Tuesday, September 13, 2016

LD Sep/Oct 2016 - Civil Disobedience - Novice Topic

Resolved: Civil disobedience in a democracy is morally justified.

For those of you looking for an analysis of the September/October novice topic, please see my coverage of this topic three years ago.

Click here for the Introduction & definitions, here for the Aff Position and here for the Neg Position.

Monday, September 12, 2016

LD Sep/Oct 2016 - Prohibition of Nuclear Power - Negative Position

Resolved: Countries ought to prohibit the production of nuclear power.

Neg Position

Like the Aff position I published previously, this post will focus on the steps I would take to create a case. Every year I am asked for values and criterion and every year I have problems suggesting any without knowing what kind of evidence and warrants the requester can support. I do not write cases for my students. I teach them to write cases and they write their own cases. But if I were to write a case, my research would occur in two stages.  First, I would do initial research to gather generic Aff and Neg cards based upon the wording of the resolution. For example, for this resolution I would find Aff and Neg cards claiming nuke plants should be shutdown and cards claiming they should be continued or increased.  This helps one to understand what kind of literature is available, and what are the scholars saying?  Then I would do an analysis of possible value/criterion frameworks. Having done the preliminary research I can now focus on perhaps one or two potentially good frameworks and so a second phase of research is undertaken to find evidence to support the framework.  Only then, would I write the case. A good resolution should have plenty of literature so the research burden is not always excruciating. Sometimes there is so much literature it is challenging to decide what to keep and what to ignore. This resolution is somewhere in between very little literature and excessive literature. Like I said previously, your coach is the best resource you have for how to write a case. LD styles vary greatly and the kinds of arguments accepted in your region may be different than my region, which is conservative and traditional.  So having said that, off we go.

Neg Analysis

Debate genres such as policy debate and Lincoln-Douglas debate often speak of an Aff World and a Neg World. The Neg world is usually just the present, or the status quo whereas the Aff world is the world which exists after the affirmative plan or resolution is enacted. In this case, the Aff world is a world where nuclear power plants are not only shutdown, they are banned.  Even newer and safer designs which may be proposed are prohibited. The Aff world as specified by the resolution does not give us any alternative. For example, there could have been a statement like, on balance, renewable energy power production should be preferred over nuclear power production. But no, the Aff world is one in which we will never again have nuclear power and what we use in its place is totally up for grabs. So to oppose the affirmative resolution, Neg can show that nuclear power is relatively safe (after all every kind of power generation facility, even conventional ones are vulnerable to some types of disasters), and they solve several problems (harms) such as providing an alternative to the problems of diminishing sources of coal, oil and gas and they reduce the emission of greenhouse gases which contribute to global warming. One position for Neg would be the benefits of nuclear power outweigh the harms so the judge should negate. In addition, Neg can claim the Aff world will actually create new harms or worsen existing ones such as more rapid depletion of fossil fuels, increased emission of greenhouse gases to meet rising demands for power, and so the judge should negate.

As with the Affirmative Position posted previously, Neg can structure her case around two primary modes of persuasion. Neg could do a straight-forward cost-benefit analysis, in which the benefits and the costs (claimed harms) are compared in terms of real-world dollars, lives saved or lost, tons of carbon released in the atmosphere, etc. Many cases can be won on this kind of framework.  However, Lincoln Douglas prefers another mode of persuasion structured around the idea that affirming will harm some great value that humans desire to preserve and only in the Neg world is that value preserved.

Neg Framework

Having done a first round of research to collect cards for supporting Neg arguments, I can begin to look at possible Neg value/criterion frameworks. I know my Aff case looks to the duties of governments and I may be able to directly oppose such a framework by showing how Aff harms societal values.  As individuals, we value "safety" and a world with rapidly depleting fossile fuels will become an increasingly dangerous place as nations struggle to keep them. We value "well-being" but global warming threatens the future with crop-losses, massive migrations, and other threats. We value "quality of life" which is harmed by an insufficient source of power. Societies value "societal well-being" and "social progress", the idea that human society is advancing enabling self-actualization for its members (see Maslow's hierarchy of needs). Nations value "government legitimacy" and "security" both of which are potentially threatened if a nuclear power option is taken away and dependence on fossil fuels increases.  For the purposes of this example, I will look to the duties of government since the resolution specifies 'countries ought to...' and I want to make the point governments should provide for the value of "social well-being". Additionally, I will protect social well-being by "supporting basic human needs". I begin cutting cards to link social well-being to government duty to provide for the necessities of social well-being. (note: I chose the criterion of supporting basic human needs after finding the following evidence.)

USIP (undated):
Social well-being is an end state in which basic human needs are met and people are able to coexist peacefully in communities with opportunities for advancement. This end state is characterized by equal access to and delivery of basic needs services (water, food, shelter, and health services), the provision of primary and secondary education, the return or resettlement of those displaced by violent conflict, and the restoration of social fabric and community life.

To be sure, for more advanced debaters, I think this framework or a similar one can be supported with some of the philosophy of John Rawls and his advocacy for social justice but I don't want to go there since so often I think students have difficulty understanding and conveying Rawls properly in the context of a relatively short speech. We must also be aware that Aff will be strongly attacking my example framework by claiming that terrorism or environmental contamination will harm social well-being, so I will need to cover that.

Case, Warrants & Evidence

This resolution is out of date and the Affirmative justifications for shutdown of nuclear power plants ignores the realities of the present age.  Demand for power is increasing, alternative technologies are greatly lagging and proving more costly than anticipated; we are way past "peak oil" (debaters: look it up) and global warming is accelerating.  Even leading environmental protection groups are reconsidering their positions.

Harder (2016):
The Sierra Club, the country’s oldest and largest environmental group, is debating whether to halt its longtime position in support of shuttering all existing nuclear-power plants earlier than required by their federal operating licenses. The environmental group’s leaders see existing reactors as a bridge to renewable electricity and an alternative source of energy as the group campaigns to shut down coal and natural gas plants. The Environmental Defense Fund is similarly deciding to what extent it should adjust its policy, potentially lending its support to keeping open financially struggling reactors. In Illinois, the Natural Resources Defense Council, along with the Sierra Club and EDF, are among the advocacy groups working with Exelon and state lawmakers on a legislative deal that would reverse a decision the company made in early June to close two nuclear reactors in the next two years. The agreement would promote more energy efficiency and renewable energy while ensuring the reactors remain in operation by providing financial recognition for the zero-carbon electricity they produce.

If the affirmative has their way, the world's reliance on ever-depleting fossil-fuels will accelerate leading to higher costs and less availability of electrical power needed to sustain the social needs of modern society.

Bunn & Kuznetsov (2010):
This ever-growing reliance on burning fossil fuels simply cannot be sustained – the economic, security, and environmental costs will all prove to be unacceptably high. Indeed, it may simply not be possible to meet growing projected demands for oil and gas at acceptable cost. While there is debate over when “peak oil” will occur, there is little debate that at some point in the decades to come, oil production will stop growing and eventually decline, even as energy demand continues to grow. Price spikes, supply disruptions, and political tensions over scarce supplies are likely to become increasingly common. Some countries without oil supplies are becoming increasingly dependent on imports of these scarce resources. The need to develop alternatives that can be deployed at a massive scale – especially for transportation fuels – is real and urgent.[2]

In an ideal world we would simply increase power production with alternative sources but these technologies are not meeting the need and we have no timetable as to when alternative technologies will be ready to meet the needs at an acceptable cost. In the status quo, nuclear power is already widely in place to sustain and promote social well-being.

Bunn & Kuznetsov (2010):
But as a readily expandable source of low-carbon baseload electricity – and, in the future, hydrogen and heat for other purposes – nuclear energy could be an important part of the answer. Nuclear power is so far the only proven, non-intermittent, readily expandable energy source which is already deployed on a large scale.

The dangers of global warming threaten the core of social well-being. Many governments and environmental groups have been warning of increasing hardships arising from the release of greenhouse gases and urging that steps be taken immediately to curb warming trends. We cannot afford to wait for alternative technologies to catch-up.

Martin (2016):
Today, though, the world needs nuclear energy more than ever if we are to limit climate change. According to the International Energy Agency, the world’s nuclear capacity needs to more than double by midcentury if we are to stay within 2 °C of warming.

Nuclear power must be continued to in order to support social well being despite small potential risks of environmental harms, The immediately situation with global warming outweighs all other considerations.

Harder (2016):
Over the last couple of years, as climate change has climbed to the top of the agenda of nearly all major environmental groups, influential leaders in both the climate science and policy arenas have shifted positions. Many now back this carbon-free source of energy, especially the existing fleet of approximately 100 reactors at about 60 power plants, which provide a steady source of electricity compared with the intermittence of wind and solar.

Emerging technological developments of nuclear power reactors promise to provide lower-cost and safer alternatives to conventional nuclear technology but if Aff has its way, these new technologies will never see the light of day. For example so-called Molten Salt Reactors (MSR) are less costly, much safer and produce less waste than current reactors.

