2020 Spring Championship Judge Handbook
Semi and Final Round Judges
Sunday, November 15

Thank you for judging at the Social Justice Debates on this important topic! We greatly appreciate your willingness to share your expertise and experience with our debaters. The schedule for Sunday is as follows: 

This document provides an overview of your role as a judge. Section 1 summarizes your role as a judge. Section 2 explains the topic for the debates. Section 3 provides guidance on judging a college debate. 

I. Summary

Each round will last about an hour and will involve two competing teams of two debaters each. The debaters will be responsible for timing and attending to the order of their speeches and/or there will be a timekeeper in each round. Your only responsibility during the round is to listen with an open mind and take notes on the debate.

You will be judging on a panel of 3-5 jurists. After the round a college debate coach will lead your panel in discussing the debate and attempting to reach consensus as to which team did the better debating. Once a decision is reached and announced to the teams, you will have an opportunity to provide feedback to the debaters. In addition, the debate coach will prepare a written ballot based on your discussions. (You will have an opportunity to review and approve the written ballot before publication.)

II. Topic & Topic Statement


Social Justice Movements should make police abolition their top priority.

Topic Statement

“One might disagree with the argument to abolish police, but having the debate is itself productive, it forces conversations about the otherwise taken-for-granted value of police and incarceration.” -Amna A. Akbar Toward a Radical Imagination of Law, 93 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 405, 408–10 (2018)

“I think young people are saying something similar about police today. I don’t think anyone would deny that communities and society as a whole should have some kind of organized and effective means of responding to harms when they’re done. But the way the police operate today in many communities, I think it’s understandable for people to say, ’If this is what policing is then I don’t want it, I want something else.’ The police are a reflection of our politics and our culture.” -Michelle Alexander Author of The New Jim Crow

Policing in the United States is viewed by some as an absolute necessity and the only force holding anarchy at bay. To others though, it is associated with a long history of violence and cruelty. In the wake of the tragic deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, followed by the brutalization of Jacob Blake, Americans are having a long overdue national dialogue on the question of how best to respond to police brutality. The 2020-20201 Social Justice Debates challenges debaters to engage this national dialogue by answering the question of whether social justice movements adopt abolition of police as their top priority.

Past Social Justice Debates have identified a scholar(s) whose work provided the inspiration for the topic. This year, however, we are recognizing the memories of Kathryn Johnston, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Tanisha Anderson, Walter Scott, Kayden Clarke, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Stephon Clark, Atatiana “Tay” Jefferson, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Tony McDade, and others who have unnecessarily died from excessive use of police force as our inspiration.

For the purposes of this year’s topic, the term “police” refers to the institution of policing within the United States and the various methods used to maintain a domestic monopoly on violence. Neither side of this debate should attempt to define the police as a singular actor or group (e.g., ICE), but must showcase the police as the common institution most are familiar with.

Likewise, “social justice movements” should not be interpreted to refer to a singular movement or activist group. Social justice movements refer to, inter alia, organizations, associations, networks, and individual activists and protestors focused on issues including policing or other social justice issues and for which adopting police abolition as a top priority is sensical. The topic is not intended to require affirmatives to defend the proposition that social justice movements specializing in and focused on climate change, for example, should make abolishing the police their top priority. Movements such as Black Lives Matter (BLM) can be referenced as an example, or brought up through the debate, but no single group should be considered as a social movement the conversation revolves around.

Affirmatives are required to defend that social justice movements ought to also make the rhetorical choices and policy proposals associated with the slogans "abolishing the police" and "defunding the police" their top priority if this issue is raised by the Negative. Affirmatives are required to (1) defend the use of the slogans abolish and defund the police as primary rallying cries for social justice movements and (2) recognize that in a world of limited resources tradeoffs in time and resources require strategic and tactical prioritization and to defend that in instances where such conflicts arise social justice movements should prioritize abolishing the police over other priorities.

In contrast, Negatives may argue SJM's advocating for the defunding of police is a bad idea or they may argue that even if advocating for defunding is a good idea it should not be the top priority of social justice movements. Negative ground includes arguing that social justice movements should not adopt slogans and policy proposals such as abolish or defund the police as a top priority in a world of limited resources. This might include, for example, arguing for campaigns for reform over abolition, with reforms referring to amendments to the current system, significant or small, while abolition include the complete, or close thereto, banning or removal of the current mechanics.

