Topicality and the Supreme Court

October 4, 2017

Tuesday, in downtown D.C., two well funded and well prepared teams of debaters faced off. The affirmative's case argued that Wisconsin's recent re-drawing of congressional districts gerrymandered Democrats into a permanent minority. They pointed to the results of a recent election, where Republicans won 48.6% of the vote, but won a 60-39 seat majority in the State House. Their argument was that the redistricting restricted free speech and violated the equal protection clause.

 

The negative went for Topicality and Solvency. 

 

This debate wasn't between high schoolers, but took place in front of the Supreme Court of the United States, which heard oral arguments from both sides in a highly publicized case, Gill v. Whitford. 

 

Given the polarized nature of the court, the debaters (lawyers) focused their arguments on a single judge, Justice Kennedy. Kennedy is considered the swing vote in this case (like in most cases these days), largely due to his opinion on a similar case in 2004. 

 

The Wisconsin Attorney General (the negative) argues that the courts are ill-suited to adjudicate this complex task (no solvency), and that the gerrymandering wasn't substantial, giving the litigants no reason to sue (topicality). 

 

While some of the arguments that debaters make sometimes seems divorced from reality, these are exactly the types of debates that happen in the highest court in the land. Remember that the next time you hear someone reading T--Substantial. The outcome of one such debate might determine voting rights in this country. 

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