Martin (2016):
Like all nuclear plants, molten-salt reactors excite atoms in a radioactive material to create a controlled chain reaction. The reaction unleashes heat that boils water, creating steam that drives a turbine to generate electricity. Solid-fuel reactors cooled with molten salt can run at higher temperatures than conventional reactors, making them more efficient, and they operate at atmospheric pressures—meaning they do not require expensive vessels of the sort that ruptured at Chernobyl. Molten-salt reactors that use liquid fuel have an even more attractive advantage: when the temperature in the core reaches a certain threshold, the liquid expands, which slows the nuclear reactions and lets the core cool. To take advantage of this property, the reactor is built like a bathtub, with a drain plug in the bottom; if the temperature in the core gets too high, the plug melts and the fuel drains into a shielded tank, typically underground, where it is stored safely as it cools. These reactors should be able to tap more of the energy available in radioactive material than conventional ones do. That means they should dramatically reduce the amount of nuclear waste that must be handled and stored.

Fissile materials are the chief component of nuclear weapons and MSRs have less need for these dangerous materials and much of the storage and handling costs and constraints of current nuclear technology are reduced or eliminated.

WNA (2016):
Compared with solid-fuelled reactors, MSR systems with circulating fuel salt are claimed to have lower fissile inventories, no radiation damage constraint on fuel burn-up, no requirement to fabricate and handle solid fuel or solid used fuel, and a homogeneous isotopic composition of fuel in the reactor. Actinides are less-readily formed from U-233 than in fuel with atomic mass greater than 235. These and other characteristics may enable MSRs to have unique capabilities and competitive economics for actinide burning and extending fuel resources. Safety is high due to passive cooling up to any size. Also, several designs have freeze plugs so that if excessive temperatures are reached, the primary salt will be drained by gravity away from the moderator into dump tanks configured to prevent criticality.


In the Aff world, production of electricity by nuclear reactors would cease at a time when the world is seeking sustainable alternatives to combat global warming and dependence on depleting fossil fuel reserves.  This would have an enormous impact on social well being.  We must remember, not every nation has the kind of infrastructure enjoyed in the developed world and nuclear power is key to advancing development for these nations.

IAEA (2006):
The per capita consumption of electricity correlates well with a country’s social well-being as measured by the UN Human Development Index (HDI), a composite index based on measures of health, longevity, education, and economic standards of living (UNDP 2005). Figure 4 plots the HDIs of 43 countries against their per capita electricity use. An HDI of 0.8 or higher corresponds to almost 3000 kW·h per capita and an HDI greater than 0.9 to more than 6000 kW·h per capita. However, Fig. 4 shows only national averages, which hide the reality that an estimated one quarter of the world’s population today — 1.6 billion people — have no access to electricity (IEA 2004). Ensuring such access — ‘connecting the unconnected’ — has been highlighted by the CSD as an essential task for advancing sustainable development.[6]

For additional posts related to this topic or other topics and general information about Lincoln Douglas debate, click the Lincoln Douglas tab at the top of this page.


Bunn, M; Kuznetsov, VP (Project Directors); (2010), Promoting Safe, Secure and Peaceful Growth of Nuclear Energy: Next steps for Russia and the United States, Harvard Belfer Center, Project On Managing the Atom and Russian Research Center "Kurchatov Institute", Oct 2010. Accessed 9/5/2016 at: http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/files/Promoting-Safe-Secure-and-Peaceful-Growth-of-Nuclear-Energy.pdf

Harder, A; (2016), Environmental Groups Change Tune on Nuclear Power, The Wall Street Journal, June 16, 2016. Accessed 9/5/2016 at: http://www.wsj.com/articles/environmental-groups-change-tune-on-nuclear-power-1466100644

IAEA (2006), Nuclear Power and Sustainable Development, International Atomic Energy Agency, 2006. accessed 9/6/2016 at: https://www.iaea.org/OurWork/ST/NE/Pess/assets/06-13891_NP&SDbrochure.pdf

Martin, R; (2016), Fail-Safe Nuclear Power, MIT Technology Review, August 2, 2016. Accessed 9/5/2016 at: https://www.technologyreview.com/s/602051/fail-safe-nuclear-power/

USIP (undated), Social Well Being, United States Institute of Peace, accessed 9/6/2016 at: http://www.usip.org/guiding-principles-stabilization-and-reconstruction-the-web-version/10-social-well-being

WNA (2016), Molten Salt Reactors, World Nuclear Association, Updated 8 Sep 2016. Accessed 9/5/2016 at: http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/current-and-future-generation/molten-salt-reactors.aspx

Sunday, September 11, 2016

LD Sep/Oct 2016 - Prohibition of Nuclear Power - Affirmative Position

Resolved: Countries ought to prohibit the production of nuclear power.

Affirmative Position

This advocacy of the Aff position will be supported by several obvious evidence cards focusing mainly on the potential harms arising from the use of nuclear power. Granted, there may be better contentions which can be made for those who research more deeply but I thought it may be worthwhile to look more closely at the value/criterion framework since this is our first resolution of the new season. My approach for this "first" LD topic of the season is to examine an approach to building a case which may be of some value to novices and other Lincoln Douglas debaters who struggle with creating LD cases.  Granted, this may not be best approach.  Your coach can be a much better source of help. This is simply one of many approaches.

Affirmative Analysis

The resolution requires Affirmative to support the idea that unspecified governments, and we can assume ALL governments which have authority over countries, ought to outlaw production of nuclear power.  Specifically, we interpret nuclear power to be electric energy generated by means of human-controlled nuclear reactions. In short, the many styles and designs of nuclear power plants in operation or planned to be put into operation should be shutdown or converted to other use.  Of course clever and tricky word-play can be adopted since the resolution is not very specific.  For example, one may choose to argue against nuclear weapons as a form of nuclear power but we can assume the framers of the resolution would have chosen different language if that were the intent. For sure, by interpreting this resolution as we are, I believe we would be topical by any reasonable definition of terms and believe most Lincoln Douglas judges will agree. Certainly, in the status quo, nuclear power stations are in operation in many places around the world. Therefore, the resolution in order to justify change, forces Affirmative to prove there is sufficient reason or need to shut them down.  Now granted, anyone who who would actually make such a proposal would already know there are problems or harms arising from the production of nuclear power. After all, that is why you would call for a resolution to prohibit nuclear power.  But the nature of competitive high-school debate is such that we generally are forced to research and discover why some person, or group is advocating change to the status quo. Okay, no problem. We are not given the opportunity to interview the framers so we jump to the conclusion we must discover harms and use them as justification for change. But consider the fact the nuclear power plants are currently in operation and so there must be a corresponding benefit to continuing to operate them. Otherwise, why have governments not shut them down already?  Therefore we can assume Neg will say the benefits of nuclear power justify opposition to the resolution.  In order to effectively argue Aff we need to anticipate the kinds of arguments Neg will be making against us.  So keep that in mind as you research. How can I answer, Neg's rebuttals?

Basically it will come down to a clash of justifications.  You will claim the harms are sufficient justification to affirm and your opponents will say either the benefits outweigh the harms, or they will say affirming creates other very serious harms with outweigh the Aff justifications, hence, they must negate. The beauty of Lincoln Douglas debate rests in the fact one can take two principle paths to affirmation. The first and most obvious is a sort of pragmatic cost-benefit analysis.  Under this approach you will simply enumerate the various harms and in a very straight forward way make a case these harms are serious enough, despite Neg claims of benefits, to prohibit nuke power.  These "costs" will be presented in terms of a real-world measurable such as potential material costs in dollars and cents, numbers of deaths, rates of environmental decay, percentages of risks as determined by expert analysis. These will be contrasted by the corresponding claims by Neg of material savings in dollars and cents, or deaths avoided or reduction of risks as determined by expert analysis.  This kind of head-to-head approach to debating is natural and common in other forms of debate and often used in LD.  But Lincoln Douglas debate allows another, much preferred way to debate by showing that affirming has the benefit of preserving or preventing harms to one of the great principles of life which all humans hold dear. In other words, only by affirming do we preserve a fundamental human value.  Wrap your head around this as you begin your research. Look for the preservation of great human values as you research because it is often much easier to base your research on value-oriented contentions than it is to simply find pertinent facts and then later try to force those facts to fit into a particular value framework.

Affirmative Values

At this point we have done some preliminary research to better understand the stakes and to understand the pragmatic arguments for and against the production of nuclear power. We have copied sources and cut evidence. Let's start to hash out some value structures.  Note the resolution specifies the primary "actor" (the one who must do something) as counties.  We have already said in our analysis we interpret this to mean governments which have authority over nation-states. This should immediately get you thinking about the purpose of national governments and their duties to their citizens. In my article on Values in Lincoln Douglas debate I list some typical values for governments, including government legitimacy, security, autonomy, etc. We think about the duty of government to preserve itself and its citizens.  Think about how, in relation to this resolution, does a government uphold or lose its legitimacy? How does it uphold autonomy, or security (self-preservation)?  Consider what it means to say a government has a duty to preserve its citizens. What do the individuals value? Again, look at the values article as we find ideas like, life, quality of life, safety, well-being, and health. So I would think, if a government fails to preserve the values of its citizens is the government illegitimate?

