Intermittent Institutions

31 Pages Posted: 26 Jan 2010 Last revised: 18 Jul 2012

Date Written: January 25, 2010


Standing institutions have continuous existence: examples include the United Nations, the British Parliament, the U.S. presidency, the standing committees of the U.S. Congress, and the Environmental Protection Agency. Intermittent institutions have discontinuous existence: Examples include the Roman dictatorship, the Estates-General of France, constitutional conventions, citizens’ assemblies, the Electoral College, grand and petit juries, special prosecutors, various types of temporary courts and military tribunals, ad hoc congressional committees, and ad hoc panels like the 9/11 Commission and base-closing commissions. Within the class of intermittent institutions, one may distinguish periodic from episodic institutions. The former come into being on a schedule set down in advance, while the latter come into being at unpredictable intervals. The Electoral College is a periodic institution, the Roman dictatorship an episodic one.

This essay attempts to identify the benefits and costs of intermittent institutions, both as a class and in their periodic and episodic varieties. The largest goals are to state some general conditions under which intermittent institutions prove superior or inferior to standing institutions, and to illuminate the temporal dimension of institutional design.

Suggested Citation

Vermeule, Adrian, Intermittent Institutions (January 25, 2010). Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 10-13, Available at SSRN:

Adrian Vermeule (Contact Author)

Harvard Law School ( email )

1525 Massachusetts
Griswold 500
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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