[eDebate] Procedural question(s) about the courts topic

Dr. Joe Bellon debate.gsu
Tue Apr 11 16:20:40 CDT 2006

Having debated one courts topic in college and coached another, I have
had very serious misgivings about what I perceive to be two related
procedural problems with a topic in which the supreme court is the

The court makes its decisions exclusively based on specific cases that
are brought before it. Lower court rulings apply to the court to be
heard, then are placed on the docket for potential ruling.

This presents us with two problems as a debate community.

First, the court cannot simply decide to overrule (or overturn or
whatever) one of its previous rulings. If it does so (and I'm not sure
it does this very often at all), it must take that action as part of a
ruling on a specific existing case whose issues give rise to the
central questions of the previous ruling.

It is very possible that, at any given time in the debate season,
there may be no specific case on the docket that the court could rule
on concerning a specific existing precedent. That means it is possible
that one or more plan areas might not be workable. Perhaps the aff
could have the court grant cert to a case not on the docket, but that
would have the effect of substantially increasing the research burden
for the neg. There may be very little literature on a case that is not
actually pending before the court.

Why is having a case so important? I have heard folks suggest that we
simply act as if there is a pending case and not worry about the
specifics. This seems to me to mischaracterize the way the court
works. It is not like congress -- it can't create a law out of whole
cloth and pass it overnight. Congress does that. The court must
consider the specifics of the case, and has often indicated that it
does not feel empowered to rule on questions that are not related
directly to the specifics of the case. To fiat past the specifics of a
pending case seems to void the argument that it is educational to
learn about non-congressional agents.

Second, what if there *is* a case on the docket that deals with one of
the topic areas? Doesn't this create a huge inherency problem? I think
here of the recent discussion of Roe. It seems South Dakota is
positively chomping at the bit to go to court and overturn Roe. If
such a case were on the docket at the beginning of the debate season,
then the court could decide at any time to rule and obviate an entire
topic area. Given the court's schedule, wouldn't we be voting on a
resolution before we even know what was on the court's docket?

Now, I will be the first to say that I lack an intricate understanding
of the workings of the court. I feel sure that our community is
populated with the vastly more educated. I await the perspectives of
these experts, who I'm sure will explain to me why I shouldn't be
worried about these procedural issues. While they're at it, maybe they
could explain how a courts plan could be written in a realistic
fashion, when real court decisions are enormous and contain hundreds
of important details.

Dr. Joe Bellon
Director of Debate
Georgia State University

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