The Value Framework

Looking at the evidence and considering the possible values which may apply it is now possible to begin structure a framework. By framework, I mean a structure by which the Affirmative can defend a value in a traditional structured way.  The framework should consist of a specific value which needs protected or upheld, a means to protect the value (the criterion) and a series of contentions which support the fact the value is truly at jeopardy, and only by affirming can the value be preserved. For example, we can select the value of "national security" which we preserve through "reducing the risk of terrorist attacks" and then focus on contentions which show how nuclear powers can be attacked by terrorists or nuclear materials may be stolen and/or converted to weapons of mass destruction.  We could choose a value "life" or "quality of life" upheld by "reducing environmental contamination" and then focus on evidence showing the risks of dangerous leaks, or catastrophes releasing nuclear materials into the environment.  Because the link between the value, the criterion, and the evidence needs to be strong, it is difficult for me to answer when someone asks, what value/criterion should I use?  I personally think it is a good approach to brainstorm possible values and a group of criterion and then look for evidence to support your choices. Another possible choice is the value of "societal well-being" upheld by "protection from existential harms".  This framework will allow you to present a collection of harms such as threats of terrorism or environmental contamination. For this example, I will choose a value of upholding "government legitimacy" through "preserving societal safety". since it is obvious how nuclear power potentially threatens the safety of citizens, all that is needed is the link between government legitimacy and safety and this is how we prove our criterion preserves government legitimacy.  For that, we can look to the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these 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, 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. [Declaration of Independence, par. 2]

Thus we see that any government which fails to preserve citizens' safety and happiness it is the right of the people to alter or abolish the government and organize it in a way which is "most likely to effect their safety and happiness". Thus the preservation of safety is vital to maintaining government legitimacy.

The Case, Warrants & Evidence

To begin let us acknowledge nuclear power has a few characteristics which make it appear to a be a good alternative to conventional, fossil-fuel based power generation systems. Fossil fuels are non-renewable and are known contributors to the problem of greenhouse-gas emissions leading to global warming. However, when we look more deeply we discover the apparent benefits have serious hidden costs.

Cochran, et al (2005):
Commercial nuclear reactors do not emit any significant global warming pollution, and during normal operations, their limited radioactive emissions cause far fewer health problems than pollution from coal-fired power plants. Nonetheless, nuclear power has unique problems, including weapons proliferation, reactor safety, mining impacts, and waste disposal. These problems pose global risks of their own.[9]

Empirical evidence proves, that nuclear reactors are vulnerable to accidents and natural disasters, the consequences of which are devastating.

Mraz & Wallner (2014):
The consequences of a major accident are huge. The accident in Chernobyl led to high levels of contamination across large areas in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia. A large part of the radioactive materials released by the accident also contaminated other European countries. A variety of health effects are discernible in exposed populations, not only thyroid cancer and leukemia but also a wide range of other cancers, heart diseases, cataracts, diseases of the endocrine system and the digestive system, genetic and teratogenic effects, etc. All in all several million people were, and still are, affected by the catastrophe. They have been evacuated and relocated, lost their homes, communities and places of work, become sick and have had to live on contaminated soil. The 2011 accident in Fukushima had similar consequences for hundreds of thousands of people. [4 -5]

The Chernobyl and Fuskushima disasters illustrate the vulnerability of nuclear power plants to failures of safety systems and natural disasters. These so-called accidents resulted in a high number of deaths and massive contamination of lands requiring the forced relocation of thousands of people.  It is impossible for governments to assure that any proposed nuclear power design is safe from such catastrophes.

Another huge concern arises from the possibility that nuclear power plants themselves could be used as weapons of mass-destruction.  While it is unlikely the plant could explode like a nuclear weapon, terrorists could attack and damage a nuclear plant in such a way to create a large-scale, man-made environmental disaster on.

Cochran, et al (2005):
Other safety issues have emerged since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. For example, a recent National Academy of Sciences study warned that if terrorists mounted a successful attack on the spent nuclear fuel pool at some nuclear power reactors, they could drain the water out of the pool, which in turn could result in a zirconium fire—the spent fuel’s zirconium cladding would overheat and ignite—resulting in the potential release of a significant amount of radioactivity. Some reactors are more vulnerable than others, and therefore the risk is dependent on a number of factors, including the type of reactor and its location, the location and design of the spent fuel pool, and the level of physical security at the reactor.[13]

This threat has recently been proven to be more than mere speculation from alarmists. Engineers are aware of the vulnerabilities and so are terrorists, as realized by recent evidence discovered in Belgium.

Grossman (2016):
Pre-deployed weapons of mass destruction. That’s what nuclear power plants are. And that’s another very big reason—demonstrated again in recent days with the disclosure that two of the Brussels terrorists were planning attacks on Belgian nuclear plants—why they must be eliminated. Nuclear power plants are sitting ducks for terrorists. With most positioned along bays and rivers because of their need for massive amounts of coolant water, they provide a clear shot. They are fully exposed for aerial strikes. The consequences of such an attack could far outweigh the impacts of 9/11 and, according to the U.S. 9/11 Commission, also originally considered in that attack was the use of hijacked planes to attack “unidentified nuclear power plants.”  The Indian Point nuclear plants 26 miles north of New York City were believed to be candidates. As the Belgian newspaper Dernier Heure reported last week, regarding the plan to strike a Belgian nuclear plant, “investigators concluded that the target of terrorists was to ‘jeopardize national security like never before.’”

And once again, there is evidence that terrorists have already tried to exploit the vulnerabilities of nuclear plants.

Mendick (2016):
Terrorists were also suspected of sabotaging Doel 4 in 2014 that led to it being shut down for more than four months. The federal prosecutor at the time refused to rule out terrorism. It has also been claimed the Brussels suicide bombers had been planning an attack on a nuclear power plant but switched to an airport and train station at the last minute. The target was changed after one of the terror cell’s ringleaders was captured in a police shootout a week before Tuesday’s bombings.

The prospect that jihadists may already be employed at some nuclear plants, or the possibility of cyber attacks, sabotage or air attack on nuclear plants are the kinds of events which keep national security experts awake at night. Governments know these plants are being targeted by terrorists. Failure to protect the safety of people would threaten the legitimacy of the government.

Another major threat to the safety of citizens is the fact that the nuclear material itself is prized as a potential weapon of mass destruction.  The prospect of theft of the nuclear material is difficult to control considering that only a few pounds of the material is needed to created a weapon. Certainly, security experts in the U.S. are aware.

Cochran, et al (2005):
The potential theft and terrorist use of plutonium associated with the Soviet, now Russian, civilian nuclear fuel cycle represents one of the highest U.S. national security risks today. These Russian plutonium stocks are a consequence of a failed effort to commercially recycle plutonium in Russian nuclear reactors. Controlling nuclear weapons proliferation will simply become impossible—further exacerbating the national security risks to the United States—if the nuclear industry continues to pursue nuclear fuel reprocessing for plutonium recycle and wide-scale global deployment of plutonium breeder reactors. As a consequence, the shortest route to acquiring nuclear weapons would be through the civilian nuclear power program, as occurred in India, rather than through the construction of facilities dedicated to weapons production, as occurred in Israel.[12]

Along with the threat of material theft by terrorists is the possibility of converting materials intended for peaceful use into weapons by governments intent on obtaining nuclear weapons for political purposes.  The proliferation of nuclear weapons is a threat to the safety and well-being of all people around the world.

Cochran, et al (2005):
The weapon design and arms control communities agree that it is not the capability to design a nuclear device that determines the pace of a country’s acquisition of a first weapon, but, rather, the availability of nuclear weapons materials that can be turned to weapons purposes. For a nation-state, the material for weapons can come from uranium enrichment plants (highly enriched uranium), or reactors and nuclear fuel reprocessing plants (plutonium), or both.[9]

Legitimate governments have a duty to preserve the safety of their citizens. By affirming the resolution and prohibiting the production of nuclear power plants, a government can best protect its citizens. Don't let Neg tell you the continued operation of nuclear plants are required to meet energy needs or protect against environmental impacts.

Diesendorf (2016):
Computer simulation models and growing practical experience suggest that electricity supply in many regions, and possibly the whole world, could transition to 100% renewable energy. Most of the renewable energy technologies are commercially available, affordable and environmentally sound. There is no fundamental technical or economic reason for delaying the transition. The pro-nuclear and anti-renewable energy myths disseminated by nuclear proponents and supporters of other vested interests do not stand up to examination. Given the political will, renewable energy could be scaled up long before Generation 3 and 4 nuclear power stations could make a significant contribution to electricity supply.

