Friday, June 22, 2012

Proposed LD Topics 2012/2013 - Part 2

For links to LD topic analyses and articles, click here.

Resolved: United States Supreme Court justices should be subject to term limits.
The debate in a nutshell: The U.S. government is comprised of a executive, legislative and judicial branch each empowered in such a way to provide a system of checks and balances against abuse of power.  Of these, the executive and legislative are selected by popular elections and the executive is subject to a specified term limit of eight years.  Only the members of the Supreme Court are granted life-time tenure.  The general view among some is this is bad because, justices may become so aged they are out of touch with the realities of modern society, and there exists an opportunity for Presidents to appoint young nominees to the Court who politically favor the President's policies and will continue to support those policies long after the President's tenure has ended.  Nevertheless, the Constitution of the United States establishes that members of the court hold their terms in office "during good behavior" (Art. III - Sect. 1) which is interpreted to mean, so long as they commit no crimes.

This resolution may be a good novice topic for early in the year but I see very few opportunities to establish a philosophical framework since it specifically deals with the principle of Separation of Powers specific to the United States.  Further, there exists some significant undertones, suggesting the elderly are somehow unfit to serve in a day and age when humans are living much longer than they did in 1787.

AFF Position
I don't see any major conflicts arising from the language of the resolution.  Its intent is precise and clear.  As always, the Affirmative debater must establish that the current practice of granting life-time tenure to members of the USSC harms some aspect of governance, jurisprudence, and/or the well-being of American society.  Either the balance of power is abused or the Court is somehow failing to serve its purpose due to life-time tenure.  This will require, in my opinion, a pretty deep analysis of how the balance of power was intended to function and clear examples of how it may be abused.  AFF need not show that the Court is currently abusing its power or somehow not fulfilling its purpose, only that the potential for harms exist under the current practice of life-time appointments.

NEG Position
The NEG debater should look deeply into the rationale behind how and why the Court was established and in particular the intent of the "during good behavior" clause.  There is a reason the founding fathers did not limit tenure considering a desire to establish a judiciary free of political pressure.  An alternative position may be to limit the age a justice may serve rather than establishing a term limit if AFF presents a convincing (yet controversial) argument that elderly jurists are somehow incompetent to serve.

(This topic will be analysed in detail if it is chosen as an NFL resolution.)


Resolved: The United States is justified in intervening in the internal political processes of other countries to attempt to stop human rights abuses.
Certainly anyone who knows me knows I favor topics dealing with international relations since they typically allow for rich and varied debates that can incorporate philosophical and moral frameworks, fundamental human rights, international law and interesting theories about how nations interact with one another.  This resolution assumes that in the status quo it is unjust for a nation to violate the political sovereignty of another nation in order to stop human rights abuses.  Because this resolution specifically says the United States is justified it should not necessarily be viewed as a limitation.  In fact it would make no sense to assume the resolution should be interpreted as "only" the United States is justified.  The United States currently serves as good example of the general principle since it has the resources and capability to intervene in the internal politics of another country but it could just as easily applied to China, Russia, Great Britain, Iran or any number of capable countries.  So this means if the case is made that a country has the obligation as a general principle, the fact it is the United States adds nothing additional to the argument.  Further, the kind of intervention is not specific so it could be overt or covert. It could be military intervention, economic sanctions, or forms of soft-power through the manipulation of public opinion directly and indirectly.

A few other points need to be made.  The resolution is not one that suggests obligation.  It does not claim there is a moral imperative to intervene and even though that case can certainly be made, it is only valid insofar as the obligation is used as a justification.  The distinction is important because, lacking an obligation, the U.S. would be justified to intervene if it so chooses, but conversely would not necessarily be unjust if it chooses not to intervene.

Neg Position
For this brief analysis, I think we must start with the Neg position.  As a first principle, it seems Neg must claim it is unjust to intervene in the internal politics of another country, even if human rights abuses are occurring.  This implies a world where state sovereignty outweighs human rights.  Such an argument may be very difficult to stand upon when Aff is claiming dead bodies under the heavy hand of human rights abuse.  Still, a convincing argument can be made that it is the duty of each state to protect the rights of its citizenry and their failure to do so does not justify an outside nation from impinging state sovereignty.

Even though I feel the general principle of intervention being just is the intent of the resolution, Neg can take advantage of the fact that the U.S. is specified and put forth an argument that unilateral intervention is unjust.  In other words, since the resolution does not say "countries are justified..." unilateral action without the support of the world community is implied and this is unjust.  Such an argument would hold the U.S. does not have authority to interfere unilaterally under international law and so intervention would not be justified.

In general, I think Neg will have her work cut-out for her.  This is one tough resolution to oppose when the judge's sympathies can be exposed to images of abuse.  Obviously, if this resolution is ultimately chosen for the upcoming season, I will need to do a much deeper analysis to determine sound positions for the Neg side.

Aff Position
Affirmative should create a framework or world-view in which the the protection of human rights outweighs the sovereignty of states.  Impacts are the key and will go a long way toward evoking the sympathetic response of the audience and creating a sense of urgency to act, even unilaterally, to avoid such violations.  Also, I suggest the best way to frame the justification will be through a philosophical, moralistic point of view.  Legal justification will prove more problematic, I suspect.



  1. the negative should claim that stopping human rights abuse is very important. However, the U.S. intervening shouldn't be justified, for they have a history of human rights abuse in Guantanamo Bay, and shouldn't act as an independent super power who can stick their nose in anyone's business unless done with the consent of a multilateral legislation from the General Assembly, meaning it would be the U.S. as much as it would be the U.N. Furthermore, the U.S. has taken precautionary steps to stray away from intervention, such as the Rome Statute, to preserve their sovereignty and not forfeit it by any means, and changing their policies to favor intervention would be near contradictory.

    1. I think it will be difficult to argue the US is not justified because it has a history of abuses at GITMO and other places. For me, it is really a question of state sovereignty and I expect a lot of debate to center around the issue of gov't legitimacy of the offending country. I agree, however, the UN would more than likely have to support the US but even that does not necessarily mean it is justified. I will be posting an analysis soon.

  2. True that they have policies that move them away from intervention, but the resolution says that the United States is jusitified, and not whether or not should. Just wanted to clarify

  3. In the constitution, it says:
    "That to secure these [unalienable] rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends [Ends listed below], it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."
    However, I am not sure how this would relate to our interaction with OTHER countries.

    1. That is straight-up Lockean philosophy explained in his Second Treatise on Government. I'm not sure how it helps in this resolution, however.

  4. I am making a neg have no idea what to do.

    1. Have you looked at my most recent articles on this topic? Click here.

      I have not posted the Aff and Neg positions yet but hope to do so in the next few days.


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