[eDebate] Topic Formulations - Whats your method?

J T jtedebate
Mon Apr 24 12:45:48 CDT 2006

>So my question is how do you approach topic construction.

>Example #1 --  I assume the topic will say ???USFG should???.   Now,  will what the "USFG should" do -  be binding to allow ???negative ground??? or will what the ???USFG should??? do be open in relation to the topic area.

Yes it should be binding for negative ground...even if not rigidly defined, some predictability is better...I think Ryan has a good idea:  "The US Supreme Court should overturn/overrule:... Negatives will always know the Aff "affirms" that the SC should act, or that it would be a good idea if they did...AFF gets to pick amongst the various decided cases that span the full spectrum of impacts/issues/causes (so the aff is restricted, but not confined...lots of flexibility)

>Example #2 ??? Is negative ground better or more important than affirmative flexibility?  Will the affirmative be restricted to specific ???bad??? actions so the negative can have an argument? (yes bad is subjective ??? that is why any restrictor is biased)

Biases are always inevitable, but can be managed for a better topic. On a Supreme Court topic, the concern about Affs being restricted to "negative" or "bad" actions.  The constraints of this nature will exist within the second half of the topic (types of cases), not at the level of topical mechanism.

>Example #3 ??? Can we identify all of the solvency advocates/options within a topic area in the six weeks or four days of the topic committee meeting?  Does the wording invite us to explore, or restrict us with definitional dogma?

Of course we can't...but the phrase "Supreme Court should overturn" is easily accessible. There should be no reason why affs shouldn't have a clear advocate...Even if we can't identify all advocates, we can investigate the more apparent advocates to get a general understanding of what the topic will be like....Of course, there will always be teams who decide to have the SC overturn ideologies, etc...maybe we'll all just "jump"!  But if there is a stable advocate or mechanism...negs should complain.

>I really have no clue on how some of the people on the committee approach these issues.  I have never even met some of these people. I am not really up for debate on how you see it, I just want to know how you see it, so when the topic committee meeting happens, there will be more familiarity with the process you will be utilizing. (backchannel me if you wish)

Usually it is the action of the USFG (negative vs. positive) that gives people trouble...now we must look to the second half of the resolution to determine limits....a few issues:

"its"--For example, take "overturn"...Should the SC overturn a decision by the lower courts (hear a new case, not previously decided by the SC) or should the SC overrule/overturn one of "its" decisions (previously decided case)?

The first option also concern the question about where affs can chose cases:  Do they have to be current docket? (arguably the MOST predictable, but overlimiting) If the case does not have to be on the current docket, what fair limit can there be on the infinite number of lower court decisions?

The second option concerns previously decided decisions. This would include all cases in the history of the SC (ok, that's alot, but many are no longer contested or are functionally irrelevant...also, you can generate a list...and that's predictable, even if 30 pages long I guess).  Also, as soon as a case on the docket is decided, it potentially becomes a case.

OK so how do we limit (even broadly)? I think Ryan suggessted one possibility of the often disputed list. I do not think lists are universally good, but they can be fair to all concerns. Even if you want a broad topic, we should be able to craft one that gives some specific ground...

After some intial research I came up with the fillowing long list  of topics/issues to get started: (unless specified, I found many Cases in this area)

-election reform (Bush v. Gore is a big one)
-death penalty/domestic prisoner rights
-child rights
-student rights
-free speech 
-Indigenous issues
-inter-state commerce
-federalism/separation of powers
-abortion/reproductive rights
-transboundary pollution
-drug use/policy
-right to die
-religious freedom
-military issues (jurisdiction/authority, etc.)

There are definitely ways for each of these to be more specific. If we keep the list broad we can provide aff flexibility/creativity ---for example, something like "in the areas of" or "to address one or more of the following issues":  then list out broad categories like "free speech" or "federalism" or "indigenous rights"...Negatives can craft good strategies from multiple angles (all core negative ground plus area specific ground...enter creativity/flexibility).  Affs can choose from multiple cases and sub-issues...predictable, but flexible & broad.

Further direction could include: "to increase rights in one or more of the following areas:"

Other issues I tend to question...How many items on the list? Do I use creativity or predictability as the primary guide for choosing the specific items?

Another possibility: "SC should overturn one or more of its decisions to increase rights of oppressed peoples in the United States."  OK, this is a little too broad for my taste...How do you define "oppressed"?..Regardless, this is just an example of how we could craft a broad topic, with some constraints, providing the terminology could be worked out.

I think we should generally steer clear of search and seizure and detainment (although keep death penatly) issues.  They will often be involved in the decision, but should not be the primary grounds for decision...the HS circuit just did those cases.

...and that's two cents!

Assistant Debate Coach, Emporia State University

I promise I will not respond to indict your method, but would find it very helpful to have an idea of what lens you 
see topic construction through.



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