Jan 30, 2011

juveniles and due process rights

Regarding the juvenile justice resolution, I've seen several successful Aff cases that are based on providing full due process rights for juveniles. The reasoning goes like this:

1. Procedural justice is the best justice any government can promise.
2. Punishment is excluded from the conversation (since methods of punishment aren't inherent in the way that due process rights are).
3. Juveniles deserve the same procedural protections / rights as adults.
4. They don't receive those rights in the juvenile justice system.
5. Affirming the resolution ensures that juveniles get the rights they deserve.

If you'll notice, these arguments include two implicit values: justice as desert or justice as fairness, the moral aims of procedural justice. (If you doubt this, simply ask yourself: why do we care about procedural justice? If your answer is "because we deserve it," or "because it's fair," there you go.)

What process rights are juveniles due?
A 1967 decision by the Supreme Court [In re Gault] affirmed the necessity of requiring juvenile courts to respect the due process of law rights of juveniles during their proceedings.... The Supreme Court decision, delivered by Justice Abe Fortas, emphasized that youth had a right to receive fair treatment under the law and pointed out the following rights of minors:
  • The right to receive notice of charges
  • The right to obtain legal counsel
  • The right to "confrontation and cross-examination"
  • The "privilege against self-incrimination"
  • The right to receive a "transcript of the proceedings," and
  • The right to "appellate review"
Conspicuously absent is the right to a jury trial. This alone could be the basis of an Aff case; the jury is seen as an essential component in a democracy, as a way to ensure that the community is represented, and that the power of the State is kept in check.

Even if sentencing comes into the equation, jury trials are potentially less arbitrary than juvenile procedures, thanks to a unique feature of the system called a dispositional hearing. In Juvenile Justice: A Social, Historical, and Legal Perspective, Preston Elrod and R. Scott Ryder explain:
It is at the disposition hearing that formal plans designed to meet the various needs of the youth, the family, and the community are initiated. It is also at this hearing that the judge or other hearing officer attempts to balance the "best interests" of the youth and the need for community safety. Judges and other quasi-judicial hearing officers often have great latitude and discretion in making dispositional decisions (p. 271).
Furthermore, there's a gap between the guarantees of rights and their implementation in the juvenile justice system. The names you'll hear most often in support of this argument are Feld and Ainsworth.

Feld takes an empirical tack, arguing that the Supreme Court's decisions don't match the reality on the ground.

Ainsworth takes a more philosophical approach, not only discussing the structural deficiencies of juvenile courts, but calling for these courts' abolition, as they are based on outmoded, essentialist views of children. I'd recommend her work for advanced debaters.

Jan 27, 2011

checking the democracy barometer

Wishful--I mean, political--scientists have invented a democracy barometer.
The barometer uses 100 empirical indicators to measure how well a country complies with the three democratic principles of freedom, equality and control as well as the nine basic functions of democracy. The comparison of thirty established democracies between 1995 and 2005 has revealed that Denmark is leading the way, followed by Finland and Belgium.
Theory: it's not just metaphorically about climate. Look at the top nine:
Denmark ... 88.3
Finland ... 87.7
Belgium ... 85.1
Iceland ... 83.5
Sweden ... 82.9
Norway ... 82.1
Canada ... 79.4
Netherlands ... 79.0
Luxembourg ... 75.2
Those are some pretty cold climes, relatively speaking. But one thing is indisputable:
USA ranks 10th, behind Canada at 7th place
Envy on, enviers.

Jan 23, 2011

LD mailbag: the turbulent adolescent brain

The Jan/Feb 2011 juvenile justice resolution has prompted another reader question.
Dear Mr. Anderson/Jim Anderson/Decorabilia,

Bri Castellini suggested in a recent post that one argument for Neg was to argue biology - basically that teenagers were torn between hormones and the lack of buildup in the frontal lobe cortex and fighting "a full fledged biological battle." In the last debate, this argument seemed to kill my Aff, because my opponent basically repeated this argument again and again without a strong response (the only response I had was that the line was arbitrary, and we've seen where that goes). When asking others on the team afterwards, the main response seemed to be "Morality is not the province of people over 18, and they should pay." These kinds of retribution arguments have always seemed to me to be kind of weak, and were anyway inconsistent with my value and criterion.

Which is a roundabout way of asking: How would you respond to this argument on its own logic -- not by advocating retribution, but by showing it be unjust, illogical, or not conducive to societal welfare?
It depends on the the argument being made, but here's my stock response.

There's a leap from "adolescence, cognitively and emotionally, is a turbulent time" to "adolescents shouldn't be treated as adults."

The leap is rather large, for several reasons.

1. "Treated as adults" may just mean given the same due process rights, excluding punishment.

2. The resolution is specifically focused on juveniles charged with violent felonies, which excludes the vast majority of everyday adolescents. Potentially, violent offenders are less cognitively turbulent, because they've "grown up too fast." They're outliers, regardless. Unless the research cited is specific to juveniles charged with violent felonies, it's potentially suspect.

3. Speaking of, who's to say that adults charged with violent felonies aren't equally emotionally turbulent? Is it fair to compare a distressed youngster with a normal (i.e., middle-of-the-bell-curve) adult?