The threats are real and empirically proven from Chernobyl to Fukushima to more recent evidence of increasing terrorist interest in nuclear power plants.  Grossman urges countries to shut these plants down now.

Grossman (2016):
Nations around the world, likewise, would be able to get along fine with solar, wind and differing mixes of other safe, clean, renewable energy—not susceptible to terrorist attack. All 438 nuclear power plants around the world today could—and should—close now. The insignificant amount of electricity they generate—but 10 percent of total electric use—can be provided by other sources. And green energy makes for a less costly power and a far safer world in comparison to catastrophic-danger prone and unnecessary nuclear power. We must welcome energy we can live with and reject power that presents a deadly threat in so many ways.


The affirmative case should wrap-up by linking back to the value/criterion framework.  The framework link discussed above, establishes how government legitimacy is preserved when safety is secured and we set up our case to prove how operation of nuclear plants threatens public safety.  And finally our case shows that we can get along fine without nuclear power.

And so, I have presented a way to create a case.  I hope it is useful to you.

For additional posts related to this topic or other topics and general information about Lincoln Douglas debate, click the Lincoln Douglas tab at the top of this page.


Cochran, TB; Paine, CE; Fettus, G; Norris, RS; McKinzie, MG; (2005), Position Paper: Commercial Nuclear Power, Natural Resources defense Council; Issue Paper: Oct. 2005. Accessed 9/5/2016 at: https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/power.pdf

Diesendorf, M (2016); Renewable energy versus nuclear: dispelling the myths; Energy Post; 31 May 2016. Accessed 9/5/2016 at: http://www.energypost.eu/renewable-energy-versus-nuclear-dispelling-myths/

Grossman, K. (2016), Terrorism and Nuclear Power; Enformable, Energy News and Archives; 31 Mar 2016. Accessed 9/5/2016 at: http://enformable.com/2016/03/terrorism-nuclear-power/

Mendick, R (2016); Brussels attacks: 'Nuclear terrorism' is real threat, says UN watchdog; The Telegraph (UK); 25 Mar 2016. accessed 9/5/2016 at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/03/25/brussels-attacks-nuclear-terrorism-is-real-threat-says-un-watchd/

Mraz, G; Wallner, A; (2014), Renewable Energies versus Nuclear Power – Comparing Financial Support; Wiener Umweltanwaltschaft / Vienna Ombuds-Office for Environmental Protection; Nov. 2014. Accessed 9/5/2016 at: http://wua-wien.at/images/stories/publikationen/renewable-energy-versus-nuclear-power.pdf

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

LD Sep/Oct 2016 - Prohibition of Nuclear Power - Background

Resolved: Countries ought to prohibit the production of nuclear power.


Before discussing Aff and Neg positions I feel it is necessary to provide a background information about nuclear power. As I said in the introduction and definition of resolutions terms, nuclear power is an alternative means of producing electricity other than the consumption of coal, oil or gas. Nuclear power is produced when the enormous heat released during nuclear fission, is used to generate steam or boiling water which then turns turbine-powered generators. It is the generators which ultimately produce the electricity. In conventional power plants, the burning of coal, oil or gas heats the water which spins the turbines. 

WNA (2016):
Nuclear technology uses the energy released by splitting the atoms of certain elements. It was first developed in the 1940s, and during the Second World War to 1945 research initially focussed on producing bombs which released great energy by splitting the atoms of particular isotopes of either uranium or plutonium.In the 1950s attention turned to the peaceful purposes of nuclear fission, notably for power generation. Today, the world produces as much electricity from nuclear energy as it did from all sources combined in the early years of nuclear power.

Despite the fact, nuclear fission was originally exploited for the production of powerful weapons of mass-destruction, that particular use has been limited to a small number of countries. However, the use of nuclear power plants for power production has spread to virtual every corner of the world.

WNA (2016):
Today, only eight countries are known to have a nuclear weapons capability. By contrast, 55 countries operate about 245 civil research reactors, over one-third of these in developing countries. Now 31 countries host some 447 commercial nuclear power reactors with a total installed capacity of over 390,000 MWe (see linked table for up to date figures). This is more than three times the total generating capacity of France or Germany from all sources. About 60 further nuclear power reactors are under construction, equivalent to 16% of existing capacity, while over 160 are firmly planned, equivalent to nearly half of present capacity.

For many countries, nuclear power is viewed as a viable, alternative source of electrical power which meets requirements for an inexpensive, clean and reliable source of power. It is inexpensive because the cost of fissionable material is not cost prohibitive for consumers, but more importantly, the cost is relatively stable and doesn't fluctate broadly due to market forces. It is clean because it does not produce large amount of greenhouse gases which harm the environment, and it is reliable because the plants are designed in such a way that power output can be easily increased or decreased to match the community demands for electrical energy. And, as WNA advocates, there is "clear need for new generating capacity around the world, both to replace old units which contribute a lot of CO2 emissions, and to meet increased expectations for electricity in many countries" (WNA 2016).

Nevertheless, despite the obvious advantages, nuclear power generation does have some serious downsides which has forced many countries to reconsider the utility of the form of power generation.

EIA (2015):
The main environmental concern related to nuclear power is the creation of radioactive wastes such as uranium mill tailings, spent (used) reactor fuel, and other radioactive wastes. These materials can remain radioactive and dangerous to human health for thousands of years.

Because these waste products are so dangerous, for such a long period of time, special regulations, precautions, and efforts are required to handle, transport and dispose of these items.

EIA (2015):
By volume, most of the waste related to the nuclear power industry has a relatively low-level of radioactivity. Uranium mill tailings contain the radioactive element radium, which decays to produce radon, a radioactive gas. Most uranium mill tailings are placed near the processing facility or mill where they come from. Uranium mill tailings are covered with a barrier of material such as clay to prevent radon from escaping into the atmosphere, and they are then covered by a layer of soil, rocks, or other materials to prevent erosion of the sealing barrier. The other types of low-level radioactive waste are the tools, protective clothing, wiping cloths, and other disposable items that get contaminated with small amounts of radioactive dust or particles at nuclear fuel processing facilities and nuclear power plants. These materials are subject to special regulations that govern their handling, storage, and disposal so they will not come in contact with the outside environment. High-level radioactive waste consists of irradiated or spent nuclear reactor fuel (i.e., fuel that is no longer useful for producing electricity). The spent reactor fuel is in a solid form consisting of small fuel pellets in long metal tubes called rods.

Because, the nuclear components of nuclear power plants are so inherently dangerous, the design and construction of nuclear plants are complex and costly with multiple, safety systems and strict operating procedures in order to reduce the risk of harmful materials leaking into the environment. The same kinds of costs and precautions are applied in the handling, transport and storage of nuclear waste materials. For this reason, generally speaking, nuclear plants have low, negative impacts on the environment. They are especially attractive in that they produce very, very low-levels of the so-called greenhouse gas emissions responsible for global warming.

On the other hand, no man-made system is perfect and no matter how well things are designed or built, systems still fail either through human error, natural forces or sabotage. These events can result in very destructive and damaging contamination of the environment, loss of life, and long-lasting harms.  In addition, the long-term need to dispose of nuclear waste in a secure, fail-safe way for thousands of years is a major concern which adds to the cost and viability of nuclear power as an energy source.

For access to the Pro and Con position (coming soon) and other information about Lincoln Douglas debate, click the Lincoln Douglas tab at the top of this page.


EIA (2015), Nuclear Explained: Nuclear Power and the Environment, U.S. Energy Information Administration, reviewed Nov. 12, 2015. Accessed 9/5/2016 at: http://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/?page=nuclear_environment

WNA, (2016), Nuclear Power in the World Today, World Nuclear Association, updated 2016. Accessed 9/5/2016 at: http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/current-and-future-generation/nuclear-power-in-the-world-today.aspx

Monday, September 5, 2016

LD Sep/Oct 2016 - Prohibition of Nuclear Power - Introduction

Resolved: Countries ought to prohibit the production of nuclear power.


Our debate season, kicks-off in October with a series of novice tournaments. Our varsity debaters will not formally debate until November so the focus now is on getting first-timers up to speed or at least some reasonable level of debate competitence, such as knowing the format and being able to make it past the first set of pre-written speeches. To be sure it is intimidating for novices, since, unlike baseball or soccer or running, kids do not grow-up learning the skills needed to debate. But the transformation they make in a few short months is remarkable once they begin to learn. This topic is attractive if for nothing else it is short; just nine simple words. But that does not necessarily mean it is a good topic.  Our analysis will atttempt to find suitable positions for debate and hopefully the topic will not prove to be too one-sided. In Lincoln-Douglas Aff is advocating that countries prohibit production of nuclear power. In order to justify this position, Aff must explain why nuclear power should be prohibited and usually the reason will be due to certain harms which arise from the production of nuclear power. The harms are not revealed by the resolution so it will be the Affirmative debater's task to uncover the harms through research and evidence. Of course, once the harms are discovered, Aff must go a little farther.  It stands to reason, the Neg will claim countries ought NOT prohibit nuclear power and so the Neg must research and uncover benefits to nuclear power production which justifies its continued use.  Therefore, anticipating, that Neg will claim benefits, Aff must be prepared to explain to a neutral listener, why the harms substantially outweigh the benefits which Neg may claim. Neg will be tasked with refuting the Aff claims either by showing the harms are not significant or low-risk or that the benefits swamp the Aff claims of harms. That's it. Simple, right?

