Around the country, law students who study Constitutional Law in the Fall sone will be studying for their finals; not long afterwards, those who study it in Spring will start up their course. So it’s as good a time as any to list the questions that, back in the days I used teach Constitutional Law I, I used to ask my students during the first week of class.
Some of these questions are very easy (although even in those cases, the answers may surprise you); some only appear to be. Others are inspired by real and difficult cases; a few illustrate doctrines of constitutional interpretation, some more controversial than others. And perhaps one or two don’t have answers, or at least not answers that everyone agrees to. Which is remarkably odd given the simplicity of most of these questions….
- What clause, if any, of the Constitution permits Congress to establish
an air force?
- Could Congress constitutionally abolish the entire armed
forces and the Pentagon, leaving the nation defenseless?
- May Congress pass secret laws? If so, may (must?) the courts enforce them?
- Can Congress pass valid laws which criminalize past conduct? Which impose taxes on past conduct? Which impose costs on the future results of past conduct?
- Is there anything in the first seven articles of the Constitution that prevents the federal government from taking your house for $1?
- Is there anything in the first seven articles of the Constitution that prevents the federal government from awarding you a $1 million personal bonus?
- What is “corruption of blood,” and why do we care? (you did
look it up, didn’t you?)
- What is a “bill of attainder,” and why do we care?
- Can a person simultaneously be a Member of the House of Representatives and hold office in the Cabinet?
- Can a person simultaneously be a Senator and hold office in the Cabinet?
- Is there anything in the federal constitution that would prevent Congress from being chosen by a lottery among all registered voters?
- Can Generals be impeached?
- What is the minimum number of justices constitutionally required to form a Supreme Court?
- Who decides how many justices actually sit on the Supreme Court?
- Can a person simultaneously be a Supreme Court Justice and hold Cabinet office (e.g. be Secretary of State or Attorney General)?
- Where, if anywhere, does the Constitution give the Supreme Court the authority to overrule itself?
- Can Congress limit the jurisdiction of the federal courts to cases involving at least $ 200,000,000 ?
- Could Congress validly give the Chief Justice the power to appoint the Attorney General?
- What happens if the President signs a bill that, due to a typographical accident, lacks a sentence that was present in the versions passed by both houses of Congress?
- What happens if the President neither signs nor vetoes a bill while Congress is not in session?
- Can Congress vote the President a bonus if they feel the President is doing a particularly good job?
- If Congress sets out to minimize the President’s powers, what are the minimum powers guaranteed to him by the Constitution?
- If Congress sets out to minimize the President’s powers, can it abolish his entire staff? Evict him from the White House?
- Is there anything in the federal Constitution that would prevent a state from choosing its legislature by a lottery among all registered voters?
- What if anything happens at the federal level if due to allegations of voting irregularities, a state has two different groups purporting to be the legitimate state government?