ConLaw Final Exam Grades and Comments

May 26th, 2014

Hello everyone. I apologize for interrupting your summer break with this note. I have submitted grades for Constitutional Law. You can download the exam question, and the A+ paper (If this is yours, please drop me a line!).

This was an extremely difficult test, by design. The two questions probed your understanding of a wide, wide range of topics we covered this semester, from the first to the last class. The first question asked you to situate yourself in 1942 after Pearl Harbor, and explore a tough executive power issue that was a mashup of the Japanese detention during WWII, and the detention of enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay in 2002. The issues were similar to things you’ve seen, but different enough to give you room to think. Many of you were able to answer the question, as I requested, by limiting yourself to the cases decided at that time. Many of you didn’t even bother to limit yourself to this time period. By design, the final part of the first question was a policy question that asked you to comment on the maxim, “In times of war, the laws fall silent.” We spent a solid 20 minutes discussing this in class. Those who took good notes on this topic were well prepared to answer it.

The second question was (in my estimation) even harder. Instead of asking you whether bans on gay marriage are constitutional (maybe what you were expecting), I asked if Congress could mandate that states recognize gay marriage. This question offered a difficult mashup of Congress’s Section 5 powers, with waivers of sovereign immunity, and federalism more broadly. The prompts were very specific, and I told you exactly what I was looking for. For some reason, a number of you failed to even mention Section 5, even though the question specifically asked for it. Also, this gave me an opportunity to test you on the First Amendment’s religion and speech clauses. I recall someone in class asked if those were on the exam. As I said in class, yes. So this should not have been much of a surprise. The final part of the second question offered a tough policy question about moral disapproval, that we focused on for some length when we discussed Lawrence and Windsor. Those who got those discussions were well prepared to answer it.

Here is the breakdown of the grades.  As you can tell by the Dickensian distribution, this was a tale of two classes.


First, the good news. A significant number of you really, really got it. In particular the A+, A, and A- papers exquisitely explained the interplay of executive power and the separation of powers, and nailed the relationship between Section 5, sovereign immunity, and federalism (one of the toughest concepts we covered all year). Also, many of the paper worked in various political concepts, historical references, and other topics we discussed in class. Probably a third of you cited Madison’s admonition from Federalist No. 51 that “ambition must be made to counteract ambition.” If you remember nothing else from this class, then I will be proud.

Second, the not-so-good news. There were a higher-than-average number of students with a D+ or below, including three failures. Most of the papers in this range did not fully answer all the questions, or left entire sections blank. Further, they reflected very superficial answers that ignored huge areas of constitutional law, and missed our many class discussions on the topic. Though I do not have the names of the students, I am willing to wager that there is a strong congruence and proportionality between those who consistently skipped class, or came to class unprepared, and those who scored a D+ or lower. If you find yourself in this group, please take a moment to reflect on your attendance and preparation for this challenging course.

I would like to thank all of you for making this a very enjoyable and enlightening class. I learned so much from each and every one of you, and for that I am forever grateful. I hope you will take and treasure this knowledge, and use it to accomplish great things throughout your legal career. Keep the Constitution close to your hearts.