Nov 5, 2008

a critical question for contractarian neg cases in the felon voting resolution

Regarding the current resolution, this is about the clearest statement for the negative position based on retribution and the social contract that you're going to find. It comes from "The prisoner's campaign: Felony disenfranchisement laws and the right to hold public office," by Andrea Steinacker, found in the Brigham Young University Law Review.
The main theory behind retributive punishment is that "someone who has violated the rights of others should be penalized, and punishment restores the moral order that has been breached by the original wrongful act" [citing Ken Greenwalt's article, "Punishment," in the Encyclopedia of Crime and Justice]. Retribution is also seen in terms of fairness to the law-abiding citizen. Under John Locke's concept of the social compact, "[a] man who breaks the laws he has authorized his agent to make for his own governance could fairly have been thought to have abandoned the right to participate in further administering the compact" [citing Green v. Board of Elections]. Under the retributive theory of punishment, those who break the law should not be allowed to participate in making the law, whether as a voter or as a political officer.
Later on, Steinacker quotes from another important felon disenfranchisement case, Texas Supporters of Workers World Party Presidential Candidates v. Strake:
"The State has a valid interest in ensuring that the rules of its society are made by those who have not shown an unwillingness to abide by those rules."
If you note carefully, neither of these quotes really explains why the rulebreaker, as it were, has abandoned the right. It's merely presumed to be "fair" and "valid."

So, here's the question: why? Why is it fair and valid to presume that disenfranchisement is a logical or natural consequence of violating the social contract? In other words, does an argument to the social contract really run deep enough?

Update: Mr. Kuznicki provides an answer.


lynn said...

Jim, if i were to have a criterion of the social contract on the neg, which version would be best?

Danny said...

Well I know my name isn't Jim, but I figured I would help anyways.
My initial choice was Rosseau's SC because of The General Will and its huge impact back to democratic society. However, Locke's SC offers a broader view on retributive punishment and development from the natural order/anarchy. They're both pretty similar, but it seems Locke's ideals apply better here.

Alex said...

Would this be an okay argument against social contract?

The law does not say that "you cannot murder someone," but rather that "if you murder someone, you must serve this sentence for this amount of time in this jail, etc." Therefore, felons are doing everything the social contract requires them to; they are being held accountable by the state for their actions.

The question here is not whether they are removed from the social contract and have breached it, but whether the social contract must be altered to include disenfranchisement as a punishment for felons.

Anonymous said...

I came across this argument (more of a question) in cx that I simply could not explain or refute:

Wouldn't committing a misdemeanor break the social contract? If so, shouldn't we take away their right to vote too?

The best I've been able to answer is "Yes" which leads them to impact it later in their rebuttal and make me look like an idiot.

Jim Anderson said...

lynn, Danny's advice is pretty solid. Good going, Not-Jim.

Alex, the law and the social contract aren't exactly the same thing. The law is based on the social contract--and may draw its justification for disenfranchisement from contractarian principles--but it's not safe to argue that fulfilling the law fulfills the social contract unless you can warrant that assumption.

anonymous, every system of penalties is graded or has degrees. For example, soccer has yellow cards and red cards. To presume that a yellow card is grounds for dismissal from play is silly; similarly, a misdemeanor is not serious enough to warrant the restriction of the franchise.

Alex said...

Thanks, Jim, for the clear answer.

Another question: isn't the definition of a felon country-specific? The broadest definition would be "someone who has broken the law." Only in the US is a felon specifically defined as someone who has committed a crime punishable by a year or more in federal/state prison.

Similarly, many felon enfranchisement arguments rely on US-specific data. For example, one line of argument says that blacks are disproportionately punished by the criminal justice system. There is evidence that many states adopted felon disenfranchisement laws specifically to limit African American voter turnout during the post-war 19th century. Is it safe to use this argument when arguing the affirmative? Couldn't a negative easily bring up that this information was US-specific, that a typical "democratic society" might never have had a civil war, reconstruction, disproportionate incarceration, etc.?


Jim Anderson said...

Alex, great questions.

1. Nearly every justice system distinguishes misdemeanors and felonies; the "year in prison" part may be US-specific, but is still pretty reasonable, even across societies, since it's a floor, rather than a ceiling. (In the US, for example, the ceiling is the death penalty; most other democracies don't allow that.) I think a standard dictionary definition of "felony" is fine, if you explain how it can fit into the context of the resolution.

2. I'd use the Reconstruction-era disenfranchisement laws as historical evidence that, given the chance, even democracies can abuse the definition of "felonies" to increase the power of the state, to crush dissent, or to diminish the power of a particular group. Those laws don't suffice as an argument in and of themselves, but rather as support for the principled argument.

