LSAT Reading : Inferences About Authorial Opinions and Beliefs in Law Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for LSAT Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Inferences About Authorial Opinions And Beliefs In Law Passages

Adapted from The Common Law, by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1881)

To present a general view of the Common Law, other tools are needed besides logic. It is something to show that the consistency of a system requires a particular result, but it is not all. The life of the law has not been logic: it has been experience. The felt necessities of the time, the prevalent moral and political theories, intuitions of public policy, avowed or unconscious, even the prejudices which judges share with their fellow-men, have had a good deal more to do than the syllogism in determining the rules by which men should be governed. The law embodies the story of a nation's development through many centuries, and it cannot be dealt with as if it contained only the axioms and corollaries of a book of mathematics. In order to know what it is, we must know what it has been, and what it tends to become. We must alternately consult history and existing theories of legislation. But the most difficult labor will be to understand the combination of the two into new products at every stage. The substance of the law at any given time pretty nearly corresponds, so far as it goes, with what is then understood to be convenient; but its form and machinery, and the degree to which it is able to work out desired results, depend very much upon its past.

In Massachusetts today, while, on the one hand, there are a great many rules which are quite sufficiently accounted for by their manifest good sense, on the other, there are some which can only be understood by reference to the infancy of procedure among the German tribes, or to the social condition of Rome under the Decemvirs.

I shall use the history of our law so far as it is necessary to explain a conception or to interpret a rule, but no further. In doing so there are two errors equally to be avoided both by writer and reader. One is that of supposing, because an idea seems very familiar and natural to us, that it has always been so. Many things which we take for granted have had to be laboriously fought out or thought out in past times. The other mistake is the opposite one of asking too much of history. We start with man full grown. It may be assumed that the earliest barbarian whose practices are to be considered, had a good many of the same feelings and passions as ourselves.

Which of the following statements would the author of this passage be most likely to agree with?

Possible Answers:

"Law aims to lay principle over practice to show the best route to a better future, keeping the right faith with the past."

"We must always stand by past decisions, and not disturb the undisturbed."

"Rights and responsibilities flow from past decisions and so count as legal, not just when they are explicit in these decisions but also when they follow from the principles of personal and political morality the explicit decisions presuppose by way of justification."

"Justice is what the judge had for breakfast."

"We must beware of the pitfall of antiquarianism, and must remember that for our purposes our only interest in the past is for the light it throws upon the present."

Correct answer:

"We must beware of the pitfall of antiquarianism, and must remember that for our purposes our only interest in the past is for the light it throws upon the present."

Explanation:

The author's attitude towards past legal decisions and statutes is one in which this history has its uses for understanding the present, but there are certain limits to its use; as soon as a historical approach ceases to be useful in "explaining a conception or interpreting a rule," it is to be abandoned. Thus, while an understanding of legal history is useful to a degree, it is not to be used to the exclusion of other methods. The credited response is the one that best shows this limited approach to the use of legal history. While some other responses mention history, and, indeed, how present practice can flow from the past, they do not mention the limits that ought to be placed on deference to the past; indeed, the requirement in one response that legal reasoning "follow from the principles of personal and political morality" of past legislators contradicts Holmes's assertion that there are strict limits to the use of history.

Example Question #2 : Inferences About Authorial Opinions And Beliefs In Law Passages

The United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods (CISG) can help countries throughout the world have a more uniform way of navigating the challenging waters of international law surrounding trade. It is not uncommon for two countries to have adopted different laws on international trade that conflict with each other. This becomes a serious problem when trade disputes arise. To help make this concept more tangible, consider the following hypothetical.

Suppose China ships three million dollars' worth of electronics to Uganda using standard bulk shipping transportation methods via a commonly traveled sea route. However, the packaging isn't secured in a manner sufficient to withstand unforeseen weather conditions. As a result, the goods become damaged in transit and are no longer fit for resale. Given that two countries are involved in this transaction–China and Uganda–the question arises as to which country’s trade laws will apply to resolve the matter at hand.

In this scenario, it is fortunate that both China and Uganda are parties to the CISG, which provide for a uniform set of laws governing trade. Such laws cover which party would be responsible for the damaged goods in this scenario. As a result, there will be no dispute as to whether China’s or Uganda's trade laws apply. Given that both countries are parties to the CISG, the laws set forth by the CISG would be applicable.

