Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Should Birthright Citizenship be Abolished?

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The All-Mighty Law of the Land
I don't know, but I would think by now, PRO debaters are going crazy.  How in the world should the PRO position be debated?  Our past experience with PF debate suggests that in matters of constitutional law, resolutions which seem to call for the abolition or modification of provisions of the U.S. Constitution have a very difficult road to travel.  I think part of that difficulty stems from the fact the U.S. Constitution is elevated to such a high-value instrument that must be protected at all cost.  After all, it is the instrument that codifies and guarantees our freedoms and is the standard by which all the thousands of laws and statutes which govern our day-to-day existence must meet.  The Constitution is precious and so by necessity, very difficult to delete, amend, dismiss or ignore.

So, as the PRO debater, let us acknowledge that.

What's to be Done?
At the end of the day, if the United States were to decide to abolish birthright citizenship, we would need to take one of three possible actions:

  1.  We could choose to ignore the provisions of 14th Amendment and past Supreme Court rulings. A sort of extended jury nullification implemented by citizens and law enforcement officials.
  2.  We could choose to amend the constitution to either repeal or modify existing provisions.  This is similar to how the 21st amendment repealed the alcohol prohibition established by the earlier 18th amendment.
  3.  We could establish one or more laws that accomplish the desired effect without violating the standards of the 14th amendment.

One could surmise that number one would be subject to many, many legal challenges and lawsuits since simply ignoring the law is also a form of anarchy or at minimum civil disobedience.  Number two would require a national campaign to repeal and would require a sizable coalition of voters determined to overturn an unpopular law.  Number three would also be subject to various legal challenges since states are typically not allowed to over-rule the provisions of the Constitution even though some lawyers contend there are ways to frame such laws to accomplish the desired affect.

What Doesn't the Resolution Say?
As a coach, I struggle with these kinds of resolutions, because for me, I see the difference in winning or losing a debate intertwined in how far the three participants; Pro debater, Con debater and judge, want to stretch the wording of the resolution.  As I see it, the Pro team will find their case, not in the what the resolution says, but rather in what it does not say.  What does it say? "Birthright citizenship should be abolished in the United States."  What does it not say? Simple, everything else that is not explicitly stated in the words or intent of the resolution.  It does NOT say, a law should be passed or repealed or amended even though the path to abolishing will require a law be passed, repealed or amended.  Simply put, the resolution does not require either side to propose a plan nor debate a method for achieving the goal.  It simply says, birthright citizenship should be abolished.

The Key is "Should"
In the past I have heard debaters complain that certain PF resolutions were similar to LD resolutions because they seemed to require a debate over values.  Perhaps this one will be subject to the same criticism because as I see it, the resolution is simply asking the two sides to debate whether or not birthright citizenship should be abolished, not how it should be abolished.  Is it the right thing to do? Nothing more needs discussed. It is not asking anyone to defend that fact that laws are often very difficult to frame and the Constitution is very difficult to amend.  In a world where we can forget about the logistics and simply focus on whether or not something should be done, issues like popular opinion, moral obligations, attitudes, and subjective practicalities are legitimate discussion points and allow us to focus on the real question being posed by the resolution, "should" it be done?

How the Round "Should" be Debated
Quite simply, this resolution should be framed in such a way, the debate centers on the relative merits of continuing birthright citizenship.  After all, the resolution states "should".  Should we do something or should we not and that is the debate that "should" be judged.  After that question is decided, we can discuss how we are going to do it but let's have that discussion another time and another place.  The fact that something may be difficult to do should have little or no bearing on whether or not we should do it. There is a certain dynamic and reality to a debate round, which often precludes framework.  The dynamic is the ebb and flow of the advocacy, the reality is the judge's personal input.  The first you can control, the second you can only influence. That is the reality of PF debate. So my advise for the Pro team? Set up the framework for a discussion of whether or not it should or should not be done, keep the debate on course within the constraints of the framework and hope your approach is sufficient to overcome the personal preferences of the "citizen" judge who has her own expectations.

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