Constitutional Law Bar Exam Questions and Answers

Constitutional Law is one of my favorite subjects! I don’t know if you share my love for this subject – but either way, it’s all over the Bar Exam – so let’s get crackin’! I’m going to use Constitutional Law Bar Exam questions and answers (not real MBE questions but sample questions), just to quickly test your knowledge in some frequently covered areas.

constitutional law bar exam questions and answers

Question 1

A missing person’s report was filed for an abducted child. The child’s mother was frantic, and just happened to be friends with the chief of police in her town. Moved by the mother’s grief after attempts to locate her daughter failed, the Chief decided it was time to get serious. He ordered roadblocks set up at every major path out of town, and instructed the officers to conduct “random stops” of vehicles as they passed by the roadblock. He sent about 20 officers to each roadblock. A young man was driving through and was stopped along with about 20 other cars. An officer asked him to step outside of the vehicle and asked for his license and registration. As the young man handed his information over, he noticed that the officers had dogs sniffing around each of the stopped vehicles. The officer checked out the inside of the car by shining his flashlight into the interior. He further checked the eyes and breath of the young man. The officer found no indication that the girl was in the car, and the dog did not alert, so the young man was told he could go. The young man later filed an injunctive action in a United States District Court. He demanded that police be prohibited from continuing the random searches such as the one he experienced. He didn’t know if the cops were using the dogs to sniff for drugs or for the girl, but either way, it was an invasion of privacy. The lawsuit claimed Fourth Amendment violations based on unreasonable searches and seizures. The district court dismissed the case, but on appeal, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and ordered an injunction. On appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, did the Justices agree that the procedure was unconstitutional?

    1. Yes. Under the 14th Amendment, citizens are protected against unreasonable searches and seizures. Since canines were used to sniff out something that was not in plain sight inside of the vehicles, this was an unreasonable search and could therefore be challenged successfully.

    2. No. Since there were dogs that were used to detect if anything (from the girl to drugs) was inside of the car, and no actual search was done unless the dogs alerted which then provided probable cause, there was nothing unconstitutional about this stop.

    3. Yes. These stops were not conducted for highway safety, but for general criminal activity investigations. The latter can only be based upon probable cause.

    4. No. This was a highway safety stop. The courts have already ruled that these checkpoints where people are pulled over at random are constitutional.

Question 2

A state implemented a tuition-assistance program for low-income middle and high school students. If qualified, a student would receive monies that they could then apply towards the tuition at any private school of that student or family’s choosing. Many recipients used this money to attend religious schools near them. Some parents sued the superintendent of schools, seeking to stop them from continuing the assistance program because they claimed it was tantamount to an establishment of religion. What is the likely decision of the court based on U.S. Supreme Court precedent?

    1. The program is constitutional. It in no way favors religious institutions, or one religion over another, as it is not involved in the process of deciding which schools the students decide to attend.

    2. The program is unconstitutional. Religious schools were the clear beneficiaries here; as the majority of students opted to spend these tax dollars on religious education. Therefore, the state program is unnecessarily tied up matters of religion, which is a violation of “separation of church and state.”

    3. The program is constitutional. In fact, it allows students to practice their faith, thereby assisting them in exercising their constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion.

    4. The program is unconstitutional. It takes tax dollars away from public schools, who desperately need it in order to provide more resources for students in general. Instead, these tax dollars are funneled to religious organizations, which is a violation of separation of church and state.

Question 3

A land developer purchased a large parcel of property in a picturesque and largely undeveloped area of the state. His intentions upon purchase were to develop upscale “cabins” that he could then rent out for people who wanted to vacation in this beautiful, mountainous region. Approximately a year later, the state passed legislation prohibiting the development of any land in that region; as the state wished to preserve the land and habitat in its original state. Since the developer had now been denied all economic uses of his property, he filed a suit in state court claiming a taking of his property under the 5th and 14th amendments. In his suit, he demanded just compensation for the taking. Assuming that this case made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme court, what would the likely decision be?

    1. The claim for compensation would be denied; as the statute did not prohibit the developer from other uses of the land, or from selling it and making his money back.

    2. The claim would be denied. This was a valid exercise of state power and does not entitle the developer to any compensation.

    3. The claim would be granted. Any interference with a property owner’s ability to do with his property what he wishes is unconstitutional.

    4. The claim would be granted. Any regulation that strips an owner of any viable economic use of their land is a taking and compensable.

constitutional law bar exam questions and answers

Answers

Question 1

#3 is Correct

The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches or seizures. To be reasonable, a search must be done only when there is probable cause. Probable cause is suspicion of wrongdoing based on an individual’s actions. Here, there was absolutely no individualized suspicion of wrongdoing. See Chandler v. Miller, 520 U. S. 305, 308 (1997). Also, in Indianapolis v. Edmond, 531 US 32, 41-42 (2000), the Court held that a general purpose roadblock for detecting narcotics violates the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition of unreasonable searches. The Court further held that there are only very limited exceptions to this rule. Drunk driving checkpoints are designed to protect the public and ensure highway safety – and that had been ruled constitutional. However, the purpose here was clearly not highway safety. The Court deemed that it would not allow the “general interest in crime control” as justification for a regime of suspicionless stops. Even though there was a girl missing, that does not justify random stops of individuals who don’t fit any known general description or even vehicle type.
Plus, in this fact pattern, it appears as if the officers also used dogs that could easily have been sniffing for both drugs and the little girl, so they were clearly overstepping. If the court did not draw the line at roadblocks whose only purpose was a general interest in “crime control” – then such blatant intrusions would subject every American to a constant threat of baseless searches, anytime and anywhere.

Question 2

#1 is Correct

This question can be tricky. Yes, church and state are not allowed to “mingle” in the U.S. However, this program is actually not religious in nature. The program in question has a valid secular purpose; as it is designed to assist the poor students in the state to have the same school choice as more wealthy students. The program simply gave money for tuition assistance based on need, and then got out of the picture. It did not in any way participate after the distribution of funds. After that, it was up to the individual families and students to choose which school they wanted to attend, much the same way that wealthier families could choose which schools they want to attend.

Therefore, it was a program that allowed private choice and there was no violation of separation of church and state involved. See Zelman v. Simmons-Harris – 536 U.S. 639 (2002). Answer #1 is better than answer #3, because the program was not designed, nor did it have any purpose intended to “assist students in practicing their chosen religion.”

Question 4

#4 is Correct

When the state passes a regulation that has the effect of forcing a private property owner to forfeit all of his economic interests in a parcel of land – this is a taking under the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment; made applicable to the states under the Fourteenth Amendment. See Lingle v. Chevron USA Inc., 544 U.S. 528, 536-37; and
Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council, 505 U.S. 1003, 1019, 1027 (1992).

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