However, not all countries are parties to the CISG. One example is Rwanda. Even though Rwanda is not a party to the CISG, the fact of the matter is that CISG laws can still apply to it. The CISG applies to trade between countries so long as one of those countries is a party to the CISG (unless the parties expressly specify that the CISG will not apply to their specific trade arrangement). Several of Rwanda's main trade partners, such as the United States, China, Belgium, and Uganda, are parties to the CISG, so the laws of the treaty will apply in those trade agreements. Meanwhile, there is a different story when it comes to Rwanda's trade agreements with Kenya, Swaziland, Tanzania, and Thailand, which are not parties to the CISG. Due to these countries’ lack of membership in the CISG, if a problem ever arose in a trade agreement between Rwanda and one those countries, it would be unclear as to which country’s laws would apply.

There has been heated discussion as to whether Rwanda should sign the CISG. The United Nations Development Program takes the stance that it would behoove Rwanda to join. Whether or not Rwanda decides to become a member, the CISG will still apply to a large portion of its trade agreements, as about 100 countries are in fact CISG members, with a strong portion of those members also being trade partners with Rwanda. On the flip side, some Rwandan politicians believe that valuable autonomy would be lost if Rwanda assented to the CISG. However, given the potential benefits that Rwanda stands to gain from the CISG, these fears do not merit forgoing such a valuable opportunity.

The author would most likely agree with which of these statements?

Possible Answers:

The CISG has a narrow window of applicability. 

It would be to Rwanda's benefit to join the CISG. 

It is imperative that Rwanda join the CISG in order to avoid impending trade disputes that could prove to be disastrous. 

There are positive and negative aspects that Rwanda should weigh and balance when deciding whether to join the CISG. 

Although joining the CISG has benefits, Rwanda ultimately should not join the CISG. 

Correct answer:

It would be to Rwanda's benefit to join the CISG. 

Explanation:

The correct answer is, "It would be to Rwanda's benefit to join the CISG."

A tempting wrong answer is "It is imperative that Rwanda join the CISG in order to avoid impending trade disputes that could prove to be disastrous." However, this is not correct because the author does not take such an extreme position. While the author believes it would be in Rwanda's favor to join the CISG, there is no indication that the author foresees disastrous results if Rwanda foregoes joining. 

The other answer choices state positions that are directly contrary to the author's arguments: 

"The CISG has a narrow window of applicability," is wrong because the author argues that the CISG is broadly applicable. 

"Although joining the CISG has benefits, Rwanda ultimately should not join the CISG," is wrong because the author states that Rwanda should join the CISG. 

"There are positive and negative aspects that Rwanda should weigh and balance when deciding whether to join the CISG," is wrong because the author does not argue that Rwanda should weigh and balance positives and negatives, but rather states that Rwanda should simply join.

Example Question #3 : Inferences About Authorial Opinions And Beliefs In Law Passages

Adapted from Criminal Psychology: A Manual for Judges, Practitioners, and Students by Hans Gross (1911)

It is a mistake to suppose that it is enough in most cases to study that side of a person that is at the moment important—his or her dishonesty only, his or her laziness, etc. That will naturally lead to merely one-sided judgment and anyway be much harder than keeping the whole person in eye and studying him or her as an entirety. Every individual quality is merely a symptom of a whole nature and can be explained only by the whole complex; the good properties depend as much on the bad ones as the bad on the good ones. At the very least, the quality and quantity of a good or bad characteristic shows the influence of all the other good and bad characteristics. Kindliness is influenced and partly created through weakness, indetermination, too great susceptibility, a minimum acuteness, false constructiveness, untrained capacity for inference; in the same way, again, the most cruel hardness depends on properties which, taken in themselves, are good: determination, energy, purposeful action, clear conception of one's fellows, healthy egotism, etc. Every person is the result of his or her nature and nurture, i.e. of countless individual conditions, and every one of his or her expressions, again, is the result of all of these conditions. If, therefore, he or she is to be judged, he or she must be judged in the light of them all.

For this reason, all those indications that show us the person as a whole are for us the most important, but also those others are valuable which show him or her up on one side only; however, in the latter case, they are to be considered only as an index that never relieves us from the need further to study the nature of our subject.

We ask, for example, what kind of person will give us the best and most reliable information about the conduct and activity, the nature and character, of an individual? We are told: that sort of person who is usually asked for the information—his or her nearest friends and acquaintances and the authorities. Before all of these people do not show themselves as they are because the most honest will show themselves before people in whose judgment they have an interest at least as good as, if not better than they are—that is fundamental to the general egoistic essence of humanity, which seeks at least to avoid reducing its present welfare. Authorities who are asked to make a statement concerning any person can say reliably only how often the individual was punished or came otherwise in contact with the law or themselves. But concerning the individual's social characteristics the authorities have nothing to say; the detectives have to bring an answer. Then the detectives are, at most, simply people who have had the opportunity to watch and interrogate the servants, house-furnishers, porters, and corner-loafers, and other people in the employ of the individual. Why we do not question these people ourselves I cannot say; if we did, we might know these people on whom we depend for important information and might put our questions according to the answers that we need. 