4. As I've argued before, culpability is based on relative judgments. It's one thing to say that, on average, juveniles are less culpable than adults. But that fact in and of itself doesn't necessarily justify treating them differently, if they both meet a particular "baseline of culpability."

For instance, compare a 35-year-old and a 60-year-old. Ostensibly, the person with 25 extra years of life experience--collected wisdom, hopefully--is more responsible and, arguably, more culpable. (60-year-olds are measurably happier, too.) But we don't have different systems for the two, since both met the same basic criterion of moral responsibility.

5. Brain-based differences can be effects as much as causes. If we train adolescents to be irresponsible, their brains will, no doubt, reflect their lack of judgment in the very places where judgment is thought to reside. The reverse is also true: training the brain leads to structural changes. (Years of cab-driving, for instance, or a mere 8 weeks of meditation.)

6. On average, and regardless of the reasons, men are more violent than women--which is one of the reasons men and women are housed in different prisons--but men and women have the same due process rights. The point: there's no straight line between differences (even innate, biological, or brain-based differences!) and different treatment.

Jan 20, 2011

emotion, reason, and the law

David Arkush, in "Situating Emotion: A Critical Realist View of Emotion and Nonconscious Cognitive Processes for Law and Legal Theory," explodes the dichotomy between rationality and emotion in legal decision-making. The implications:
This Article has attempted to say much, but it can be reduced to a single point--law and legal theory treat emotion primarily as an object of reasoned decisions and policy making and as a source of interference in decisions, but empirical evidence suggests that emotion is a behavioral process that is critical to decisions. This shift in viewpoint has widespread implications for law, legal theory, and policy. As a descriptive matter, it suggests that we should reevaluate legal doctrines that rely on the assumption that humans are mostly emotionless actors and reexamine areas of law that concern consent, states of mind, and the causes of behavior. As a normative matter, emotional realism suggests that we have no empirical or even internally consistent definition of welfare on which to base policy. Welfarists should seek a new definition, and they are more likely to find it in processes than in objects. There is much work to be done.
Use this as a launching pad toward...
* Blocks against consequentialism / utilitarianism (which are welfarist, and, as Arkush argues, empirically and internally slippery)
* A way to defend treating juveniles and adults equally--it could be fallacious to presume that juveniles are "more emotional" when making decisions
* A kritik of the legal system

Jan 19, 2011

LD mailbag: defending against punishment

Regarding the juvenile justice resolution for Jan/Feb 2011, a couple readers write,
Hi Jim,

We are wondering if you help us. We have recently debated this resolution in depth at the past tournament, and we came across a couple issues for both sides.

Our first problem that we had was regarding jail rape. The negative side argues that there is a much higher rate of jail rape (and staff beatings, threats by weapons, etc.) of juveniles that were transferred to the adult system than that of the juveniles placed in juvenile system. The argument with its evidentiary backing is quite straight forward, and we had a lot of trouble handling it on the affirmative side effectively. One attempt that we had was to say that since it is against the law to rape in jail, and that we enforce the law; we must evaluate the round in its general symbol and theory to society. Another was to take a similar approach, but rather saying that the affirmative cannot defend jail rape because it is inherently bad, but reforms could be made. Another line of thought was to give a way to reform the system; have separate jail cells. Those arguments, however, were not accepted by the judges. Any thoughts?

The second problem we had was about the lowered recidivism that the negative side can provide. There are many pieces of evidence that say comparatively, the juvenile system provides 30% lower recidivism than the same juveniles that are transferred to the adult system. How would you suggest the affirmative to go about effectively mitigating this point?
The first and perhaps most important thing to do is to place a resolutional analysis at the top of your case, preferably after the definition of "charged," that limits the scope of the resolution to exclude punishment. (This is obviously incompatible with a case based on punishment, in which case you'll have to take the third / fourth option below.) This works well with a "due process" Aff, and takes out the recidivism argument in the second question.

Another way to go is to heavily warrant your argument from principle in your case--take time to establish why we're examining principles rather than specific practices, inherent differences rather than flawed applications.

A third way is to argue that the real problem is the vulnerability of juveniles--most of them are smaller and weaker than adult offenders--so, upon entry, a height/weight-based distinction could be drawn with no regard to age. One way to establish this would be, in cross-ex, to ask the Neg to explain why juvenile offenders are more likely to be abused, beaten, raped, etc. in prison.

I think you can also argue that the flaws in the adult system, including our society's often too-casual dismissal of / joking about prison rape, are the real problem. It's not that the prisons themselves (or the punishment principles) are too harsh, but that society is too tolerant of the abuse. Reform is the solution, not arbitrary age-based distinctions between juveniles and adults.

In other words, one way to affirm the resolution is to argue that adults ought to be treated more like juveniles!

The recidivism argument is potentially taken down by the deterrence argument: we'll have fewer criminals reoffending if we have fewer criminals in the first place. It's also rendered moot by the resolutional analysis described at the top of this post. (I'm also skeptical of the argument, for reasons described here.)

