Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Constitutional curiosities: a 21-question scavenger hunt

Scavenger huntWelcome back to school. In a spirit of sharing instructional materials with fellow teachers of constitutional law — and with educational administrators increasingly desperate for ways to comply with Constitution Day — I offer this little series of questions that can be answered through the text of the Constitution:
  1. Of which state are you a citizen?

  2. Are you eligible for the House of Representatives? The Senate? The Presidency? If not, why not?

  3. Bill Dodge, son of two United States citizens, was born in Niger during his parents’ African travels. Ousseini Abdoulaye was born in Niger on the very same day; Ousseini’s parents, however, were citizens of Niger. Ousseini later moves to the United States and becomes a United States citizen. Assume that both Bill and Ousseini are 40 years old and have lived in the United States for at least 20 years. Is either Bill or Ousseini eligible to serve as President?

  4. The original Constitution contemplated the continuation of slavery in those states that permitted slavery as of 1787. Find the first instance of the word "slave" or "slavery" in the Constitution. If you don’t find either of these words in the original Constitution, what are the hints that the original Constitution contemplated and tolerated slavery?

  5. Assume that the free population of South Carolina in 1850 was 1 million, that its slave population was 500,000, and that its untaxed Indian population was 100,000. For purposes of determining South Carolina’s representation in the House and direct tax obligations to the federal government, what was the population of South Carolina?

  6. The Constitution refers to only three types of unlawful behavior, and a fourth may be inferred from the text of a general prohibition. Name all four.

  7. Does the Constitution contemplate capital punishment? Where? Which provision or provisions would you invoke if you wished to attack the constitutionality of the death penalty?

  8. What is the only use of the word "right" in the original Constitution?

  9. When is Inauguration Day? Is it the same as the first day of a new congressional term?

  10. What is the maximum time anyone may serve as President?

  11. Constitution

  12. What is the only part of the Constitution that may never be amended?

  13. Speaking of amendments, name the commercial activity that the Framers of the Constitution declared off-limits to regulation via constitutional amendment until 1808 (i.e., 21 years after the framing of the original Constitution).

  14. Still speaking of amendments, how can they be made? (Name two methods.)

  15. José and Maria Nazarena are citizens of El Salvador. They enter the United States illegally. Maria then gives birth to Jesus in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Consulting only the Constitution, name one country of which Jesus is a citizen.

  16. In a fit of pique, the President decides to skip this year's State of the Union address. As White House legal counsel, what do you advise?

  17. In a fit of pique (probably provoked by the flap over the State of the Union address), the House begins debating a bill to cut the President's pay and Supreme Court Justices' pay. As counsel to the Speaker of the House, what do you advise?

  18. Before 1913, who chose Senators? After 1913?

  19. Rose Perot, a candidate for the House of Representatives, plans to issue a campaign promise to oppose any Supreme Court nominee who will not commit to upholding a woman's right to abortion. As Rose's campaign manager, do you run the ad? (Base your answer strictly on your interpretation of the Constitution, not on any political considerations.)

  20. Jessie Ventura-Boulevard ultimately defeats Rose Perot in a hotly contested race for Congress. The victorious Jessie now represents Texas in the House of Representatives. Her political "lone star" having risen swiftly, she now seeks a national political platform. She would like to be the running mate of her fellow Texan, Governor George W. Shrub, the Reform Party nominee for President. As Jessie's political adviser, can you point out the constitutional flaw in the congresswoman's vice-presidential ambitions?

  21. How much Hawaiian money do you have in your purse or wallet?

  22. Speaking of purses, your cousin Rhonda left hers at your recent family reunion. Upon rifling through the purse, you discover a certified mail receipt, a Confederate $10 bill, a District of Columbia driver's license, a copy of the Koran, and a Susan B. Anthony dollar. Whatever their market value, these items make up a constitutional treasure trove. Find any and all constitutional provisions that relate to the contents of Rhonda's purse. Incidentally, does it make a constitutional difference if you open the purse in your capacity as an FBI agent or if you are simply a nosy busybody?
Having fun yet? All done? Then mosey over to the answer key.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great list of questions. They'd perhaps be useful for high school teachers. I'd like to forward it. Do you own the copyright, and if so would you be willing to give a general "copyleft" or other no-royalty license? (copyleft license allows anyone to copy / incorporate the work, so long as the resulting work is distributed under a similar license).