Anonymous said...

Alright, thanks Jim. I like your example. It's simple yet effective.


You can use US-specific examples if it warrants or supports a broad/universal claim. However, if you are using African-American biased voting restriction stats from the U.S. to impact to disenfranchisement = racism that is SPECIFICALLY only seen in the U.S., than you are running a conditional Aff which can turn the tides to the Neg if they point it out. You want to try and support the resolution as a basic principle seen everywhere, not just one country. Try not to restrict your impacts to the U.S. unless they are also seen in other countries.

Anonymous said...

I ran across an argument in my round that I just don't have a response to, will someone please help me out? Her contention was that felon disenfranchisement fails to deter crimes and she had a lot of support for it.

rohan said...

thanks jim! i read ur blog a LOT...and i went 2-0 in november (i debate in my county's league, not NFL) to prep for december!

anonymous: assuming that she was neg u could merely say that we shouldn't look at purely practical effects of something like this and that we should look more into the actual ethical side of felon disenfranchisement

the aff i went against had an interesting argument that i rly never rebutted effectively:
her case was based on equality
her arg was that voting proved equality
her logic was that democratic societies clearly value equality...but they don't have economic equality and there is always (unfortunately) latent social inequality
thus, the only true source of equality is voting
i didn't want to say that felons were inferior human beings and don't deserve to be thoughts?

Danny said...

anon: This can alter depending on what your neg looks like, but basically talk about how disenfranchisement doesn't have the purpose of deterrence. Even if your opponent does prove their point perfectly, call it out as being nontopical and discuss how it should exist however your case justifies it, (ie social contract, other morale of punishment, etc).

Also, if your opponent says that deterrence is the sole reason punishment exists, you can talk about how his view on justice is flawed. Deterrence is a nice theoretical side effect on society, but deterrence is not how you evolve from anarchy. Limitation of rights and punishment is the inevitable and sole evolution from the natural order, meaning that punishment is to create order in a society. A society is not well if it doesn't have order. Therefore, the basis of punishment is the creation of order in society, while deterrence means nothing in this sense. In conclusion, your opponent's sense of punishment is illogical because it can't evolve a society from the natural order. Disenfranchisement makes sense because of two points that build off of each other:
1)through the violation of another citizen's rights, ones own rights become vulnerable to revocation in fairness (it could be argued that fairness is also necessary to prevent revolt from the free portion of society, protecting order), and
2)it protects society from the dangers of altered criminal judgment, protecting order

I think I just gave you the basis of a case if you scrambled it up...
Anyways, you just need to research about the social contract as I think it's the basis of neg.

@rohan: It's an outrageous claim to say that social inequalities ALWAYS exist. You didn't explain how she warranted it, but I doubt it was good enough. Voting in a democracy is merely a right, and not the foremost one. Fact of the matter is, society isn't based off of the right to vote, it's based off of inalienable rights such as life. The violation of law makes the disenfranchisement of felons equal, and nothing is disrupted. The fact that democracy promotes the input of citizens works for neg because regular citizens won't see voting as much of a privilege if everyone can do it. In addition to that, law abiding citizens would be mad that felons get to enjoy the same input into society as them. Essentially, taking the franchise away isn't bad because it makes equality and it gives incentive to follow the rules. There's obviously more you could say, but it's bed time for me.

rohan said...

"The violation of law makes the disenfranchisement of felons equal, and nothing is disrupted. The fact that democracy promotes the input of citizens works for neg because regular citizens won't see voting as much of a privilege if everyone can do it... Essentially, taking the franchise away isn't bad because it makes equality..."

wait wat? what do u mean it makes it equal? equal to what?
and wait...are you saying that we keeping away the right to vote is a good thing because it enforces its value by making available to a select few? (i don't think that'll fly...please expand)

Danny said...

I was talking about how if a person violates the laws of a society, they deserve less rights than that of those who haven't. It's more equal this way because each type of citizen is getting what they deserve.
I was also talking about how rights are valued more if they're more easily lost, making deterrence possible.

Basically, democratic rights should be only available to those who respect society, and balancing these rights out is more equal than letting everyone vote. Instead of the right to vote being the only form of equality in a democratic society, it's actually the inalienable rights that no one can lose.

LLDebate said...

@ Rohan- Do you know the source or if they cited a card to support the claim that the only true source of equality is by voting?

rohan said...

she had a quote...but i forget who said it
and it talked about how citizens (if there was no voting at all) aren't equal
@danny...kk thx that makes sense
and it goes well w/ my neg! :D