Jan 17, 2011

the next evolution of LD debate

This past Sunday, I was fortunate to be invited to the 2011 Northwest Round Robin. Eight of the region's sharpest LDers dueled in six rounds of high-octane debate. Sonia Vora (Annie Wright School) and Nick Blanchette (Mercer Island) were declared co-champions, and, from what I saw, deservedly so.

I attended not just as a judge, but as a learner, having fallen behind LD's progressive evolution in the past couple years. It was simultaneously exhausting and energizing to watch the debates, and learn from pros like VBI's Becca Traber and Wesley Craven, whose enthusiasm for the activity is infectious. I felt like the dumbest person in the room, and it was--how do I say it?--awesome.

It's got me thinking: where does the event go from here? Policy-influenced speed and argumentation have fully arrived in Washington state, and are apparently here to stay. It's time we figured out how to handle the changes so that LD doesn't discourage involvement by newcomers, including parents and community members. (It's tough enough to get judges; do we really want to limit our options to former LDers and PhDs in rhetoric or political science?) I want LD to be challenging, not forbidding.

At the very least, the Washington State Debate Tournament rules would need to be updated. Right now, not only are plan-based arguments forbidden, but, arguably, so is card-heavy argumentation, and by implication, extreme speed:
In Lincoln-Douglas Debate, only two speakers are involved: One fulfilling the affirmative case responsibilities and the other, the negative case responsibilities. Lincoln-Douglas debating encourages the development of a direct and communicative delivery style. Emphasis is placed upon the issues involved rather than strategy in developing the case. The statement of the topic is a RESOLUTION OF VALUE rather than of policy. This results in emphasizing logic, theory, and philosophy while eliminating "plan" arguments. Because of the time limits, a wealth of evidence cannot be used, but research by good background reading is necessary.
[emphasis added]

Second, we could create a stricter Novice / Open distinction as a way to ensure strong grounding in the foundations of the event. For instance, in Novice Policy debate in Washington, case areas are limited to an agreed-upon list, while counterplans and kritiks are disallowed.

In Novice LD, I'd suggest ruling out...

*Plans / Counterplans / Permutations
*Kritiks (this wouldn't preclude all critical arguments, provided they fit into a standard V/C framework)
* A priori arguments
* Straight Refutation Negs
* Cases without frameworks
* Theory shells

Abusive arguments could be handled as a "point of order" after the conclusion of the debate. (Hopefully the limitations, combined with effective judging, would limit abuse.)

These are half-baked ideas, and I'm curious what you think. LDers and fans of the event, especially among my Washington state readership, how would you go about changing the activity? Or what do you see as the future of LD debate?

Jan 16, 2011

full of debate = empty of blogging

Federal Way High School has no wireless. Eastside Catholic School blocks email, Twitter, and blogs. (Blogs, ECHS? Really?) Hence, I haven't been answering questions in the comments with my usual promptness.


On the plus side, I've seen some fun debates, and will have some new posts coming in the next couple days.

Back soon.

Jan 14, 2011

how to be a better parent... judge

(A work in progress. Suggestions, questions, and criticisms are welcomed in the comments.)

As a debate coach, I spend at least half my job on email and the phone. I'm either wrangling drivers or judges--or both--ensuring that my team can get to the tournament, and when they do, that we can start and finish within spitting distance of "on time."

Like a lot of coaches, I depend on my team's parents to help judge. In December and January, former students come back from college and help out, but when Winter Quarter revs back up, they disappear back into their halcyon world. Hiring judges is sometimes a possibility, but you know how it goes: times are tough all over, and the money's tight.

Parents fill in the gap, and admirably so. But often new parents are intimidated by the activity, with its strange conventions and obscure jargon, with its conceptual and contextual complexity, and, perhaps most important, with its overwhelming nerdiness. Parents, thus, when thrown into their first debate tournament, can be just as nervous about the experience as the greenest novice debater. (Green is sometimes the literal color, sadly.)

I offer training to my judges. But what happens in a pinch, when there's little to no time for preparation? What's a rookie judge to do?

Here's my advice.

If you have time to prepare before the round:

Study the rules of the event. Read a judging guide, if available. (This is a useful resource, with rules overviews, judging guides, and more.)

Ask what the resolution is. If you have time and resources, do a little reading to familiarize yourself with the topic. (If it's an LD resolution, chances are, you'll find this blog via Google. Welcome!) Think about your personal perspective on the issue. What are your biases? Be upfront with yourself: that means you'll have to be extra-cautious about being fair to both sides.

When the round is about to begin, the debaters might ask you what your "paradigm" is. What they often mean:
  • How experienced are you? (Tell them, so they can adapt.)
  • Are you more convinced by empirical evidence (facts and statistics), logic / reasons / philosophical arguments, rhetoric / persuasive style, or a balance of the above? (That's for you to consider and decide.)
  • How comfortable are you with speed? (Tell them to slow down and make eye contact to make sure you're following them.)
  • Do you understand theoretical arguments? (Unless you know what this means, tell them to keep it straightforward.)