It is a purely negative thing that an official declaration is nowadays not infrequently presented to us in the disgusting form of gossip. But in itself, the form of getting information about people through those who work for them is correct. People show their weaknesses most readily before those whom they hold of no account. This fact is well-known, but not sufficiently studied. It is of considerable importance. The Styrian, Peter Rosegger, one of the best students of mankind, once told a first-rate story of how the most intimate secrets of certain people became common talk although all concerned assured him that nobody had succeeded in getting knowledge of them. The news-agent was finally discovered in the person of an old, quiet woman who worked by the day in various homes and had found a place, unobserved and apparently indifferent, in the corner of the sitting-room. Nobody had told her any secrets, but things were allowed to occur before her from which she might guess and put them together. Nobody had watched this disinterested, ancient lady; she worked like a machine; her thoughts, when she noted a quarrel or anxiety or disagreement or joy, were indifferent to all concerned, and so she discovered a great deal that was kept secret from people perceived to be more important. This simple story is very significant—we are not to pay attention to gossips but to keep in mind that the information of people is in the rule more important and more reliable when the question under consideration is indifferent to them than when it is important.

Which of the following can you infer the author believes would make the best interrogators of witnesses?

Possible Answers:

The authorities

Lawyers

People who are held in low esteem by the accused

People who are close friends of the accused

Judges

Correct answer:

Judges

Explanation:

It is clear from the type of book from which this passage is taken and the manner of the passage itself that the author is either a judge or someone who is concerned with judging the truth of a matter. So, when he says ,“Why we do not question the latter ourselves I cannot say; if we did we might know these people on whom we depend for important information and might put our questions according to the answers that we need,” it is clear that he would most likely believe that judges themselves would make the best interrogators of witnesses. If you answered “People who are held in low esteem by the accused,” it is likely because you misunderstood to which aspect of the essay the question was referring.

Example Question #4 : Inferences About Authorial Opinions And Beliefs In Law Passages

Adapted from Criminal Psychology: A Manual for Judges, Practitioners, and Students by Hans Gross (1911)

It is a mistake to suppose that it is enough in most cases to study that side of a person that is at the moment important—his or her dishonesty only, his or her laziness, etc. That will naturally lead to merely one-sided judgment and anyway be much harder than keeping the whole person in eye and studying him or her as an entirety. Every individual quality is merely a symptom of a whole nature and can be explained only by the whole complex; the good properties depend as much on the bad ones as the bad on the good ones. At the very least, the quality and quantity of a good or bad characteristic shows the influence of all the other good and bad characteristics. Kindliness is influenced and partly created through weakness, indetermination, too great susceptibility, a minimum acuteness, false constructiveness, untrained capacity for inference; in the same way, again, the most cruel hardness depends on properties which, taken in themselves, are good: determination, energy, purposeful action, clear conception of one's fellows, healthy egotism, etc. Every person is the result of his or her nature and nurture, i.e. of countless individual conditions, and every one of his or her expressions, again, is the result of all of these conditions. If, therefore, he or she is to be judged, he or she must be judged in the light of them all.

For this reason, all those indications that show us the person as a whole are for us the most important, but also those others are valuable which show him or her up on one side only; however, in the latter case, they are to be considered only as an index that never relieves us from the need further to study the nature of our subject.

We ask, for example, what kind of person will give us the best and most reliable information about the conduct and activity, the nature and character, of an individual? We are told: that sort of person who is usually asked for the information—his or her nearest friends and acquaintances and the authorities. Before all of these people do not show themselves as they are because the most honest will show themselves before people in whose judgment they have an interest at least as good as, if not better than they are—that is fundamental to the general egoistic essence of humanity, which seeks at least to avoid reducing its present welfare. Authorities who are asked to make a statement concerning any person can say reliably only how often the individual was punished or came otherwise in contact with the law or themselves. But concerning the individual's social characteristics the authorities have nothing to say; the detectives have to bring an answer. Then the detectives are, at most, simply people who have had the opportunity to watch and interrogate the servants, house-furnishers, porters, and corner-loafers, and other people in the employ of the individual. Why we do not question these people ourselves I cannot say; if we did, we might know these people on whom we depend for important information and might put our questions according to the answers that we need. 