Abolishing police forces is a position that is mutually exclusive from reforming the police as an institution. In this regard whether defunding the police is a reform or subsumed under the Affirmative position of police abolition depends on the lengths to which the proposal goes. For our purposes, policing reform is distinct from abolition or defunding in that it does not abolish the current system of the police institution, but only transfers a small percentage of the police budget to other projects. The Affirmative must take the stance of doing away with the current system of policing and not simply transferring a small percentage of the police budget.

III. Judging at the Social Justice Debates 

The Social Justice Debates provide college debaters a rare opportunity to test their skills debating for judges from both inside and outside of the college debate community, including distinguished professionals and topic experts. Please do not worry if you do not have experience judging college debate rounds. The most important thing to remember when judging a debate is that if a team convinces you they have won the round, they have won the round!

The primary question you should ask yourself as a judge is which team has done the better debating on the question raised by the tournament topic. First and foremost, this question asks which team has been more effective in meeting their basic burdens of advocacy and rejoinder. This means “constructing” complete and persuasive arguments supported by logic and evidence, as well as directly responding to the key arguments constructed by their opponents. Secondarily, judges should consider factors such as public speaking skills, organization, and command of the subject matter.

There is no single formula for determining which team did the best debating. In short, you are attempting to assess which team presented the most powerful advocacy when considering all of the many factors that advocacy entails.

Although judging is subjective, it is important that you do not allow personal bias or beliefs about the issues being debated to influence whom you choose as winner. Indeed, you may conclude that a team has been more powerful in making its case even if you do not personally agree with the team’s arguments.

Topic Interpretation

Although it is discouraged and should be disfavored by judges, debaters will sometimes attempt to interpret topics in a manner that “tilts” the playing field to their advantage. A topic statement will be provided to all judges and all teams to clarify the topic’s intended meaning. As a judge, you should attempt to interpret the burden the topic places on the Affirmative and Negative teams in a manner consistent with the topic’s plain language and the context provided by the topic statement. When in doubt as to the plain meaning of the topic, you should adopt a “centrist” interpretation of the topic that allows both teams a fair chance to engage the core questions raised by the topic as described in the topic statement.

Cross Examination

Cross examination is an essential element of the debate format chosen for this weekend’s competition. It is also an element that requires debaters to cooperate in good faith with their opponents to some extent, which may be a complicated proposition in a competitive debate. Cross examination can be an invaluable tool for moving debates “forward” by clarifying areas of agreement, isolating areas of dispute, and allowing rigorous examination of opposing arguments. Cross examinations may be far less productive, however, if debaters waste cross examination time and avoid having their arguments clarified and scrutinized by answering questions that haven’t been asked, filibustering, and otherwise failing to directly and succinctly answer questions to the extent possible. In such cases, debates may even become hostile as cross examiners may be forced to talk over their opponent to prevent their opponent from dominating the cross examination period.

In a court of law, judges will often instruct hostile witnesses (i.e. witnesses who are bias or adverse to the cross examiner) to directly and succinctly answer questions to the extent possible so as to avoid wasted time and to allow cross examiners to clarify the facts and arguments relevant to the judge’s or jury’s decision.

Similarly, when determining the winning team and assigning speaker points judges should favor debaters who respond directly and succinctly to the extent possible and disfavor debaters who consistently fail to do so.

“To the extent possible” is an essential qualifier to this requirement. Debaters should be allowed reasonable time to answer “open” questions or any other questions that cannot be answered in a straightforward manner.

Equity Statement

While a judge may not consciously privilege the arguments or positions of particular groups of people over others, studies have shown that decisions nevertheless may be influenced by societal biases or prejudices in regards to, inter alia, race and gender. Daniel Kelley and Erica Roedder (2008) have found implicit bias in a number of settings analogous to debate including job hiring practices, grading, and sports officiating. Deborah Tannen (1998) has shown that in the field of competitive argument men are sometimes presumed to be more reasonable and less emotional and that these presumptions may lead a judge to implicitly give more weight to a man’s argument than a woman’s. We therefore ask each judge to consider their implicit biases in evaluating participants’ arguments and performance before making their decision.

Thank you again for the generous commitment of your time to this program and the wonderful students involved in it.