Give time signals (counting down). Make a "C" for 30 seconds left, then count down 5-4-3-2-1 in seconds. When tracking prep time, announce it every 30 seconds ("30 seconds used... 1 minute used...")

If you're in a "let's see if the bus driver can judge Open LD" situation:

Ask if you can watch the first flight instead of judging, which may be possible, and may save everyone a lot of grief.

If it's not, and you're pressed into emergency duty, remain calm. Read over the ballot for instructions. Check for times, including the amount of prep time.

Most important: tell the competitors you're a first-time judge, and so you'll need them to help walk you through the round, and to avoid jargon whenever possible, and to signpost. (Even if you don't know what "signpost" means, they will.)

Take notes, or "flow."  I use a two-page system, with the Aff (with rebuttals, etc.) on one sheet and the Neg case (etc.) on the other. I write down any prep time used / remaining on one of the sheets.  I don't flow Cross-Examination (or the crossfire), expecting debaters to refer to those discussions in later rebuttals.

When filling out the ballot:

Offer helpful comments about the debaters' speaking skills / style.  Be specific and constructive.  If you can't suggest an improvement, that's fine; praise what you saw / heard.

Give speaker points when it's expected.

The most important piece, from the debaters' and coach's perspective: write a reason for your decision. Be as specific as you can ("The affirmative had superior evidence about the increasing crime rate due to plea bargaining," rather than "The affirmative had better evidence.")

Fill out the ballot in a timely fashion--usually no more than 15 minutes after the end of the round. Get it back to the ballot table as soon as possible: the tournament's on-time status depends on it!

In the end, don't worry: you're one out of the 6 judges they'll see, so if you mess up, it's not the end of the world. Ultimately, if they're good enough debaters, they should be able to adapt to you, and if you give your best, they'll have no reason to complain.

In fact, they had better thank you for judging. As a coach, I certainly do!

Thanks to the anonymous commentator who prompted this post.

Jan 13, 2011

how to deal with judges

By Guest-Blogger Bri Castellini

most applicable to Public Forum and traditional LD debate

My dad hates watching gymnastics and figure skating during the Olympics because it bothers him that judges make the final call, and at times those calls can seem arbitrary or unfair. But as debaters we’ve had to accept that our judges ultimately hold our fate in their hands, and often have to change the way we debate in order to facilitate these judges. But there are so many different kinds of judges, it’s hard to keep track. So I’ve made you a list of the kinds of judges you’ll likely run into and how to deal.

The Confused but Kindly Parent: This poor specimen is only here as a favor to their student, or a student’s friend. They’re the ultimate novice, and usually have no idea what to expect. So make sure you don’t use jargon (debate-speak like “flow” and “cross-apply”). Other tips: be polite, because this judge is intimidated enough, be painstakingly organized, because this judge won’t have had flow experience, and speak slowly and confidently, because if you’re confident in your arguments, they will be, too.

The CX-er: This judge normally judges policy debate (or CX, as we called it in Colorado), and so they’ll probably start off the round looking extra bored. See, my experience with CX judges, and CX debaters in general, is that they believe their form of debate is the best kind there is.  If it’s not spoken at fifteen miles per hour with 80 different sources from the past two weeks, it’s boring. But. This is not an excuse to speed talk. Your cases will not be geared for CX speed. But don’t be afraid to be a little more aggressive if the debate calls for it. CX judges aren’t as sensitive to it. Feel free to use as much jargon as you need, but make sure you can back up every assertion you make with legitimate sources.

Seasoned Veteran: This judge is usually a coach, an ex-coach, or someone who has judged for several years. Don’t BS with this judge. They will know. Again, feel free to use jargon, but don’t overdo it. Also, don’t try to charm them (which often works with the “Confused Parent”, see above), because they won’t fall for it.

Flow Judge- This judge makes decisions almost entirely based on their flow. So the biggest thing to remember is be organized, even more painstakingly organized than for the Confused Parent. When you make an argument, tell this judge exactly where you want it applied on the flow. Example: “My opponent’s 2nd contention is ____ and I have _____ to say about it.” Also, these judges are extra sensitive to dropped points, or points you miss/ignore. So make sure you have at least something to say about every main point your opponent has

Question-Flow Judge- Apply all tips from the Flow Judge, but add this: During crossfire, keep clarification questions to a minimum. This is your chance to directly confront your opponent, and this judge will be paying specific attention, so don’t waste this opportunity.

The Politician- This judge isn’t actually a politician. They’re the judges that have a very strong political leaning and tend to agree with whichever debater is most closely defending their point of view, regardless of who is making better arguments. So if you find yourself on the opposite of their beliefs, your case had better be rock solid. Spend most of your time attacking you opponent’s case, punching holes in every weak spot. Planting even the slightest inkling of doubt in this judge’s mind may make all the difference.

The Recently Graduated Former Competitor- You might even know this judge personally from previous years, but if not, don’t fret. Knowing what they competed in will be of the utmost importance. If they did PF, they’ll be most sensitive to legitimate sources and logical arguments. If they did LD, they’ll want a solid value/criterion pair. If they did CX, I’m so sorry. Just do your best. And if they did Interp events, they want something fun and exciting. So don’t be afraid to make dramatic statements (if you can back them up even a little), and don’t worry so much about being “professional”. Joke, smile, laugh, and be merry, but don’t forget you’re here to make a point.