It is a purely negative thing that an official declaration is nowadays not infrequently presented to us in the disgusting form of gossip. But in itself, the form of getting information about people through those who work for them is correct. People show their weaknesses most readily before those whom they hold of no account. This fact is well-known, but not sufficiently studied. It is of considerable importance. The Styrian, Peter Rosegger, one of the best students of mankind, once told a first-rate story of how the most intimate secrets of certain people became common talk although all concerned assured him that nobody had succeeded in getting knowledge of them. The news-agent was finally discovered in the person of an old, quiet woman who worked by the day in various homes and had found a place, unobserved and apparently indifferent, in the corner of the sitting-room. Nobody had told her any secrets, but things were allowed to occur before her from which she might guess and put them together. Nobody had watched this disinterested, ancient lady; she worked like a machine; her thoughts, when she noted a quarrel or anxiety or disagreement or joy, were indifferent to all concerned, and so she discovered a great deal that was kept secret from people perceived to be more important. This simple story is very significant—we are not to pay attention to gossips but to keep in mind that the information of people is in the rule more important and more reliable when the question under consideration is indifferent to them than when it is important.

The author would be most likely to view a positive attribute, like being charitable, __________.

Possible Answers:

as being irrelevant unless it is directly applicable to the case at hand

through a consideration of the related positive characteristics that are associated with charity

as a sign of weakness that any would-be judge cannot allow to enter into his or her thinking

as a sign of strength that can help any would-be judge ensure that his or her verdicts are fair and just

through a consideration of the negative characteristics that are related to it

Correct answer:

through a consideration of the negative characteristics that are related to it

Explanation:

On the judgment of individual characteristics, the author has the following to say: “Every individual quality is merely a symptom of a whole nature and can be explained only by the whole complex; the good properties depend as much on the bad ones as the bad on the good ones. . . Kindliness is influenced and partly created through weakness, indetermination, too great susceptibility, a minimum acuteness, false constructiveness, untrained capacity for inference.” So, if the author considers the positive attribute of kindliness through an understanding of the negative characteristics that are related to it, we may reasonably conclude that he would be most likely to do the same for the positive attribute of being charitable. The answer choice “as being irrelevant unless it is directly applicable to the case at hand” is specifically warned against by the author in the opening paragraph, and is incorrect.

Example Question #5 : Inferences About Authorial Opinions And Beliefs In Law Passages

Adapted from Criminal Psychology: A Manual for Judges, Practitioners, and Students by Hans Gross (1911)

Socrates, in the Meno, sends for one of Meno's servants, to prove the possibility of absolutely certain a priori knowledge. The servant is to determine the length of a rectangle, the area of which is twice that of one measuring two feet. He is to have no previous knowledge of the matter and is to discover the answer for himself. The servant first gives out an incorrect answer, that the length of a rectangle having twice the area of the one mentioned is four feet, thinking that the length doubles with the area. Thereupon Socrates triumphantly points out to Meno that the servant does as a matter of fact not yet quite know the truth under consideration, but that he really thinks he knows it; and then Socrates, in his own Socratic way, leads the servant to the correct solution.

When we properly consider what we have to do with a witness who has to relate any fact, we may see in the Socratic method the simplest example of our task. We must never forget that the majority of mankind dealing with any subject whatever always believe that they know and repeat the truth, and even when they say doubtfully, “I believe— It seems to me,'' there is, in this diffidence, more meant than meets the ear. When people say “I believe that—‘' it merely means that they intend to ensure themselves against the event of being contradicted by better informed persons; but they certainly have not the doubt their expression indicates. When, however, the report of some bare fact is in question (“It rained,” “It was 9 o’clock,'' or “His beard was brown,”) it does not matter to the narrator, and if he or she imparts such facts with the introduction “I believe,'' then he or she was really uncertain. The matter becomes important only where the issue involves partly-concealed observations, conclusions, and judgments. In such cases another factor enters—conceit; what the witness asserts he or she is fairly certain of just because he or she asserts it, and all the “I believes,'' “Perhapses,'' and “It seemeds'' are merely insurance against all accidents.

Generally, statements are made without such reservations and with full assurance. This holds also and more intensely of court witnesses, particularly in crucial matters. Anybody experienced in his or her conduct comes to be absolutely convinced that witnesses do not know what they know. A series of assertions are made with utter certainty. Yet when these are successively subjected to closer examinations, tested for their ground and source, only a very small portion can be retained unaltered. Of course, one may here overshoot the mark. It often happens, even in the routine of daily life, that a person may be made to feel shaky in his most absolute convictions, by means of an energetic attack and searching questions. Conscientious and sanguine people are particularly easy subjects of such doubts. Somebody narrates an event; questioning begins as to the indubitability of the fact, as to the exclusion of possible deception; the narrator becomes uncertain, recalling that, because of a lively imagination, he or she has already believed him- or herself to have seen things otherwise than they actually were, and finally he or she admits that the matter might probably have been different. During trials this is still more frequent. The circumstance of being in court of itself excites most people; the consciousness that one's statement is, or may be, of great significance increases the excitement; and the authoritative character of the official subdues very many people to conform their opinions to his or hers. What wonder then, that however much a person may be convinced of the correctness of his or her evidence, he or she may yet fail in the face of the doubting judge to know anything certainly?