About Everyday Debate

For those who are new to Everyday Debate, you should know a few things.  First, I have been a debate coach for about nine years and a debate judge for about eleven years. The Lincoln Douglas Debate style in our state is traditional. It is always value/criterion structured and is generally rendered at conversational or rapid-conversational speeds depending on the judges preferences.  I currently coach a team which keeps me busy enough.  I also, have a fifty hour-per-week job apart from the school system where I train students. I try to maintain this blog as a public service to the debate community.  I do it in my spare time and believe me, I don't have a lot of spare time and often times, I will fall behind. I apologize in advance. As resolutions are introduced by the National Speech and Debate Association, I will typically publish three posts.  First, an introductory post which gives topic background and definitions for the resolution. (You are reading one now.) This is followed by the Aff and Neg positions. In debate, evidence is important in helping a debater establish grounds for her position, so I usually present plenty of evidence and I will give you all of my sources which will almost always be readily available to any Internet users without need for subscriptions or member services. You may use any of my sources as long as you also provide the citations, and you may use any of my ideas for positions.  You should not directly quote my words. You should also know, Everyday Debate is happy to receive your comments and questions.  I do answer nearly every legitimate question.  However, any comments which are outside of the purpose of this blog are subject to deletion.  Also, every comment you make is forwarded to me. This includes comments which are made on obscure past, posts, and comments which you decide to delete on your own.  I see them all so I just ask you keep your involvement with this blog respectful and on topic. Thank you.

Topic Definitions

Basically everyone will understand that countries means nations under the control of sovereign governments. That is not disputed.  We do note, however, the use of the word countries means debaters should not only consider the impact on a single nation such as the United States.  The resolution should be interpreted as applicable to all nations around the world; both resource rich and those resource poor.

Every year Lincoln Douglas resolutions use the word 'ought', and for practical purposes it is interpreted to mean 'should' but I argue the word 'ought' carries substantially more weight than 'should'.  For one reason, 'should' is not absolute.  It hints there is a strong suggestion something 'should' be done but there may be certain conditions under which the choice is optional. 'Ought', suggests a certain obligatory position.  Countries are obliged to do something and some will argue the obligation is rooted in a moral rationale. Countries 'ought' (are obligated) to do something because it is the right (moral) thing to do.

to prohibit
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, this means to order something to not be done, to disallow or prevent something from being done.  There is an authoritative implication to the terminology 'to prohibit'. A sense the thing is prevented by an act of law, with subsequent punishment if the prohibition is violated.

This word describes an action which Merriam Webster defines as the process of making or growing something for sale or use.

nuclear power
The West Dictionary of American Law, 2005 defines nuclear power as "a form of energy produced by an atomic reaction, capable of producing an alternative source of electrical power to that supplied by coal, gas, or oil." I like this definition because it tells us that nuclear power is a source of electrical energy production which is alternative to coal, gas or oil production of electric power.  But this form of production requires a mechanism known as a nuclear reaction. Now of course, if one does not know or understand what nuclear reaction is and how it is used to produce electric power, then the debater is encouraged to research more deeply.

Topic Analysis

Based on the definitions laid out above, we can interpret this resolution to mean, nations should take actions to forbid or prevent the manufacture of electrical power by means of nuclear reaction.  To be sure, most educated adults will have a basic understanding of what is nuclear power and why it is significant.  Most will understand that a nuclear reaction involves the splitting of the atomic nuclei of heavy atoms and many will understand the inherent risks which this kind of nuclear reaction creates. In addition to the release of a vast amount of thermal energy, the reaction releases sub-atomic particles which are dangerous to living cells. Therefore, the reaction must be controlled and contained to prevent harm to living things. Thus, the Aff isolates potential benefits which Neg may claim, namely nuclear power is an alternative to the use of diminishing resources such as coal, gas or oil. But Aff understands that the use of nuclear reactions to produce electricity carries a risk of significant harm to living things. However, please understand that this initial discovery of harms and benefits is merely a first step of discovery every debater must undertake.  The most successful debaters will take this research much, much deeper and perhaps learn there is another significant harm to nuclear power production. When the atomic nuclei of the source material is spent, the material that remains continues to radiate subatomic particles for many, many years and so this waste product and everything it has touched must be disposed of in a way which prevents possible future harm to living things.

However, as the debater continues to research, she will learn the use of nuclear (or atomic) power is seen as a viable alternative to fossil fuels which can produce significant quantities of electrical energy in a world where electrical energy demands increase every year. And for a nation which does not possess coal, gas or oil resources, the use of nuclear power may mean the difference between some degree of economic autonomy or being wholly dependent upon other nations for resources.

So, in a nutshell, we can identify a few significant harms.  The generation of nuclear power requires significant safety precautions to contain the thermal reaction and prevent the release of particles (radioactive) materials into the environment. Additionally, the waste products of nuclear power continue to be harmful for centuries and so additional precautions must be employed to prevent their release into the environment far into the future. The difficulty of containment is seen in three significant cases. In 1979, an accident at the Three Mile Island facility in eastern Pennsylvania resulted in the release of radioactive gases, forcing a total shutdown of the facility. In 1986, an explosion and meltdown of the core in the Chernobyl power plant in the Ukraine resulted in a significant release of radioactive material into the atmosphere and the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of residents near the plant.  In 2011, a tsunami struck Japan and damaged five reactors in Fukushima resulting in core meltdown and release of radioactive materials.  Of course there are many more incidents for the debater to discover.  Nevertheless, the benefits of nuclear power are profound for many nations with limited resources.  Electrical energy production can be extremely  costly using conventional means. for this reason, nuclear power is currently used in may places around the world.  Which means, in the Affirmative debater's world, those plants would be shutdown.

We will explore these issues in more detail in the Aff and Neg positions in the coming days.

To access this or any past topics and to get general information about case-writing and how to do a debate, click the Lincoln Douglas tab at the top of this page.

PF Sep/Oct 2016 - Probable Cause Search of Students - Con Position

Resolved: In United States public K-12 schools, the probable cause standard ought to apply to searches of students.

Con Position

The guiding principles governing the legality of student searches was handed down in the Supreme Court case of New Jersey v T.L.O, 1985.  At that time, a a school principal in New Jersey had reasonable cause to believe a student, referred to as T.L.O. had been smoking in the school restroom in violation of school rules. A subsequent search of her purse revealed not only cigarettes, but marijuana and drug paraphernalia consistent with the items a marijuana dealer may possess.  The girl's lawyers, argued the evidence found in the search was obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment protections requiring probable cause (see the Pro Position for more details). Eventually the case was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court which agreed that students do have a reasonable expectation of privacy and ultimately allowed schools to apply what is known as a reasonable suspicion standard to justify searches, rather than the probable cause standard required by the Fourth Amendment.  However, to clarify the tenet of reasonable suspicion, the court further elucidated a two-pronged test to protect student rights.

Tiller (2013):
Although recognizing that students have protected privacy interests, the Court said that the potential danger in schools and the substantial need to maintain order does not require strict adherence to the rule that searches be based on probable cause. Rather, school officials may search students if it is reasonable under all the circumstances, which is determined by considering (1) whether “the action was justified at its inception,” and (2) whether it was “reasonably related in scope to the circumstances which justified the interference in the first place.” A search is justified at its inception when “there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that the search will turn up evidence that the student has violated . . . either the law or the rules of the school.” It is permissible in scope when the measures are “reasonably related to the objectives of the search and not excessively intrusive in light of the age and sex of the student and the nature of the infraction. [592]

For the most part, the T.L.O. case has served very well as the applicable standard for the last 31 years. The Con position claims the standard is still sufficient and continues to protect student rights while allowing the necessary amount of freedom for school administrators to do their job of ensuring a safe atmosphere, conducive to education. The basis of this position is found first in a recognition there exists limited rights in general for minors under parental care coupled with the necessity to equip school officials who are responsible for children and the teaching staff to maintain a safe and effective environment conducive to the duties which they are bound under law to fulfill. Sometimes, that duty necessitates the hiring of individuals who are better trained and equipped to deal with investigations and suppression of disruptive behaviors.

The Con position is as follows. Within the context of present case law, especially T.L.O., schools need and deserve flexibility due to the special nature of their position as care-givers and educators and the application of the probable cause standard would jeopardize the execution of those unique duties.