The Expert- Often, coaches will know people who are experts in current debate topics and ask them to come judge. If they give oral critiques, their feedback can be priceless. But be very careful the assertions and links you make with the topic. Just like with the Seasoned Veteran, BS will not fly, so don’t even bother.

The Sulk- This judge might also fall under the “CX” judge category, but it might also just be a random community member or teacher that hasn’t seen any good debates so far and isn’t impressed with the turnout. So I only have three tips for you: use voice inflection to keep them from being lulled to sleep by your monotone, ask smart, direct questions during crossfire, and for God’s sake, don’t be stupid.

Other general tips for dealing with any judge:
  1. Talk distinctly and confidently, but don’t rush. You’ve got plenty of time. 
  2. Ask your judge for their paradigms (what the judge looks for in the round) 
  3. Be polite. I don’t care how frustrating your opponent is. Keeping your cool looks good to any judge. And smile, girls especially. When boys get aggressive, no one cares, but when girls do, we’re immediately labeled as a word that isn’t very nice. As my old coach always says, “kill them with kindness.”
  4. Even if the judge is a novice, don’t patronize them. They don’t have to know you’re dumbing it down for them. 
  5. Don’t pull the “my honorable judge” crap. No adjectives. Just call them “judge”, or I will personally hunt you down. 
  6. Don’t move around too much. No pen tapping or feet shuffling, and for goodness sake, don’t walk around to the front of the podium and approach the judge’s table during your speech. Also, don’t sit in front of the table for your final constructive. Leave your pompous habits outside. 
  7. Don’t talk or make angry noises during your opponent’s speech. You get your own time to respond. It looks unprofessional, and what are you, five? 
  8. Clarify time signals (or the lack thereof) before your first speech. I have been screwed over more times than I can count because I forgot this. 
  9. Be organized. Otherwise, no one knows what’s going. 
  10. Be tactful. My old PF partner lost us a round, at state no less, because of inadvertent racism. (Remind me to tell you that story sometime) 

Bri Castellini is a college IPDA debater, blogger, and denizen of Twitter.

Jan 11, 2011

the threat of snow

One of my favorite perpetual headlines around these parts is "School activities canceled due to threat of snow." Today's variation:
The threat of a snowstorm in the South Sound prompted Saint Martin’s University officials to cancel evening classes at the private college’s Joint Base Lewis McChord campus. For more information about school closures in the region, go to schoolreport.org.
Which is to say, not only can snow incapacitate education, but it's also an effective deterrent.

Jan 10, 2011

the burden of proof

By Guest-Blogger Bri Castellini

I debated Public Forum all of my junior year of high school with my best friend and now Marine Corps soldier Bart. (His actual name is Taylor, but that's kind of boring, dontcha think? So I never called him that.) Now, Bart is a smart guy, but lazy, so naturally the partnership didn't end well, although somehow the friendship is still going strong. His biggest complaints about me as a partner were that I never really got out of debate mode, which I admit is true, and that I was too invested in it, which is also true. Now all I have to do is say the words “burden of proof” to warrant an angry scowl.

But I love the burden of proof defense, so much in fact that I use it in day-to-day conversations (which is why Bart hates it so much). I just wish that someone had taught me to use it properly earlier on. This may just be old new to a lot of you seasoned debaters, but maybe not.

For instance:
Person 1: I think we should do -insert plan of action here-

Person 2: Can you prove it will be effective?

Person 1: Can you prove it won't?
If you don't already want to strangle Person 1, I commend you. This is exactly where the burden of proof defense would come in.
Person 2: I don't have to, because it was you that made the claim, so it becomes your burden of proof.
We've all had that one debate round where your opponent is making all sorts of ludicrous claims that the judge is just eating up and you don't have specific evidence to block out. It's a frustrating situation, especially when you just know your opponent doesn't have any evidence to support his claims. So that's when you pull out the good old burden of proof defense. If your opponent can't support his claim, then he's done your job for you and you don't have to ruffle your evidence folder at all.

Be careful, though. For judges, PF or LD debaters often get parents, teachers, and random community members who aren't necessarily familiar with debate jargon. Unless you know your judge is a former competitor or coach, clarify what you mean by “burden of proof” when pulling it out of your arsenal. Make sure there is absolutely no way the judge can misunderstand the exceptional point you're making. Trust me, I've had rounds where the judge didn't understand my -ahem- clearly superior arguments and I lost because of it.

How this post can directly relate to the most recent resolution?
Resolved: In the United States, juveniles charged with violent felonies ought to be treated as adults in the criminal justice system.
On the Aff side, it's possible that people will try to run something regarding how the adult criminal justice system recognizes more individual rights than the juvenile system, but I doubt they'll have a lot to back that up. (I recently practice debated a good friend who made this claim, but because she couldn't give me an example of what rights juveniles are normally not given past a “due process” quote, the argument was shaky).*

On the Neg side, I think you might actually run into some psuedo-counter plans that you can use this defense against. Example: Violent juvenile offenders should be tried in a court separate from both adult and regular juvenile courts, so that the punishment can include the juvenile-favored rehabilitation while also being more severe than a general juvenile sentence (But, obviously, not nearly as severe a punishment as for adults). This is all well and good, and if you can support this with good, clear evidence, awesome. But if you're Aff and having to defend against this kind of a case, try asking them exactly how they know it will be effective. I don't think there is a lot of evidence to support a system like this, so with the burden of proof you'll catch them off guard.