Now one of the most difficult tasks of the criminalist is to hit, in just such cases, upon the truth—neither to accept the testimony blindly and uncritically, nor to render the witness, who otherwise is telling the truth, vacillating and doubtful. But it is still more difficult to lead the witness, who is not intentionally falsifying, but has merely observed incorrectly or has made false conclusions, to a statement of the truth as Socrates leads the servant in the Meno. It is as modern as it is comfortable to assert that this is not the judge's business—that the witness is to depose, his or her evidence is to be accepted, and the judge is to judge. Yet it is supposed before everything else that the duty of the court is to establish the material truth—that the formal truth is insufficient. Moreover, if we notice false observations and let them by, then, under certain circumstance, we are minus one important piece of evidence pro and con, and the whole case may be turned topsy-turvy. We shall, then, proceed in the Socratic fashion. But, inasmuch as we are not concerned with mathematics, and are hence more badly placed in the matter of proof, we shall have to proceed more cautiously and with less certainty than when the question is merely one of the area of a square. On the one hand we know only in the rarest cases that we are not ourselves mistaken, so that we must not, without anything further, lead another to agree with us; on the other hand, we must beware of perverting the witness from his or her possibly sound opinions. Whoever is able to correct the witness's apparently false conceptions and to lead him or her to discover his or her error of his or her own accord and then to speak the truth— whoever can do this and yet does not go too far, deducing from the facts nothing that does not actually follow from them—that person is a master among us.

Based on the whole of this passage the author would be most inclined to treat witnesses with __________.

Possible Answers:

reverence

distrust 

resentment 

admonishment

irritation

Correct answer:

distrust 

Explanation:

From the whole of this passage, we can infer that the author does not trust the testimony of witnesses. He believes that witnesses are inclined to believe they know the truth even when they do not and is advising against trusting witness testimony at face-value for reasons other than simple lying. Evidence from the passage can be found in such excerpts as, “Whoever is able to correct the witness's apparently false conceptions and to lead him or her to discover his or her error of his or her own accord” and “The circumstance of being in court of itself excites most people; the consciousness that one's statement is, or may be, of great significance increases the excitement; and the authoritative character of the official subdues very many people to conform their opinions to his or hers.” In these excerpts, and the passage as a whole, the author conveys a distinct lack of trust in the testimony of witnesses.

Example Question #6 : Inferences About Authorial Opinions And Beliefs In Law Passages

Adapted from Commentaries on the Laws of England by William Blackstone (1765-1769)

Law, in its most general and comprehensive sense, signifies a rule of action, and is applied indiscriminately to all kinds of action, whether animate or inanimate, rational or irrational. Thus we say, the laws of motion, of gravitation, of optics, or mechanics, as well as the laws of nature and of nations. And it is that rule of action, that is prescribed by some superior, and that the inferior is bound to obey.

Thus when the supreme being formed the universe, and created matter out of nothing, he impressed certain principles upon that matter, from which it can never depart, and without which it would cease to be. When he put that matter into motion, he established certain laws of motion, to which all moveable bodies must conform. And, to descend from the greatest operations to the smallest, when a workman forms a clock, or other piece of mechanism, he establishes at his own pleasure certain arbitrary laws for its direction; as that the hand shall describe a given space in a given time; to which law as long as the work conforms, so long it continues in perfection, and answers the end of its formation.

If we farther advance, from mere inactive matter to vegetable and animal life, we shall find them still governed by laws; more numerous indeed, but equally fixed and invariable. The whole progress of plants, from the seed to the root, and from thence to the seed again—the method of animal nutrition, digestion, secretion, and all other branches of vital economy—are not left to chance, or the will of the creature itself, but are performed in a wondrous involuntary manner, and guided by unerring rules laid down by the great creator.

This then is the general signification of law, a rule of action dictated by some superior being; and in those creatures that have neither the power to think, nor to will, such laws must be invariably obeyed, so long as the creature itself subsists, for it's existence depends on that obedience. But laws, in their more confined sense, and in which it is our present business to consider them, denote the rules, not of action in general, but of human action or conduct: that is, the precepts by which man, the noblest of all sublunary beings, a creature endowed with both reason and free will, is commanded to make use of those faculties in the general regulation of his behavior.

Which of the following opinions would the author most likely hold?

Possible Answers:

There is a rational and natural basis to all laws, one that can be discovered by rational thought and logic.

Laws of nature are completely deterministic, with no room for randomness or chance.

Laws, properly speaking, force the inferior to follow them without exception.

The nature of laws can be discovered and comprehended completely by human reason, assuming sufficient wit and effort.