The Limits of Student Rights

While the court has famously said students do not leave their constitutional rights at the gate, it is fair to say student rights are greatly restricted in a public school settings.  Freedom of speech, the right to assembly, the second amendment right to bear arms, and many others are curtailed by the over-arching need to maintain the conducive educational atmosphere. Such curtailment of rights is even common in public settings with adults. For example, students have a right to free speech, but the school is allowed to place limits on the content, types and times the right may be exercised. Students rights to assemble are guaranteed by the school system limits the time and place out of administrative necessity. This limitation of rights for minor students is generally accepted in U.S. law escpecially when there is a more important consideration for the public welfare.

Hudson (2002):
But public school students do not possess unlimited First Amendment rights. Two legal principles limit their rights. First, as the Supreme Court has said, minors do not possess the same level of constitutional rights as adults. Second, the government generally has greater power to dictate policy when it acts in certain capacities, such as educator, employer or jailer. For instance, a school principal can restrict a student from cursing a teacher in class or in the hallway. However, the principal would have limited, if any, authority to punish a student for criticizing a school official off-campus. This principle of greater government control applies broadly in the public schools. The paramount duty of public school officials is to educate children in a safe environment. As one federal court put it: “Learning is more important in the classroom than free speech.”

Moreover, school districts establish the codes of conduct for students in accordance with community standards and with parental input. These codes establish what is or not permissible and defines the conduct of school employees as well as students with the aim of promoting the educational experience with oversight by the school system legal counselors to ensure compliance with government requirements.  This public-private cooperation is necessary since school officials in effect take on a sort of surrogate parent role known as loco parentis (in place of parents).

Byxbe & Urbina (2013):
Even though it is important to note that school officials are state agents, their position In Loco Parentis, “in the eyes of the minor student,” places them in a position of authority similar to parents. In school, the security of students depends on a certain level of restraints placed on student activities. Whether for security or disciplinary purposes, restraints are assumed and expected of all students. Faced with such authority in settings requiring control of their behavior, children cannot reasonably expect to have the level of privacy as they would outside the school (Interest of L.L. v. Washington County, 1979). [2] 

School attendance is not voluntary. The government requires parents to basically hand control of their children over to school officials for the purpose of education. Therefore, school systems operate under rigorous legal scrutiny to ensure students receive proper care during these times of mandatory education. As a result of this responsibility school officials are permitted a certain degree freedom, similar to what a parent possesses, to deal with behavioral issues.

Soltzenberg (1976)
Compulsory education laws require juveniles to attend school. While they are present in school, they are subject to the authority of school officials, including teachers, principals, and deans. The doctrine of in loco parentis gives the school official the power and responsibility of the child's parents while acting in their place. Under this doctrine, the school official possesses a fairly substantial amount of power over the student. Inextricably tied to the school's duty to educate, is a duty to protect the welfare of its students. It is often statutorily mandated for schools to exercise  diligent care for the health and physical development of their students. There also exists a concomitant duty to maintain order and discipline in the school. As a consequence, under the doctrine of in loco parentis, school officials need not warn students of their constitutional rights for every disciplinary problem, even where "the problem of discipline occasions the knowledge of the commission of a crime." [204]

The private-public cooperation extends to the actions of students.  As explained by Byxbe and Urbina, a student is expected to cooperate in investigations and comply to requests to permit searches.

Byxbe & Urbina (2013):
Under the limits of In Loco Parentis, there is also the issue of student compliance. Again, school officials acting with reasonable suspicion can, for example, demand that students empty their pockets, to include billfold or purse, for inspection (Tarter v. Raybuck, 1983). If students refuse to comply with school officials, the school has the authority to take necessary steps to ensure compliance. Consider, for instance, the following situation where a vice-principle and a student had a “tug-of-war” over the student’s coat and the student lost, the court declared that the used force by school officials was within their In Loco Parentis authority (State v. Baccino, 1971). The use of force in searching students has been upheld even when the search was conducted off school grounds. [6]
We must look to the fact that despite the role of schools as loco parentis, school administrators are not given unlimited powers over the lives of students.  Courts still maintain a responsibility to protect students' privacy and the constitutional rights allowed by their status as minors.  School administrators have a public duty to comply with the court.  For this reason, the reasonable suspicion standard provides a good balance between freedom to take disciplinary actions and protection of rights.

School Resource Officers (SRO)

So-called school resource officers are often hired by school systems to maintain security and ensure a safe atmosphere for staff and students.  In many cases, these officers are regular police officers who serve their capacity as resource officers while wearing the uniform of the police department but operating in a reduced capacity as an agent of the school system. As Pro will no doubt argue, the use of police as school resource officers changes the dynamics of the balance between necessity and rights and calls into question the relevance of the T.L.O. decision since the role of the officer as an agent of the school system may be questioned.  One famous case in Washington in the 1990s challenged that role. A police officer named Fry, serving as as school resource officer found a student named Meneese, with marijuana in a school restroom.  When the student would not unlock his padlocked backpack, the officer searched the student, found the key and opened the backpack finding a BB gun.  Meneese was then charged with possession of marijuana and a dangerous weapon.

Tiller (2013):
Although the court acknowledged T.L.O. as binding, it concluded that “in light of the overwhelming indicia of police action, Fry was a law enforcement officer,” and therefore, the school exception did not apply. [594]

Since Officer Fry, was found by the court to be a police officer as opposed to a school official, the court ruled the probable cause standard applies.  However, the ruling was not unanimous and Justice Stephens dissent questioned the majority decision. Officer Fry's actions were in accord with that of a school official “so long as it is related to school policy and not merely a subterfuge for unrelated law enforcement activities.” (Tiller : 595) Critics contend, however, an officer is a school official when hired for the purpose and when the officer performs the duties of a school officer. Thus one should consider the function as opposed to the form. Indeed, other court cases have taken the position that SROs function as agents of the school and not the criminal justice system.  Tiller argues the probable cause standard would be detrimental to schools.

Tiller (2013):
A probable cause standard would frustrate the fulfillment of the resource officer’s duty, make it harder for schools to keep contraband off school property, and make it easier for students to conceal drugs or weapons at school. This high standard will not mitigate drug and gun problems, but will make them worse. It will force educators and resource officers to take the time to apply for a warrant instead of immediately addressing a perceived threat—time that in some circumstances, could literally be the difference between life and death. Reasonable suspicion, though, allows educators and resource officers the flexibility to search without wasting time obtaining a warrant, and discourages students from bringing contraband to school. [612]
Much of the dispute over what role if any, police officers can play depends upon the authority under which they are acting.  Thus the mere fact the officer has a uniform that may identify him in form, the more important consideration is one of function.  Under whose authority are actions taken?

Soltzenberg (1976)
In re Fred C. concerned a student who was summoned to the vice principal's office. The vice principal intended to search and interrogate him as part of an investigation based upon information that he was selling dangerous drugs at school. When the student resisted, a police officer was called in to assist. The officer later testified that he conducted the search not as a law enforcement officer, but as an agent for the vice principal. The court apparently agreed with this argument. It held that since the search was the "sole product of the initiating action taken by the school authorities [and] was executed in their presence," and since both student and vice principal "benefited" by the police officer's assistance, it was reasonable for the policeman to conduct the search.[213]

In fact, since that early case cited by Soltzenberg, there have been many challenges to the role of SROs and most now support the Con case.

Thurau & Wald (2009):
A line of cases now differentiates between SROs and “outside” officers. For SROs stationed in schools, Indiana and Tennessee courts have ruled that it is permissible to use a reasonable suspicion standard, while “outside” officers must abide by the probable cause standard. Another line of cases holds that if a police officer is doing what a school administrator would have done, the special powers and authority of the officer should not require special due process protections for students because the powers of the administrator and officer are equivalent. Similarly, if police support a search initiated by a school official outside of school, the reasonableness standard prevails because the state’s interest in keeping youth safe trumps youths’ due process protections.[985]


Within the confines of current law, there is sufficient freedom and protection of rights to reject the call for a more stringent standard, one afforded adult criminals in formal court proceedings. This flexibility, for the most part is in accord with community standards an in compliance with the special status of schools as loco parentis.  The Con has provided evidence that application of the probable cause standard will endanger students and staff.  In those situations, where rights are inadventently abused, problems can often be mitigated by better training and clearly elucidating expectations to both staff and students.

For all the reasons and more, we urge a Con ballot.

To access other posts on this topic or to learn more about PF debate, click the Public Forum Debate tab at the top of this page.