As for defending your own cases, just make sure you can absolutely defend every claim you make. Have at least two pieces of evidence to support each, even if you don't use them in your actual case. Just having them is plenty to keep would-be “burden of proofers” at bay. Also, make sure that you can defend every claim to one of your friends, as a precaution for novice judges. Jargon is only impressive to your coaches and competitors, but you've got to keep in mind that you're not debating for them, you're debating for the judge.

Speaking of judges... I think I'll write a post about how to debate for each kind of judge you're likely to run into at one point or another. But I don't know when that will appear, because as I write this post I'm sitting in an airport on my way back to college for spring semester. Unfortunately, I won't have as much time on my hands anymore.

Good luck!

Bri Castellini is a college IPDA debater, blogger, and denizen of Twitter.

* Jim's note: The lack of a jury trial is probably the most significant rights-based distinction between the juvenile and adult system. Of course, whether a jury trial protects more individual rights is itself debatable.

Jan 9, 2011

age and arbitrariness

Regarding the juvenile justice resolution, one of the more intriguing Affirmative arguments I heard this weekend considered age as an arbitrary measure of competency.

The argument goes something like this:

1. Some juveniles (persons below the age of 18) are more competent (and hence culpable) than adults.

2. In the U.S. justice system, the age of majority varies from state to state, or from time to time.

3. Any brightline is a social construct, since it arises out of a political process rather than from an essential trait. (Some Affs argue further that adolescence is a social construct, which is interesting, but not necessary to make this argument.)

4. Therefore, age is an arbitrary way to determine competency and culpability.

The argument is tied to a value of justice with a criterion of "rejecting arbitrariness" (or a related phrase). At first blush, it seems powerful: arbitrariness, defined as discretion based solely on individual judgment, with connotations of caprice or despotism, is unjust.

There are at least two problems with this approach.

First, any human institution will have a degree of arbitrariness, or to phrase it more positively, discretion. Evidence and testimony, laws and statutes are open to interpretation; that's why we have juries and highly trained judges--or even panels of judges--tasked with interpreting laws. There is simply no way to entirely reject arbitrariness in the United States criminal justice system. Perhaps a more defensible criterion would be reducing arbitrariness. (As an aside, the Aff is on stronger ground to argue that the lack of a jury trial increases arbitrariness, leaving the decision in one person's hands, rather than in a unanimous verdict of strangers. But the judge is an expert, whereas the jury.... but that's another matter.)

Second, there's a deeper concern. The affirmatives who ran this argument typically promoted a test of mental competency for all defendants charged in the criminal justice system as their way to treat juveniles as adults, and overcome the arbitrary brightline of 18.

But there's a gaping hole in this approach. A measurement of competency is equally socially constructed, and more arbitrary than age.

After all, who determines the criteria of competency? Psychologists? Neurologists? Politicians? Who adjudicates the conflict between competing experts who might wish to employ different criteria? Who designs the test(s) of competency? How are the tests determined to be valid and reliable? Who administers the test(s)? Who ensures that testing bias (or interpretive bias) stays out of the process? Who ensures that test subjects aren't cleverly faking incompetence? Who draws the brightline?

And, most important, where do we draw the line? How do we know the brightline between "competent" and "not competent" is itself not completely arbitrary?

In short, a individually focused, continuum-based approach seems initially like a solid reason to affirm, but on closer inspection, produces more problems than it solves, and ultimately is self-defeating by its own logic.

Jan 6, 2011

generic case ideas for the juvenile justice resolution

By Guest-Blogger Bri Castellini

In my first post, the first commenter (identified only as Anonymous) asked for a generic list of Aff/Neg points that you'll likely run into.

(On an unrelated note, is it just me, or do “anonymous” comments make the internet feel like a Mission Impossible movie? Probably just me. But when the most exciting part of your life is writing blogs about debate, you take what you can get by way of adventure. So... “Anonymous”... I ACCEPT YOUR CHALLENGE!)

Values/Criteria on the AFF Side:

Justice will be the biggest value, by far, on both sides. On the AFF, it will be argued as succinctly as this: “Do the crime, do the time= Justice served”. However, justice is defined by Princeton University as “the quality of being just or fair”. All Neg would have to do in this case would be to say that their case upholds fairness better, or even more easily, that the Aff doesn't uphold fairness. The generic “grey area” Neg argument will be sufficient here (“Nothing is as black and white as the Aff upholds. We have to be open to treating individual violent juvenile felony cases individually.”) But be careful here, guys. Make sure your Neg case backs this statement up, otherwise the Aff can use it against you.