There are laws (e.g., unjust laws) that a person is not obligated to follow.

Correct answer:

Laws of nature are completely deterministic, with no room for randomness or chance.

Explanation:

Laws of nature are "fixed and invariable," rules "from which [matter] can never depart, and . . . [to which] all moveable bodies must conform." This implies that these laws are completely deterministic—always proceeding the same way every time, without any room for randomness or chance, as stated in the credited response. While laws of nature compel whatever is governed by them without exception, human beings, "endowed with both reason and free will" are not absolutely and invariably compelled by human laws; while these laws guide conduct, they can be broken. Furthermore, laws of nature are "arbitrary"; there is no rational reason why they should be what they are, contrary to the noncredited response. Finally, there is no information provided in the passage that would necessarily imply (or contradict) the two remaining responses.

Example Question #7 : Inferences About Authorial Opinions And Beliefs In Law Passages

Adapted from Commentaries on the Laws of England by William Blackstone (1765-1769)

Municipal law, thus understood, is properly defined to be "a rule of civil conduct prescribed by the supreme power in a state, commanding what is right and prohibiting what is wrong." Let us endeavor to explain its several properties as they arise out of this definition.

And, first, it is a rule; not a transient sudden order from a superior to or concerning a particular person; but something permanent, uniform, and universal. Therefore, a particular act of the legislature to confiscate the goods of Titius or to attaint him of high treason does not enter into the idea of a municipal law: for the operation of this act is spent upon Titius only and has no relation to the community in general. But an act to declare that the crime of which Titius is accused shall be deemed high treason; this has permanency, uniformity, and universality, and therefore is properly a rule. It is also called a rule to distinguish it from advice or counsel, which we are at liberty to follow or not, as we see proper, and to judge upon the reasonableness or unreasonableness of the thing advised. Whereas our obedience to the law depends not upon our approbation, but upon the maker's will. Counsel is only matter of persuasion, law is matter of injunction; counsel acts only upon the willing, law upon the unwilling also.

It is also called a rule to distinguish it from a compact or agreement; for a compact is a promise proceeding from us, and law is a command directed to us. The language of a compact is, "I will, or will not, do this”; that of a law is, "Thou shalt, or shalt not, do it." It is true there is an obligation that a compact carries with it, equal in point of conscience to that of a law; but then the original of the obligation is different. In compacts, we ourselves determine and promise what shall be done, before we are obliged to do it; in laws, we are obliged to act, without ourselves determining or promising any thing at all. Upon these accounts law is defined to be "a rule."

It is likewise "a rule prescribed,” because a bare resolution, confined in the breast of the legislator, without manifesting itself by some external sign, can never be properly a law. It is requisite that this resolution be notified to the people who are to obey it. But the manner in which this notification is to be made is matter of very great indifference. It may be notified by universal tradition and long practice, which supposes a previous publication, and is the case of the common law of England. It may be notified, viva voce, by officers appointed for that purpose, as is done with regard to proclamations, and such acts of parliament as are appointed to be publicly read in churches and other assemblies. It may lastly be notified by writing, printing, or the like; which is the general course taken with all our acts of parliament.

Yet, whatever way is made use of, it is incumbent on the promulgators to do it in the most public and perspicuous manner; not like Caligula, who wrote his laws in a very small character, and hung them up upon high pillars, the more effectually to ensnare the people. There is still a more unreasonable method than this, which is called making of laws ex post facto; when after an action is committed, the legislator then for the first time declares it to have been a crime, and inflicts a punishment upon the person who has committed it. Here it is impossible that the party could foresee that an action, innocent when it was done, should be afterwards converted to guilt by a subsequent law; he had therefore no cause to abstain from it, and all punishment for not abstaining must of consequence be cruel and unjust. But when this rule is in the usual manner notified, or prescribed, it is then the subject's business to be thoroughly acquainted therewith; for if ignorance, of what he might know, were admitted as a legitimate excuse, the laws would be of no effect, but might always be eluded with impunity.

Which of the following statements would the author of the passage be most likely to support?

Possible Answers:

Ignorance of the law is never an excuse for breaking the law.

Custom gains the force of law when it is written and codified by a legislator.

The people ruled by a law ought to be notified of it before it enters force.

Only those who are affected by a law have any need to know about that law.

Unwritten customs, even if they have the force of rules, are not properly laws, but ethical norms.

Correct answer:

The people ruled by a law ought to be notified of it before it enters force.

Explanation:

While the credited response can be directly supported by the text of the passage (e.g., "a bare resolution, confined in the breast of the legislator, without manifesting itself by some external sign, can never be properly a law"), the other responses, while sometimes close to statements made in the passage, either require unwarranted extrapolations (e.g., one might be ignorant of a law that was deceitfully or improperly promulgated, and thus cannot morally be held responsible for breaking that law, according to the author) or are not properly supported by the passage.

