Second Opinions

34 Pages Posted: 21 Jul 2010 Last revised: 17 Aug 2010

Date Written: July 21, 2010


There is a burgeoning literature on second opinions in professional contexts, as when patients or clients seek advice from a second doctor or lawyer. My aim, by contrast, is to analyze second opinions as a central feature of public law. I will try to show that many institutional structures, rules and practices have been justified as mechanisms for requiring or permitting decisionmakers to obtain second opinions; examples include judicial review of statutes or of agency action, bicameralism, the separation of powers, and the law of legislative procedure. I attempt to identify the main costs and benefits of second opinions, to identify conditions under which second-opinion arguments prove more or less successful, and to consider how the lawmaking system might employ second-opinion mechanisms to greater effect. I claim, among other things, that the Supreme Court should adopt a norm that two successive decisions, not merely one, are necessary to create binding law.

Suggested Citation

Vermeule, Adrian, Second Opinions (July 21, 2010). Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 10-38, Harvard Law and Economics Discussion Paper No. 673, Available at SSRN: or

Adrian Vermeule (Contact Author)

Harvard Law School ( email )

1525 Massachusetts
Griswold 500
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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