Q & A: November Topic and Questions of Illegality

Q: How is there ever a link between illegality and tangible impacts for these kinds of resolutions (such as the November 2013 topic)?


Topics such as November 2013, Resolved: The benefits of domestic surveillance by the NSA outweigh the harms, contain and question of legality. By legality, I mean one question that can be asked in the debate round is “Is the domestic surveillance by the NSA legal?” or “Is the domestic surveillance by the NSA constitutional?”

Other topics that contain a question of legality have been:

2013 National Forensic League Nationals – Resolved: The benefits of American drone strikes against foreign targets outweigh the harms.

June 2012 (NFL Nationals) – Resolved: Stand Your Ground laws are a legitimate expansion of the doctrine of self defense.

January 2011 – Resolved: In the United States, plea bargaining undermines the criminal justice system.

These resolutions contain policies that have been determined legal by Congress passing laws that allow the programs or the Supreme Court determining that the policy is constitutional. Or the resolution may contain a policy that is being questioned and has not been determined to have a legal basis.

The requirements for legality to be a concern are that there are laws regarding the policy, Supreme Court decisions, or the policy has been questioned in court.

Legality is never an impact. To say it is legal or illegal, constitutional or unconstitutional, does not create a beneficial or harmful impact. However, legality can point to an impact.

If the legislature or executive has passed a law allowing a policy, they have done it to achieve something. That something is your impact. In the case of NSA domestic surveillance, the programs were created to protect US citizens and perform counterterrorism.

If the Supreme Court has ruled something constitutional, it is connected to a right guaranteed by the Constitution or a goal that is supported by the Constitution. Everything in the Constitution has been written for a reason, which generally is to create a certain good for society. Or if the policy is being challenged, there may be a reason it is unconsitutional. In the case of NSA domestic surveillance, there is a question of the right of privacy, the right of free speech, etc. Each of these rights has been protected by the Constitution because it provides some good to US citizens. That good, either lost or gained by domestic surveillance, is the impact.

Questions of legality are helpful at point you towards impacts, but are not impacts themselves. Exploring why laws are created or why rights are guaranteed will provide you impacts for these types of topics. Remember, do not get bogged down arguing why or if something is legal. Skip that step of the argument and focus on what is created or taken away by the policy.



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