I foresee an awful lot of utilitarian criteria with this topic. ie: “It's of the greatest importance in a society to protect its citizens, and punishing violent felons, regardless of age, equally will further ensure said citizens' safety”. It's a legitimate point, but it's easily blocked. Just throw individualism at them (“we can't punish every case of violent juvenile felonies the same for the “good of all citizens”, because it will inevitably hurt individual juveniles who, with the rehabilitation of juvenile convictions, might have given up their life of crime” or something), or individual autonomy more specifically. Judges will buy this because we were all brought up in this highly individualized American culture, so we're more biased towards autonomy arguments. Most of us, that is.

(Interestingly enough, the sadly uncontested case on Debate.org for this topic on the AFF side used Justice and Utilitarianism as its V/C.)

Generic Arguments on the AFF Side

#1: The punishment should fit the crime, not the person.

#2: Juveniles that commit violent felonies are more likely to continue their violent streak as adults. (They'll cite a lot of child sociopath quotations, saying that the child is already disturbed to a point past rehabilitation and if we don't treat them as adults now, we'll have to do it later, after they've hurt/killed someone else, and we can't take that chance)

#3: Criminal Justice System (as defined by USCourts.gov): “The network of courts and tribunals which deal with criminal law and its enforcement.” Notice it never says “jails”. This, I expect, will be a HUGE point of contention. The AFF can say that while juveniles will be tried in court as adults, that doesn't mean they'll be housed in the same prisons as adults, or punished as adults. Many Negs will say that juveniles will be denied the extensive rehabilitation offered in juvenile courts, but Aff can argue with this definition that that's not necessarily true. They'll just be punished harsher, but because of their age, not as harshly as adults. Be careful of your wording if you choose to argue this. It has to be air tight, otherwise Neg can simply point out contradictions in the way you set it up.

Values/Criteria on the NEG Side

Justice, again, will be big, but it will be argued with an individualism twist. Neg will argue that a criminal justice system is not fair, or “just”, if it makes a blanket statement for the way a demographic of cases will be tried. The fact is, one juvenile may be able to live a normal, constructive, lawful life if tried as a juvenile and put into rehabilitation, while another juvenile may not. You have to treat every case individually. Recognize that Neg has a lot more leeway when it comes to most resolutions, and this resolution is no different. They can argue that some juvenile cases should be treated as adult cases, but not all.

To be honest, criteria are pretty wide open for Neg cases (See the value/criterion post from Jim). The one I think will be most often used, though, is probably something about moral responsibility. Neg will talk about how minors aren't as morally responsible as adults, and they'll cite voting, the military consuming alcohol, and maybe even driving as examples. If you can't buy a beer or die for your country, how can we consider you morally culpable (in all situations)? Again, Neg only has to prove that some violent juvenile felony cases shouldn't be treated as adults. Lucky Neg.

Generic Arguments on the NEG Side

#1: Minors aren't morally culpable, at least not in every or the majority of cases.

#2: We don't let kids vote/drink for a reason. Why should we let them go to jail with adult criminals?

Note: The only way the whole “THEY'LL GO TO JAIL WITH ADULTS!” argument will fly is if the Aff doesn't use the definition of “criminal justice system” I cited above AND they don't specifically discuss in their case the possibility of juveniles treated as adults in the system will go to separate facilities.

#3: Plan text offering the potential for an entirely separate court system to deal with violent juvenile offenders that is detached from both regular juvenile and adult courts. Again, this is dangerous waters, because once you support a plan on the Neg side, most “burden of proof” arguments go out the window, because now both sides of the debate have something to prove. This will lead to a particularly confusing debate where each debater will spend most of their speech either attacking their opponent's plan OR supporting their own, ignoring everything else, especially the moral and philosophical implications of the topic. Remember, this is not CX (Policy Debate). Just keep that in mind.

To conclude, these are the things I think will come up MOST OFTEN in your debates. In no way do I think these will be the ONLY cases you'll come across, but when looking for block evidence, I'd focus on these areas. If you can write cases that either avoid all of these arguments OR make them airtight, then you'll be golden. Good luck!

Bri Castellini debated in both Public Forum and Lincoln Douglas during high school, and is now a college IPDA debater. Find her blog at Bri's Own World, and follow her on Twitter.

Jan 4, 2011

Objectivism: a controversial criterion in LD

By Guest-Blogger Bri Castellini

I'm one of those crazy people that actually read the monstrosity that is Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand's 1200+ page book that was essentially a really long, complicated rant against communism. It was fascinating. Then I also read The Anthem, which is about 100 pages at most and which I would most definitely recommend. Ms. Rand, I believe, is an under appreciated genius, called “crazy” by many modern critics. While I won't disagree on your “crazy” point, I think her philosophical theory of Objectivism could be an interesting criterion. Maybe not for the current juvenile violent felonies topic, which deals more with the ideas of utilitarianism and society, but definitely for more individualistic topics.

