Law Review 271–393 (2020).
“Standing” and Remedial Rights in Administrative Law, 105 Virginia Law Review 703–803 (2019).
The Constitutionality of Civil Forfeiture, 125 Yale Law Journal 2446–2518 (2016).
Avoiding Constitutional Questions Versus Avoiding Unconstitutionality, 128 Harvard Law Review Forum 331–345 (2015).
The Legitimacy of (Some) Federal Common Law, 101 Virginia Law Review 1–64 (2015).
A Critical Guide to Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins, 54 William & Mary Law Review 921–986 (2013).
State and Federal Models of the Interaction between Statutes and Unwritten Law, 80 University of Chicago Law Review 657–767 (2013).
Judicial Review of Legislative Purpose, 83 NYU Law Review 1784–1882 (2008).
Adjudication in the Political Branches, 107 Columbia Law Review 559–627 (2007).
Statutory Interpretation and Decision Theory, 74 University of Chicago Law Review 329–368 (2007).
The Persistence of General Law, 106 Columbia Law Review 503–568 (2006).
A Response to Professor Manning, 91 Virginia Law Review 451–470 (2005).
What Is Textualism?, 91 Virginia Law Review 347–418 (2005).
Does History Defeat Standing Doctrine? (with Ann Woolhandler), 102 Michigan Law Review 689–733 (2004).
Originalism and Interpretive Conventions, 70 University of Chicago Law Review 519–598 (2003).
Sovereign Immunity as a Doctrine of Personal Jurisdiction, 115 Harvard Law Review 1559–1664 (2002).
The Treaty Power and Self-Execution: A Comment on Professor Woolhandler's Article, 42 Virginia Journal of International Law 801–817 (2002).
Stare Decisis and Demonstrably Erroneous Precedents, 87 Virginia Law Review 1–84 (2001).
Preemption, 86 Virginia Law Review 225–305 (2000).
The Paradox of the Exclusionary Rule, 96 Public Interest 117–130 (1989).

Reports & Datasets

TestimonyFederalism , US Government Print Office 132–133, 138 (1999).

Op-Eds, Blogs, Shorter Works

Harvard's Hollow "Core", The Atlantic 70–82 (September, 1990).
Bring Back the Old Math, American Spectator 36 (November, 1989).

Current Courses

All Courses

Civil Procedure
Constitutional Law
Federal Courts


Professor Caleb Nelson Delivers the Charge to the Class of 2023

Featured Scholarship