Example Question #8 : Inferences About Authorial Opinions And Beliefs In Law Passages

"The Supreme Court" by William Floyd (2015)

Supreme Court decisions frame the understanding of law in America in a way no other body of writing has come close to approaching. While the Constitution and Acts of Congress are the actual law of the land, only through the interpretation, approval, and arguments of the nine Justices of the Supreme Court do these laws have a full meaning and power throughout the nation. Despite this place of prominence, the actual knowledge of Supreme Court decisions by most Americans is shockingly limited. The full depth and meaning of what the Supreme Court says is often elided for a popular opinion that remarkably distorts the ultimate meaning of the rulings of the highest court in the land.

Take the famous 1973 decision Roe v. Wade. Popularly, the case is known as the event which made abortion legal throughout the United States, becoming a flash point both for pro-abortion and anti-abortion activists in the four decades since the Court handed down the decision. In actuality, the court decided that there was an inherent right to privacy in the Constitution through the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which could not be violated by state or Federal laws that outlawed aborting a fetus, whether it targeted the woman seeking an abortion or the doctor performing the procedure. In essence, the court did not assert that abortion was legal, but rather that the state could not make abortion illegal. The practical difference might be quite small, but the legal difference is significant.

More importantly, the ruling was a 7-2 decision, which meant that along with the majority opinion which found a right to privacy, there were two dissents which emphatically did not find such a right. Justice Byron White famously wrote, “I find nothing in the language or history of the Constitution to support the court’s judgement.” While lower courts, legislators, and law enforcement officials had to comply with the majority opinion, a future Supreme Court decision can look to what Justice White argued and find that there is in fact no right to privacy inherent in the Fourteenth Amendment. This is the part of Supreme Court decisions that most confuses the general public. The majority decision holds as law, but all the opinions are part of the larger record and fabric of the Supreme Court. This means that the law of the land, when filtered through the arguments of the Supreme Court, can and will change depending on who is sitting in the nine chairs of the dais in the Supreme Court building.

Which of the following can be inferred about the author's opinions toward the Roe v. Wade case?

Possible Answers:

The author largely agrees with Justice White that the case was decided completely incorrectly.

The author believes the Roe v. Wade decision is a particularly strange Supreme Court case that does not represent the regular action of the court.

The author believes that abortion should be legal everywhere in America, with no exceptions or limits.

The author believes that the dissenting opinions in Roe v. Wade were horribly misargued and damaging to the future of the court.

The author believes that the Roe v. Wade decision is an interesting example of the limited understanding of Supreme Court cases by many Americans.

Correct answer:

The author believes that the Roe v. Wade decision is an interesting example of the limited understanding of Supreme Court cases by many Americans.

Explanation:

The author never reveals any personal feelings about the issue of abortion or the arguments made in the Roe v. Wade case. The author's use of the case a chief example for the main argument about the Supreme Court and lengthy discussion thereof shows that the author views the case as an interesting decision that reveals the limited understanding of the Supreme Court by many Americans. In cases such as this, where the tone of passage is relatively objective, the best answer option is the one which accurately sums up what limited data can be inferred about the author's personal opinion.

Example Question #9 : Inferences About Authorial Opinions And Beliefs In Law Passages

Passage adapted from Courts and Criminals (1912) by Arthur Train.

But as the examination of the panel and the opening address come last in point of chronology it will be well to begin at the beginning and see what the labors of the prosecutor are in the initial stages of preparation. Let us take, for example, some notorious case, where an unfortunate victim has died from the effects of a poisoned pill or draught of medicine, or has been found dead in his room with a revolver bullet in his heart. Sometime before the matter has come into the hands of the prosecutor, the press and the police have generally been doing more or less (usually less) effective work upon the case. The yellow journals have evolved some theory of who is the culprit and have loosed their respective reporters and "special criminologists" upon him. Each has its own idea and its own methods—often unscrupulous. And each has its own particular victim upon whom it intends to fasten the blame. Heaven save his reputation! Many an innocent man has been ruined for life through the efforts of a newspaper "to make a case," and, of course, the same thing, though happily in a lesser degree, is true of the police and of some prosecutors as well.

In every great criminal case there are always four different and frequently antagonistic elements engaged in the work of detection and prosecution—first, the police; second, the district attorney; third, the press; and, lastly, the personal friends and family of the deceased or injured party. Each for its own ends—be it professional pride, personal glorification, hard cash, or revenge—is equally anxious to find the evidence and establish a case. Of course, the police are the first ones notified of the commission of a crime, but as it is now almost universally their duty to inform at once the coroner and also the district attorney thereof, a tripartite race for glory frequently results which adds nothing to the dignity of the administration of criminal justice.