Objectivism is basically individualism to the extreme. “There is no mental process that can change the laws of nature or erase facts. The function of consciousness is not to create reality, but to apprehend it.” It holds that man's only responsibility is to himself:
Reason is man's only proper judge of values and his only proper guide to action. The proper standard of ethics is: man's survival qua man—i.e., that which is required by man's nature for his survival as a rational being (not his momentary physical survival as a mindless brute). Rationality is man's basic virtue, and his three fundamental values are: reason, purpose, self-esteem. Man—every man—is an end in himself, not a means to the ends of others; he must live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself; he must work for his rational self-interest, with the achievement of his own happiness as the highest moral purpose of his life.
I could definitely see this as a potential criterion to counter basic utilitarian arguments (which come up a lot). As in, we can't make decisions for the good of the whole if a rational individual is harmed unnecessarily. It takes away man's ability to be an end in himself. It'll be controversial, but it's a legitimate moral stance that judges may find refreshing.

It also deals a lot with politics. “"The basic social principle of the Objectivist ethics is that no man has the right to seek values from others by means of physical force—i.e., no man or group has the right to initiate the use of physical force against others. Men have the right to use force only in self-defense and only against those who initiate its use. Men must deal with one another as traders, giving value for value, by free, mutual consent to mutual benefit.”

This could be applied to last year's sanctions topic, or other war topics. Instead of the regular “war is bad because it kills people” defense, you could use Objectivism as a “war is bad because it hurts trade, which benefits everyone and is the basic social principle of existence.”

Before I get any nasty anti-Rand commenters, let me be clear. I'm not advocating Objectivism as a philosophy, because it's definitely too cut and dried for my taste. But then again, so is utilitarianism. The fact is, philosophy isn't supposed to make us believe one thing over another. It's supposed to make us think. The reason I am supporting it as a potential criterion is because it's unconventional, which is always nice, and because it has value in certain topics. Sometimes you have to debate things you don't necessarily agree with. Does anyone remember the affirmative action PF topic from last year? Ugh.

Potential value pairings:

Governmental legitimacy, individualism, civil rights.


Brief Summary of Objectivism
Essentials of Objectivism
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Ayn Rand

Bri Castellini debated in both Public Forum and Lincoln Douglas during high school, and is now a college IPDA debater. She blogs frequently at Bri's Own World, and posts way too frequently on Twitter.

Jan 3, 2011

AP Psychology is the only reason I'm good at debate

By Guest-Blogger Bri Castellini

Jim has granted me the privilege of occasionally guest blogging on the topics of LD, so to build myself up as an authority on the subject, I thought I'd just introduce myself a bit. My name is Bri, and I am a college freshman. I debated in both Public Forum and Lincoln Douglas during high school for the two years I competed, and am now a college IPDA debater. I went to Nationals in Kansas City last summer as the tournament champion for Congress (blah, I know), and qualified as well in Public Forum, but due to partner issues we forfeited to the next team. I also competed in poetry, and am now learning informative speaking, prose, and duo. But I've always been foremost a debate person, so don't worry.

For my first blog post on the subject of the latest topic, (Resolved: In the United States, juveniles charged with violent felonies ought to be treated as adults in the criminal justice system), I thought I'd examine the psychological implications. This will be a strongly Neg-sided post, but not to worry, I'll get to AFF points in other posts (and Jim has already discussed them as well).

The first thing we need to talk about is the frontal lobe of your brain, specifically the pre-frontal cortex. This part of your brain “allows us to prioritize thoughts, imagine, think in the abstract, anticipate consequences, plan, and control impulses.” (American Bar Association, January 2004) Basically, it controls our judgments and decision-making processes.

The pre-frontal cortex is the last part of our brains to fully develop, sometimes lasting into our early 20s. It's for this reason that you're not considered mature enough to consume alcohol, vote, and watch inappropriate movies before certain ages. So why not extend this to juvenile violent felony charges?

“Just because they're physically mature, they may not appreciate the consequences or weigh information the same way as adults do. So, [although] somebody looks physically mature, their brain may in fact not be mature.”- Deborah Yurgelun-Todd, PhD (She's part of the Harvard University Medical School, and she has a PhD. I love those sources, don't you??)

So from just this brain perspective, you could argue that it's as morally unfair to treat a minor as an adult as it is to treat a mentally handicapped person as one. The fact is, their mental faculties aren't fully developed yet, so how can we blame them from acting upon impulses they can't fully understand or control yet?

But let's move on to hormones, everyone's favorite middle school memory. Testosterone, the hormone connected to aggression (and most violent crimes), increases tenfold in adolescent boys. Ouch. Even taking certain womanly changes into account, I'd rather not have to deal with an overabundance of aggressive hormones forcing their way to the surface in a very small length of time. I'm violent enough as it is. Add this to the mood-swings associated with both genders during puberty, and you've got a full fledged biological battle going on within just about every adolescent. They can't be held responsible for their actions, at least not entirely. Treating them as adults will just solidify their growing (and entirely natural) contempt for authority.

Essentially, what you can take away from this is that contrary to really anything AFF will say, juveniles DO NOT have the biological or the psychological faculties to make informed, rational, and competent decisions, consistently, especially when they're under stress or are having an internal hormone war.


Bri Castellini blogs frequently at Bri's Own World, and posts way too frequently on Twitter.