LSAT Reading : Can't Be True in Law Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for LSAT Reading

varsity tutors app store varsity tutors android store

Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Can't Be True 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.

Each of the following can be inferred from the passage EXCEPT __________.

Possible Answers:

human nature has generally been the same throughout history

there are some contemporary laws based in ancient Roman law

many laws of ancient origin that have little relevance to contemporary society were once relevant to an older social order

laws generally reflect the societies in which they were enacted

there is no role for systematic logic in the interpretation of laws

Correct answer:

there is no role for systematic logic in the interpretation of laws


While the author does spend the first paragaraph attacking the idea that law is a strictly logical discipline, he never says that it is not one in which logical procedures and operations are not to be used—just that their use must be subordinated to experience. Other responses can be validly extrapolated from specific citations in the text (e.g., "The felt necessities of the time . . . should be governed" supporting the idea that laws reflect the societies in which they were enacted), while the idea that there is nothing formally logical in the practice of law cannot.

Example Question #2 : Can't Be True In Law Passages

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

If it were necessary to trench further upon the field of morals, it might be suggested that the dogma of equality applied even to individuals only within the limits of ordinary dealings in the common run of affairs. You cannot argue with your neighbor, except on the admission for the moment that he is as wise as you, although you may by no means believe it. In the same way, you cannot deal with him, where both are free to choose, except on the footing of equal treatment, and the same rules for both. The ever-growing value set upon peace and the social relations tends to give the law of social being the appearance of the law of all being. But it seems to me clear that the ultima ratio, not only regum, but of private persons, is force, and that at the bottom of all private relations, however tempered by sympathy and all the social feelings, is a justifiable self-preference. If a man is on a plank in the deep sea that will only float one, and a stranger lays hold of it, he will thrust him off if he can. When the state finds itself in a similar position, it does the same thing.

The considerations that answer the argument of equal rights also answer the objections to treating man as a thing, and the like. If a man lives in society, he is liable to find himself so treated. The degree of civilization which a people has reached, no doubt, is marked by their anxiety to do as they would be done by. It may be the destiny of humanity that the social instincts shall grow to control our actions absolutely, even in anti-social situations. But they have not yet done so, and as the rules of law are or should be based upon a morality that is generally accepted, no rule founded on a theory of absolute unselfishness can be laid down without a breach between law and working beliefs.

If it be true, as I shall presently try to show, that the general principles of criminal and civil liability are the same, it will follow from that alone that theory and fact agree in frequently punishing those who have been guilty of no moral wrong, and who could not be condemned by any standard that did not avowedly disregard the personal peculiarities of the individuals concerned. If punishment stood on the moral grounds that are proposed for it, the first thing to be considered would be those limitations in the capacity for choosing rightly that arise from abnormal instincts, want of education, lack of intelligence, and all the other defects which are most marked in the criminal classes. I do not say that they should not be, or at least I do not need to for my argument. I do not say that the criminal law does more good than harm. I only say that it is not enacted or administered on that theory.

Based on the information given in the passage, which of the following cannot be true?

Possible Answers:

The author does not have great faith in how the criminal justice system works.

Criminal law is based on a wide variety of different ideas and prejudices.

The criminal justice system works as well as it possibly could.

Criminals are frequently punished quite severely in the criminal justice system.

A man alone on a plank in the ocean will fight for his survival.

Correct answer:

The criminal justice system works as well as it possibly could.


The passage presents many different ideas prevalent about the criminal justice system, all of which the author believes are problematic to criminal law. Additionally, the author argues that many of the issues with criminal law are easily deducible and that often more harm is done than good. Therefore, the one answer choice that cannot be true is that the criminal justice system works as well as it possibly could.

Example Question #3 : Can't Be True 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.

The passage does NOT support which of the following as being essential to law?

Possible Answers:

That it be obeyed willingly or not

That it be generally applicable, rather than applicable to particular cases

That there shall be no ex post facto law

That disobedience of the law is punished

That there are certain standards according to which an enacted rule may be considered promulgated

Correct answer:

That disobedience of the law is punished


While the passage does lay out several necessary conditions for some edict to be considered a law—some of which are outlined in the non-credited responses—nowhere does the author explicitly discuss punishment as a necessary feature of law.

Example Question #4 : Can't Be True 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 statements cannot be true based on the information presented in the passage?

Possible Answers:

Justice Byron White was a very important Supreme Court Justice in the 1970s.

Abortion is not a very controversial topic in American politics and law.

The Roe v. Wade decision still has a huge impact on American culture over forty years after it was decided.

The Supreme Court holds a significant place in discussions around American politics.

Dissenting opinions in Supreme Court decisions are often as influential as the majority opinions.

Correct answer:

Abortion is not a very controversial topic in American politics and law.


The passage argues a point about the Supreme Court generally, and it uses the case of Roe v. Wade to illustrate the point. Key to this illustration is that Roe v. Wade sparked a controversial national debate about abortion, even though many people do not really understand the Court's opinions, either for the majority or in the dissent. Therefore, it cannot be true that abortion is not a very controversial topic.

Example Question #5 : Can't Be True In Law Passages

"Lynch Law" by William Floyd (2015)

“Lynch Law” as it was known can appear as a peculiar feature of the past only. Never in the present day does a mob, carrying torches, clubs, and small firearms, descend upon a county jail to take from a cell an accused criminal who is supposed to have committed a crime so heinous and unspeakable that the crowd believes the only justice is to find the nearest sturdy tree to hang the accused from. This action, so common in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, particularly in the Southern portion of the United States, died out after World War II, with only a few isolated incidents, roundly disparaged, revealing the last gasp of the Lynch Law.

Perhaps the exact mechanisms of lynching culture do not exist, features of a bygone society, more rural, prejudiced, and violent than that which replaced it. Yet the attitudes have never left the consciousness of many Americans. On the chyrons of the nightly news and splashed across front pages of newspapers, accused criminals are only treated as such out of formality. In actuality, the tone of the reports reveals that the poor soul accused of a crime is assumed to be found guilty once the proper processes of the judicial system have run their course. Through a nod to a presumption of innocence and unwavering fidelity to the slow march of the courts, any sensible citizen can congratulate themselves that they are well beyond their ancestors, whether by blood or thought, who invoked the lynch law.

In actuality, a person can be arrested on the most base of suspicions, that they have the same vague hairstyle, shirt color, or peculiar mannerism of suspect’s description given by a witness. Then this poor soul will have to be questioned by any number of detectives, who look for the slightest pause, tic, or odd gaze. And heaven help him should he forget where he was for some small sliver of time. At that point, he is all but done for in front of the criminal justice system, being as he is with some apparent similarity to the description of the suspect, no alibi, and the accusations of police and prosecutors. While he is exceedingly lucky not to have to worry about being taken out of his cell and murdered underneath a large tree, he is still shunted forward to a removal from society after his placement in a labyrinthine prison system.

Based on the information presented in the passage, which of the following statements cannot be true?

Possible Answers:

Lynching was only present in certain small areas and was not a widespread problem.

A large number of criminal defendants are not adequately represented or have a mostly fair trial.

Many people in modern society believe an accused criminal is guilty as soon as charges are brought in a case.

Lynching was more common in rural areas throughout the country.

The news media has a significant influence on the outcome of criminal trials.

Correct answer:

Lynching was only present in certain small areas and was not a widespread problem.


The passage discusses lynching, and its causes, on a number of different levels, noting that the use of lynching is currently reflected in many attitudes towards criminal defendants. This widespread attitude is reflected as well in the way that the author discusses how prevalent lynching was before World War II as an element of the criminal justice system.

Learning Tools by Varsity Tutors