The coroner is at best no more than an appendix to the legal anatomy, and frequently he is a disease. The spectacle of a medical man of small learning and less English trying to preside over a court of first instance is enough to make the accused himself chuckle for joy.

Not long ago the coroners of New York discovered that, owing to the fact that the district attorney or his representatives generally arrived first at the scene of any crime, there was nothing left for the "medicos" to do, for the district attorney would thereupon submit the matter at once to the grand jury instead of going through the formality of a hearing in the coroner's court. The legal medicine men felt aggrieved, and determined to be such early birds that no worm should escape them. Accordingly, the next time one of them was notified of a homicide he raced his horse down Madison Avenue at such speed that he collided with a trolley car and broke his leg.

It can be inferred from the passage that the author views coroners as ___________.

Possible Answers:

one of the few groups seeking out truth in a criminal case

problematic in effectively bringing about justice in a criminal case

the most effective investigators in a criminal case

a group of scientists who are invaluable in a criminal case

helpless lackeys of the prosecutors in criminal case

Correct answer:

problematic in effectively bringing about justice in a criminal case

Explanation:

The author is positively dripping with contempt when it comes to discussing the coroners, calling them "at best no more than an appendix to the legal anatomy, and at worst a disease." Obviously, the author does not believe they are very effective in helping pursue justice in a criminal investigation, and are frequently actively harming the process of investigation.

Example Question #10 : Inferences About Authorial Opinions And Beliefs In Law Passages

"529 College Savings Plans"

Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code encourages saving for future college costs through a kind of tax-advantaged savings account. A 529 plan describes a program establishing savings accounts for all manner of college costs in which the account holder trades investment risk for the prospect of growing the balance. As with all securities, novice investors should consult with a licensed broker before investing money in a 529 plan.

A 529 college savings account comes into existence when an investor chooses a plan and names a beneficiary. States drove the creation of this investment vehicle in response to rising education costs and still manage the investment funds for all 529 plans. Brokers come into the picture when selecting a plan since an account holder need not be a resident of the state managing it. Plans offered by individual states differ, but all benefit from favorable federal tax treatment.

However, securing the tax benefits requires professional care. Section 529 shields contributions to plan savings accounts from federal income taxes up to an annual limit of $14,000 for each beneficiary. The money remains tax-exempt as long as it goes to pay for “qualified higher education expenses,” a definition which now includes computer and internet costs. A withdrawal from a 529 account for any other purpose will likely trigger federal tax liability and a 10 percent penalty.

For his or her part, the beneficiary enjoys a passive role in the investment process. The account holder controls the investment strategy and can choose to allocate funds to conservative or aggressive growth options. Many state 529 plans offer something similar to a retirement pathways account that becomes more conservative as the beneficiary gets closer to the anticipated date of college enrollment. A professional broker can help navigate the options.

A broker can also help an investor avoid missteps after the account is created. Unlike with retirement accounts, federal tax law restricts investment changes to one per calendar year. An account holder can change the beneficiary of a 529 plan or rollover unused funds to a new beneficiary without penalty, but only if the original and new beneficiaries are related. The state agency managing a 529 plan may place additional restrictions on changing the account.

Finally, it is important to have guidance fitting a 529 account into the overall strategy for paying for college. A beneficiary can use 529 plan funds for the same broad purposes as financial aid. As a result, it may reduce the beneficiary’s eligibility for need-based grants or loans.

Of course, using a broker will increase the transaction costs. A broker who helps the account holder navigate to the best state plan will charge a transaction fee or “load.” The broker can shift the load to various phases in the investment process in order to optimize the cost depending on how long the account holder plans to keep the investment.

Based on the author’s arguments, it can be inferred that the author would be likely to agree with which of the following statements?

Possible Answers:

The rules governing 529 plans are too complex and should be changed.

The state monopoly on 529 plans limits investment options.

Using a broker to purchase securities is a waste of money.

A broker is likely to cost a novice investor less than investment mistakes.

Investors should adopt a conservative strategy for college savings.

Correct answer:

A broker is likely to cost a novice investor less than investment mistakes.

Explanation:

Correct answer: Based on the author’s discussion of the possible investment mistakes and argument that novice investors should work through a broker, one can infer that the author believes that the risks justify paying the brokerage fees.

Wrong answers: The passage implies the exact opposite, at least for novice investors; The passage offers no information as to the author’s investment risk tolerance in saving for college; The implication that the author would want to streamline the rules requires a leap because the author only states that the rules are complex, not too complex; The passage indicates nothing about the author’s opinion of the state monopoly in 529 plans.

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