02 September 2013

Bar Prep: Constitutional Law #1

This is one in a series of posts designed to give you some insight into the questions that one might see on the bar exam, and how one might go about answering them. For similar posts, click here.

QUESTION: A New York law provides state residents with a decreased state college tuition; while nonresidents, or those students who have been residents for less than 5 years, shall pay a higher nonresident tuition rate. A fourth-year resident files a class action suit challenging the constitutionality of the law in federal district court and seeks a declaratory judgment. The state moves to dismiss on this basis: by the time the case would come to trial, 13 months after filed, the resident would by then be eligible for the reduced tuition rate. Should the state's motion be granted?

A. No, because there is a live controversy.

B. Yes, because the student lacks standing.

C. No, because a declaratory judgment is the improper vehicle.

D. Yes, because the student is now an eligible resident.
ANSWER: A. In the present case, there is a live controversy and the case is not moot. In light of this, a federal court would proceed to hear the case. As a federal court requires a live controversy at all stages, not just when the case is filed, it appears at first glance that the student's eligibility for resident tuition would render the case moot. However, the fact that this is a class action suit yields viable claims for those remaining within the class.

D is incorrect. The filing student's case may be moot, but there exist those within the class who are still eligible.

B is incorrect as standing is simply determined at the beginning of a suit, and requires a tangible stake in the outcome of the suit. The filing student did have such a stake; thereby, providing sufficient standing at the time of filing.

C is incorrect. Although a ruling for declaratory judgment does require a showing of ripeness, in the present case the state law is currently being enforced. Therefore, the issue is clearly ripe and a declaratory judgment is a proper vehicle.
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