Byxbe, FY; Urbina, MG; (2013), The Globalization of Crime in American Schools: An Assessment of Emerging Trends in the Twenty-First Century, American International Journal of Social Science, Vol. 2 No. 4; June 2013. Accessed 9/5/2016 at: http://www.aijssnet.com/journals/Vol_2_No_4_June_2013/1.pdf

Hudson, DL, (2002), K-12 public school student expression overview, First Amendment Center, Vanderbilt University and Newseum, 2002, accessed 9//2016 at: http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/k-12-public-school-student-expression-overview

Stolzenberg, DS, (1976) Public School Searches and Seizures, 45 Fordham L. Rev. 202 (1976). Accessed 9/5/2016. Available at: http://ir.lawnet.fordham.edu/flr/vol45/iss1/11

Thurau, LH; Wald, JA (2009), Controlling Partners: When Law Enforcement Meets Discipline in Public Schools, New Your Law School Law Review, Vol 54, 2009/10. accessed 9/5/2015 at: http://www.nylslawreview.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2013/11/54-4.Thurau-Wald.pdf

Tiller, B. C. (2013). Problems of Probable Cause: Meneese and the Myth of Eroding Fourth Amendment Rights for Students, The. . Louis ULJ, 58, 589. accessed 9/5/2016 at: http://www.slu.edu/Documents/law/Law%20Journal/Archives/LawJournal58-2/Tiller_Article.pdf

PF Sep/Oct 2016 - Probable Cause Search of Students - Pro Position

Resolved: In United States public K-12 schools, the probable cause standard ought to apply to searches of students.

Pro Position

This resolution is very specific. The scope is U.S. public K-12 schools and the issue is the application of the probable cause standard to searches of students. The probable cause standard is a justification written into the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

U.S. Constitution IV:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Probable cause, is not always easy to define, but it is much more than a mere hunch or suspicion.  It is loosely defined as circumstances, known to an officer which would lead any reasonable person to believe a crime has taken place (or in some cases, is about to take place).  Because, the standard is not always easy to determine (except perhaps when an officer visually witnesses evidence), the law requires a warrant issued by a court, and it is the court which decides whether probable cause exists.

The landmark case which is now the legal precedent used by courts to decide the legality of searches of students arose from an incident which occurred in New Jersey in the early 1980's.  School officials looking for cigarettes (smoking was banned at the school) searched a student's purse and not only found cigarettes but also marijuana and other evidence which implicated her as a suspected marijuana dealer. The state then charged her with delinquency. The student, known in court documents as T.L.O., through her lawyers, requested the court to disallow the evidence on the basis that the search was unreasonable. In effect, it violated her fourth amendment rights. Eventually, the case of New Jersey v. T.L.O. was brought before the U.S. Supreme Court which ruled in 1985, in which the court affirmed limited fourth amendment protections to students.

LII (undated):
The Fourth Amendment's prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures applies to searches conducted by public school officials, and is not limited to searches carried out by law enforcement officers. Nor are school officials exempt from the Amendment's dictates by virtue of the special nature of their authority over schoolchildren. In carrying out searches and other functions pursuant to disciplinary policies mandated by state statutes, school officials act as representatives of the State, not merely as surrogates for the parents of students, and they cannot claim the parents immunity from the Fourth Amendment's strictures.

The T.L.O. decision also affirmed that students do have "legitimate expectations of privacy" (LII). However, the court made a concession in order to balance student's privacy rights and Fourth Amendment rights with a legitimate need for schools to have flexibility in maintaining an atmosphere in which education can take place. Thus, the Court softened the Fourth Amendment protection.

LII (undated)
We join the majority of courts that have examined this issue in concluding that the accommodation of the privacy interests of schoolchildren with the substantial need of teachers and administrators for freedom to maintain order in the schools does not require strict adherence to the requirement that searches be based on probable cause to believe that the subject of the search has violated or is violating the law. Rather, the legality of a search of a student should depend simply on the reasonableness, under all the circumstances, of the search. Determining the reasonableness of any search involves a twofold inquiry: first, one must consider "whether the . . . action was justified at its inception," Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. at 20; second, one must determine whether the search as actually conducted "was reasonably related in scope to the circumstances which justified the interference in the first place," ibid. Under ordinary circumstances, a search of a student by a teacher or other school official will be [p342] "justified at its inception" when there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that the search will turn up evidence that the student has violated or is violating either the law or the rules of the school. Such a search will be permissible in its scope when the measures adopted are reasonably related to the objectives of the search and not excessively intrusive in light of the age and sex of the student and the nature of the infraction. [emphasis mine; ellipses in original text]

Since T.L.O., the limited Fourth Amendment protections granted by the court have eroded, as schools and courts have struggled with need to balance the state requirement to provide an atmosphere conducive to education. One only needs to look to a number of school shootings and other violent incidents to understand how difficult it may be to manage this balance.

Nance (2015):
For example, over the last few decades, courts have weakened students’ Fourth Amendment rights in schools in order to support school officials in their efforts to promote safety and discipline within schools. This movement in the law has emboldened school officials to rely on intense surveillance methods to maintain control. Before conducting a search, school officials need not obtain a warrant, show probable cause, or have an individualized suspicion that a student violated a school rule. Consequently, school officials may rely on a host of suspicionless search practices in schools to uncover violations of school rules. For instance, school officials may use metal detectors, search through students’ lockers, conduct random sweeps for contraband, and install surveillance cameras in the hallways and public rooms throughout the school. In fact, many schools throughout the country routinely rely on these strict measures to monitor students. In addition, school officials may interrogate students without providing Miranda warnings, regardless of how serious the suspected offense might be or the possibility that the student might be referred to law enforcement for wrongdoing. Some courts have even held that it is unnecessary to provide these constitutionally-based protections when a police officer participates in the investigation.[15-16]

The real danger in relaxing Fourth Amendment rights arises when one considers the ever-increasing ties between schools and the law-enforcement community.  The T.L.O. case clearly illustrates how a search which originated from a reasonable suspicion of a school rules-violation, potentially, developed into a criminal investigation, only without the usual constitutional protections afforded such investigations. For T.L.O. the punishment was a seven day suspension from school and not a jail term. Today, more and more, the punishment develops into criminal charges of various degrees. It is for this reason, Pro advocates the application of full Fourth Amendment rights and in particular, the standard of probable cause in order to protect not only the privacy rights of students, but more importantly, their legal rights.

Security Officers

There is a growing trend for schools to employ law-enforcement officers to provide school security. In the school environment, the officers operate under the more relaxed standards of protection of rights applied in schools rather than the more rigorous legal requirements employed on the streets. Quite often, violators are removed from schools and handed directly over to the criminal justice system under circumstances which would be rejected by courts if the evidence resulting in charges were discovered on the streets. This is especially true since many courts take the view that officers working in the school are acting as agents of the school system and so the "reasonable suspicion" standard applies rather than "probable cause". University of Maryland's Professor Michael Pinard, described one such result in the Illinois case, People v Dilworth.

Pinard (2005):
The Illinois Supreme Court, after setting out the facts leading up to and including the search, characterized the encounter “as involving a liaison police officer conducting a search on his own initiative and authority, in furtherance of the school’s attempt to maintain a proper educational environment.” The Court then held that reasonable suspicion, rather than probable cause, was the legal standard the officer needed to conduct the search. In so holding, the Court relied on, inter alia, Vernonia School District 47J v. Acton for the proposition that “students within the school environment have a lesser expectation of privacy than members of the population generally.” The Court then weighed those lesser privacy expectations against the school’s “compelling interest in maintaining a proper educational environment for all its students.[1085]

The Dilworth decision was strongly dissented by Illinois Justice, Nickels, for permitting lower standards for a police officer. The decision was also particularly troubling to some scholars of constitutional law.

Beger (2004):
The Dilworth decision is representative of a series of recent cases in which trial and appellate courts have lowered the bar for student searches by police officers. Instead of protecting schoolchildren from arbitrary police intrusion, courts have given law enforcement officials the widest latitude to search students. For example, state appellate courts have redefined police search conduct as "minor" or "incidental" to justify application of the reasonable suspicion standard. Appellate courts have also suggested that the lesser reasonable suspicion test should be applied when police search at the request of school officials or are present when school authorities engage in a search. Courts have even upheld dragnet suspicionless searches of school lockers and police-directed canine searches of students' property with no warnings. Due to these decisions, public school children may now be searched on less than probable cause and prosecuted in adult court with the evidence from the search.

Pinard goes into great detail, describing in case after case the complexities of the interaction between school systems and law-enforcement officers, acting as agents of the school. Pinard, strongly suggests a reassessment of the standards for search and seizure.

Pinard (2005):
These interdependent relationships render it necessary to revisit the Fourth Amendment protections afforded to school children and to reconsider the level of suspicion school officials should possess before searching students, as well as the rights that students should possess when subjected to searches. It is also important to consider what effect, if any, law enforcement involvement has on the constitutionality of student searches, as well as, on a more rudimentary level, how law enforcement involvement should even be defined in this context. It is only within this broader context that these complete narratives can be properly defined and interpreted. The end result of these relationships is that these school officials now act pursuant to policies—explicit or implicit—both “[i]n conjunction with” and, perhaps more importantly, “at the behest of law enforcement agencies.” As noted above, while the Supreme Court in T.L.O. did not address this issue, several lower courts have attempted to do so. In fact, courts recognize that when school officials truly act as agents of law enforcement authorities, probable cause is the level of suspicion required to uphold the legality of the searches. [1097-1098]

When the lines are blurred between, a school system dealing with rules infractions, and law-enforcement operations occurring under the guise of normal school security functions, it is time for the courts to act to protect the rights of individuals.

