The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent


#IlyaConfusion—A Guide for the Perplexed [Updated]

For partly understandable reasons, I often get confused with Ilya Shapiro of the Cato Institute. Here is the definitive guide to how to tell the two libertarian Ilyas apart.


Earlier today, I was on a Federalist Society-organized press call on the travel ban case currently before the Supreme Court. The moderator introduced me as "Ilya Shapiro of the Cato Institute." This is very, very far from the first time I have been confused with Ilya Shapiro. The same mistake has been made by law students, journalists, bloggers, academics, Twitter posters, and even federal judges. In one case, a Federalist Society chapter accidentally invited both of us to speak, even though they actually meant to invite just one (one of their organizers forwarded the invitation to the other one), with the result that we had to split the speaking time—and (far worse) divide the honorarium. "Ilya Confusion" is common enough that the phenomenon even has its own Twitter hashtag: #IlyaConfusion. The situation has gotten so far out of hand that my wife, Alison, has even been confused with Shapiro's wife Kristin, even though the two of them don't look much alike.

Clearly, the time has come for a blog post to set the record straight by explaining the many differences between the two Ilyas that you can use to tell us apart!

But, first, we have to ask how it is that #IlyaConfusion got started in the first place. In some ways, it's understandable. Most obviously, both of us are named Ilya, and both our last names start with S. We are both Russian Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union, and both are libertarians who write extensively about constitutional law issues. We probably agree on 80-90 percent of the issues we write about. We are among the very small group of people who filed Supreme Court amicus briefs against both laws banning same-sex marriage and the Obamacare individual mandate. Though it didn't happen in either of those cases, we have several times joined the same amicus briefs in other Supreme Court cases. Furthermore, both of us have affiliations with the Cato Institute [but see Update #3 below]: Shapiro as a senior fellow, and me as an adjunct scholar (though only Shapiro actually works for Cato; adjunct scholar is just an unpaid external affiliation).

We also both blog (me right here at the Volokh Conspiracy, and Shapiro at Cato at Liberty), both give numerous talks at Federalist Society chapters and law schools, and both write many op eds including at some of the same publications (e.g.—we have both written for CNN, USA Today, and the Wall Street Journal). Shapiro is the editor of the Cato Supreme Court Review (for which I have written several articles), and I was a longtime co-editor of the Supreme Court Economic Review (for which Shapiro, perhaps fortunately, has never written).

Worst of all, people just simply don't expect there to be two libertarian legal commentators named "Ilya" who write about many of the same issues. If we were both named Tom, Dick, or Harry, there probably wouldn't be any problem!

But despite these similarities, there are big differences between the two Ilyas. Once you know about them, you will never get us confused again!

1. Opposing Views on Major Legal Issues.

While we agree on a lot, we have some big disagreements. And nowhere more so than on constitutional issues involving immigration. I believe that Obama's DAPA and DACA policies were constitutional, while Trump's travel ban is very much not. Shapiro believes the exact opposite. We have even publicly debated both issues. Here is a video of our 2016 Reason Foundation debate over DAPA. We also published dueling op eds on the subject, right here at the Reason website: Shapiro's and mine. In February, we debated the travel ban at Fordham Law School (an event sponsored by the Fordham Federalist Society).

We also have opposing views on two of the three issues at stake in Jeff Sessions' lawsuit against California's sanctuary policies (see my take here, and Shapiro's here).

Back in 2009, at the very first panel where we appeared together, Shapiro said he thought that Boumediene v. Bush is one of the worst Supreme Court decisions ever. I think it was probably rightly decided, and certainly no great outrage even if wrong.

2. Different Origins.

We may both be Russian Jews. But Shapiro is from Moscow, while I am from St. Petersburg. The two cities have a longstanding historic rivalry. St. Petersburg is historically associated with liberal westernizing tendencies in Russian society, while Moscow is the traditional home of authoritarian Russian nationalism (though, today, both cities are far more liberal and cosmopolitan than the Russian hinterland). Readers can decide for themselves whether it accounts for our differences on other issues!

3. Different Types of Writings.

I have authored five books, while Shapiro has (as far as I know) not written any [but see update #2 below]. I also write many more articles in academic journals (especially non-law journals) than he does. On the other hand, Shapiro writes many more amicus briefs and op eds (though I do some of both also). If you see a book or academic article on law or public policy by someone named "Ilya," it's probably me. An amicus brief or op ed is more likely to be Shapiro.

UPDATE: Shapiro claims he has in fact written a book. But he only wrote half of it, and at a mere 83 pages in length, I would say it's more of a monograph! In fact, the Chronicle of Higher Education even describes the series this work is a part of as a set of "mini-monographs."

Shapiro also writes on a far wider range of legal issues than I do. He has a truly amazing range. I mostly focus on property rights, federalism, constitutional theory, and a few issues in discrimination law and separation of powers. An article by an Ilya on other legal issues is likely to be by Shapiro. On the other hand, I write far more articles on non-legal questions.

Also, I write extensively about the politics of science fiction and fantasy. To my knowledge, Shapiro has never written in either of these exciting fields!

4. Different Types of Speaking Engagements.

We both do many speaking engagements. But I have done them in nineteen foreign countries, while Shapiro gives talks abroad far less often. I also give far more talks at non-law departments at US universities and think tanks. On the other hand, he has spoken in more US states (47 to my 36), and more law schools. If you saw an Ilya speak on law and public policy in China, Japan, or Korea, or at a non-law event in the US, it was probably me. Ditto if you saw an Ilya speak on topics related to science fiction or fantasy.

Things are much less clear if it was a law school in the US. But if it was one in a relatively out of the way location, Shapiro is the more likely culprit. Similarly, Shapiro appears on US TV news programs far more often than I do, but I do more foreign TV.

5. Different Views on the Ethics of Sports Fandom.

At the risk of shocking the sensitive audience here at the Volokh Conspiracy, I must point out that Shapiro is a notorious sports bigamist. The Washington Post once ran an article about how he came to a Washington Capitals-Toronto Maple Leafs playoff game in order to root for both teams at the same time! I would never stoop to such sacrilege. I only root for two types of professional sports teams: Boston teams, and whoever is playing against the New York Yankees on days when they aren't playing the Red Sox.

So, there you have it: a definitive guide to how to avoid #IlyaConfusion! But if you are somehow still confused, you can fix the problem by following the example of Fordham and the Reason Foundation and arranging an Ilya vs. Ilya debate at your university or research institute. I think I can speak for both Ilyas when I say we would be happy to have the chance to spread our views—and collect your speaker fees!

UPDATE: Shapiro indicates he has spoken in only 47 states, rather than all 50 (as I originally thought). He needs to get on the ball and make it out to the other three!

UPDATE #2 [October 19, 2020]: Since I wrote point 3 above, Ilya Shapiro has published a work that is indisputably a book, not just a short monograph: Supreme Disorder: Judicial Nominations and the Politics of America's Highest Court.

UPDATE #3 [January 21, 2022]: As of late January 2022, Ilya Shapiro has left Cato and will be starting a new position at the Georgetown University Center for the Constitution.

UPDATE #4 [June 6, 2022]: Ilya Shapiro has resigned the position at Georgetown, after an unfortunate chain of events described in his resignation letter.