Paul Eberhardt

9/07/2006 7:40 PM  
Blogger Jim Chen said...

Hi Paul,

I wish you had left your e-mail address so that I could correspond with you directly. In any case, here goes.

A complete copy of "Constitutional Curiosities," clearly licensed under Creative Commons License 2.5, has been posted at SSRN. The address is

I appreciate your interest in "Constitutional Curiosities" and hope that you and your friends find it useful.

Best wishes,
Jim Chen

9/07/2006 8:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One comment--on #19--is that the Twelfth Amendment does not preclude the presidential and vice presidential candidate from being from the same state. It only prevents them from winning the
electoral votes from that one state. In your question, they are both from Texas, which is a big one to concede, but one can imagine a ticket from a small state finding the sacrifice not too big to make.

In any case, they don't necessarily need to concede the state. More likely, the party would pick a different VP candidate in that state, so that the presidential vote would not be affected. If the VP candidate is
short of 270 only because of this one state, then the election of the VP would go to the Senate. If the ticket's party controls the Senate (and maybe even if it doesn't), it seems clear that the VP candidate would be chosen over the other party's VP candidate. That is probably what would have happened if, for some reason, the suit in 2000 to have Cheney declared a Texan had gone the other way.

10/03/2006 10:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

where the heck are the answer?

4/08/2010 12:30 PM  
Blogger Jim Chen said...

Dear Anonymous 4/8/10, the post has always given you a link to the answer key. I just did it again. Here it is in URL form, just in case you need that:

I am pleased that you so enjoyed the post that you protested what you thought was the absence of answers.

4/08/2010 11:47 PM  
Blogger Jim Chen said...

Dear Anonymous 4/8/10, the post has always given you a link to the answer key. I just did it again. Here it is in URL form, just in case you need that:

I am pleased that you so enjoyed the post that you protested what you thought was the absence of answers.

4/08/2010 11:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to make a few comments about your questions. (I never thought "educational administrators" should feel "desperate for ways to comply with Constitution Day" but should be glad of that day, after all, it's because of the Constitution that they can brainwash kids with their left-wing ideas!) 3- The man was born in Kenya, he has a Hawaiian BC, therefore he should not qualify for President. 4- On the contrary, the Constitution did not contemplate "the continuation of slavery in those states that permitted slavery as of 1787," since it allows for Amendments. 7- Would the Founding Fathers have any problem executing, say, Saddam Hussein or Jane Fonda? 11- Any school kid should know it is Article 5! 16- Stop paying the man! 20- I don't know about that, but I am pretty sure Hussein Obama has plenty of it...

7/26/2010 1:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a substitute teacher and this was the assignment left for my classes today. I found this page by accident while I was looking on the internet for a concrete answer to #3 (Bill Dodge).

For #3 I ended up saying that he would be eligible, but there would be a lot of controversy and lawsuits.

#6 is pretty vague. I didn't have the answers when I was working on this, so I agreed that the answers were Treason, Bribery, and Piracy and the inferred was Breach of the Peace. (which members of the House are immune from when in session, implying it would be a crime otherwise).

#18 I had to change the question to add "she should absolutely run the ad, because she will never be able to break the promise - explain why." because it wasn't clear to them what they're supposed to be looking for. I suppose they've grown up in an environment where this sort of thing is to be expected from politicians.

I wasn't sure what #20 was asking, but I got lucky. I asked the students "What is the currency of Hawaii?"

9/18/2010 7:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I got this idea independently after listening to my middle schoolers invent all sorts of "sticky wicket situations". So I'm doing a google doc of the weird questions, and you can find the link at my blog, below:

U.S. Constitution Scavenger Hunt

1/06/2012 1:56 PM  

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