Kagan (2004):
The argument on behalf of allowing school searches without probable cause would be stronger if such searches were not so closely tied to law enforcement. If, for instance, a school set a policy of searching students with reasonable suspicion only but refused to turn evidence gathered in such searches over to law enforcement, then such a policy would fit more closely in line with Supreme Court precedent. Schools have a wide variety of disciplinary options available that do not involve using the juvenile justice system. [315]
When students are remanded to the criminal justice systems, the impacts can be life-altering and irreparable. Because an individual may be incarcerated or stigmatized, the law is necessary to prevent government abuse of citizens.  And, as we shall see, usually these citizens are effected  disproportionately.

Harms to the Disadvantaged

The issues discussed by Pinard and others, suggest fundamental constitutional rights of the poor and disadvantaged are disproportionately at risk since police intervention and security methods tend to be applied in poorer, urban school districts rather than more affluent or rural districts.

Pinard (2005)
Commentators also warn that law enforcement presence in public schools, particularly when combined with zero tolerance policies, creates an acute risk of utilizing the criminal justice system to handle incidents and behaviors that had been previously dealt with through school disciplinary processes. Such policies disproportionately affect lower-income students and students of color, because the majority of schools that have adopted these security measures are located in urban and poorer communities, and because both the juvenile and criminal justice systems disproportionately punish those who are economically disadvantaged and of color. [1106]
Pro debaters will have little trouble finding evidence supporting the view, that harms to minorities and the economically disadvantaged are occurring as a result of loose interpretation of student rights by law-enforcement officers and local courts.

Kagan (2004):
Other factors-which will necessarily vary from school to school raise policy concerns regarding developing school-law enforcement cooperation. Chief among these factors is a concern for racially disparate effect of particular policies; the closer school-law enforcement ties discussed in this essay are more prevalent in low-income and predominantly minority schools. The Department of Education has reported that schools with higher populations of minority students are more likely to have a significant police presence. Thus, a higher proportion of minority students are likely to be faced with such searches that carry with them the added risk of leading to a juvenile court appearance. Commentators have also noted how police school interactions disproportionately burden African-American and Latino students. [322-323]
There is no way to predict when a simple disciplinary action required to enforce school rules could become a criminal investigation and so it is critical to apply the highest standards of discretion, even in a K-12 public schools setting.

Applying Probable Cause

It seems we have come a long way from the days of  T.L.O. both in terms of the seriousness of the potential violations and degradation of student rights.  The legal scholars agree with the Pro team. The time has come to apply the highest standard of protection for the rights of students.  Perhaps, schools have few options for dealing with rules-violations. Perhaps, more effective protections can be put into place which discourage students from potentially interfering with the responsibility of the system to provide an effective education.  Regardless, in the status quo, schools are relying more and more upon, law-enforcement to deal with issues and the courts have not adequately addressed the issue.

DIL (2015):
The current doctrine does not acknowledge that even where school officials search students independently of any police officers, students’ privacy interests might be implicated by requirements that school officials report evidence to police. Thus, probable cause should apply where school officials search students without a law enforcement presence, but are required to report the evidence found to police, potentially “lead[ing] to the student’s arrest.” This suggestion acknowledges the practical reality that student discipline is not just criminalized because police officers are in schools, but also because schools often report student misbehavior to law enforcement authorities. [Sec. D-4]
Kagan, summarizes the problem quite well, suggesting the link between schools and law enforcement requires a reexamination of the issue.  The relatively broad-ruling in T.L.O. is not applicable in systems which rely on "school-law enforcement interdependence".

Kagan (2004):
A better approach would ask whether a given school or school district's policies and programs are so entangled with law enforcement as to make T.L.O. inapplicable, thus applying one standard-reasonable suspicion or probable cause-to all searches within each school. Applying tests from administrative search cases discussed in Part II to developments in school-law enforcement interdependence discussed in Part III, this section provides a fuller analysis of post-T.L.0. school searches. It lays out two arguments, either of which could be adopted by state or federal courts. First, a strong case exists that courts should no longer consider many school searches under the special needs framework because their purpose is now too closely aligned with general law enforcement goals. Second, even if school searches may still be considered administrative searches, increased school-law enforcement cooperation increases the level of intrusiveness that they cause and thus add to the set of factors weighing on the side of defendants' case that such searches are unreasonable. [320-321]

The answer is the crux of the Pro case.  School officials should always be required to apply the probable case standard. It is the only way to ensure students are not unjustifiably harmed.

DIL (2015):
School officials should additionally be held to a probable cause standard even for searches based on a suspected violation of school rules, where the policy of the school is to turn over any evidence of criminal activity found to the police. Such a requirement would, of course, mean that more evidence would be excluded from criminal cases. Though the exclusionary rule is often criticized for preventing valuable evidence from being introduced at trial, this criticism has less force when applied to children, who are considered less culpable for their crimes by both courts and legislatures. The criminal justice system has proved incapable of rehabilitating juveniles, and may indeed fate children who would otherwise have grown out of an unruly period to be forever connected with the system.[Sec. D-4]

We close with the declaration of former Professor of Criminal Justice, Randall R. Beger who laments the decline of student rights.

Beger (2004):
Because the school setting demands "constant submission to authority" [in the words of Mai Linh Spencer] and is imposing harsher criminal penalties on students who misbehave, the legal rights of schoolchildren ought to be given the highest legal protection afforded by the nation's courts. Regrettably, the opposite is true. Bowing to public fears and legislative pressures, trial and appellate courts have reduced the Fourth Amendment rights of students to an abstraction. The nation's courts no longer seem interested in scrutinizing the specific facts surrounding the search of a student to determine if police had probable cause or even reasonable suspicion. Instead, courts search for a policy justification—e.g, minimizing disruptions to school order or protecting the safety of students and teachers—to uphold the search, even when police use evidence seized under lower and increasingly porous search standards to convict minors in adult criminal court. Given the current atmosphere of widespread fear and distress precipitated by the September 11, 2001, tragedy there is little reason to expect courts will impose any restrictions on searches in schools. Ironically, children are unsafe in public schools today not because of exposure to drugs and violence, but because they have lost their constitutional protections under the Fourth Amendment.
Professor Beger sums up the Pro position succinctly, "children are unsafe in public schools today not because of exposure to drugs and violence, but because they have lost their constitutional protections...". 

For all these reasons more, we urge a Pro ballot.

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Beger, RR (2004), "Increased School Security Measures Violate Students' Rights." How Can School Violence Be Prevented? Ed. Scott Barbour. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2004. At Issue. Rpt. from "Expansion of Police Power in Public Schools and the Vanishing Rights of Students." Social Justice (2002): 119. Opposing Viewpoints in Context, accessed 9/5/2016 at: http://ic.galegroup.com/ic/ovic/ViewpointsDetailsPage/ViewpointsDetailsWindow?failOverType=&query=&prodId=OVIC&windowstate=normal&contentModules=&display-query=&mode=view&displayGroupName=Viewpoints&limiter=&currPage=&disableHighlighting=false&displayGroups=&sortBy=&search_within_results=&p=OVIC&action=e&catId=&activityType=&scanId=&documentId=GALE%7CEJ3010340207&source=Bookmark&u=san59205&jsid=b54ee7c3af88a4bea6d0d812f1680d8a

Developments in the Law (DIL), Policing Students, Harvard Law Review, vol 128, Issue 3, Apr 2015). Accessed 9/5/2016 at: http://harvardlawreview.org/2015/04/policing-students/

Kagan, J. (2004), Reappraising TL.O.'s "Special Needs" Doctrine in an Era of School-Law Enforcement Entanglement, Journal of Law & Education, Vol. 33, No. 3, 2004, accessed 9/5/2016 at: http://youthjusticenc.org/download/education-justice/disparities/Reappraising%20T.L.O%E2%80%99s%20%E2%80%9CSpecial%20Needs%E2%80%9D%20Doctrine%20in%20an%20Era%20of%20School-Law%20Enforcement%20Entanglement.pdf

Legal Information Institute (LII), "New Jersey v T.L.O", (undated), Cornell University Law School. Accessed 9/5/2016 at: https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/469/325

Nance, JP, (2015), Student, Police and the School-to-Prison Pipeline, Washington University Law Review, Vol.93, accessed 9/5/2016 at: http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/diversity/Jason%20Nance.authcheckdam.pdf

Pinard, M, (2003), From the Classroom to the Courtroom: Reassessing the Fourth Amendment Stadards in Public Schools Searches Involving Law Enforcement Authorities, Arizona Law Review, Vol 45: 1067], accessed 9/5/2016 at: http://arizonalawreview.org/pdf/45-4/45arizlrev1067.pdf