May 4, 2011

Posted in Uncategorized

The Harvard Law School Con Law Exam that caused a student in 1900 to die from “Overstudy”

I have located the Harvard Law School constitutional law exam from 1900 that caused poor William Thornton Parker, Jr. to die from overstudy.

Here is William’s obituary:

Here is the exam:

Good luck with finals everyone. No matter how bad it gets, William got it worse.

H/T Commenter David.

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  • The first and fourth constitutional-law questions appear to give an inkling of the intellectual discourse of the era.

    • Josh Blackman

      I’d probably flunk this exam.

      • But first you would have to complete it without going insane.

  • Why not have a contest to answer some of the questions? Even better, you could have people write two answers, one applying the law of 1900 and the other applying the law of today.

    • Josh Blackman

      I considered blogging proposed answers, but frankly, the questions are too tough. I am not sure how I would easily ascertain what the law was in 1900. Though it would be interesting if an answer key existed somewhere, and comparing it with answers under today’s law.

      • By saying that the questions are too tough, are you suggesting that law school was harder then and that it has been dumbed down?

        • Josh Blackman

          Yes, I am saying that, but not really. The types of questions asked here, and in the exam of Justice Harlan ( required a skill set that today’s students lack–wrote memorization. Today’s students need to be more adept at applying legal doctrine to varied problems. If nothing else, there is a lot more law to consider today than in 1900.

          • Do you mean “rote” memorization? Or the poor grammar/usage “wrote” memorization?

  • Do you really think that supplying a successful answer to the fourth question would depend on rote memorization?

    • Josh Blackman

      The Harvard exam was different than Harlan’s exam, which did require memorization.

    • Josh Blackman

      Interesting. I wasn’t familiar with that case.

      • Check it out. Especially look at the arguments of counsel on the scope of the Court’s original jurisdiction.

        • If the Supreme Court in Georgia v. Stanton had relied on our modern-day understanding of the concept of non-justiciable “political question,” ought it to have reached the merits of the case?

          • Josh Blackman

            I haven’t read the case closely enough, but that’s an interesting question. What do you think?

          • I am relying on my memory of what the Warren/Burger Court did to the political-question doctrine, but I believe that the Court would have reached the merits. Relying on Wikipedia (, I think that the issue would pass all of the hurdles:

            •A “textually demonstrable constitutional commitment of the issue to a coordinate political branch.” THERE IS NOT SUCH A COMMITMENT HERE.

            •A “lack of judicially discoverable standards.” APPLYING SPECIFIC CONSTITUTIONAL PROVISIONS IS WHAT COURTS DO.

            •The “impossibility for a court independent resolution without expressing a lack of respect for a coordinate branch of the government.” STATES AND CONGRESS ARE NOT COORDINATE PARTS OF THE SAME GOVERNMENT. MOREOVER, THE COURT OVERRULES CONGRESS’ ACTS FAIRLY OFTEN.

            •The “impossibility of deciding the issue without an initial policy decision, which is beyond the discretion of the court.” I DO NOT SEE THE PROBLEM HERE.

            •An “unusual need for unquestioning adherence to a political decision.” THIS APPLIES ONLY IF THERE IS ONLY ONE CORRECT OUTCOME.

            •The “potential embarrassment of various departments” of the government. I DO NOT KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS.

            So the merits would be reached.

            In my head, I am playing with the question of whether the War Power ceases to exist the moment the fighting stops and the surrender occurs or whether the federal government has ancillary jurisdiction under that Power to enforce the peace and eliminate the conditions that caused the war to break out in the first place.