Making Neg Ground Happen- a How to

The grumbling among most students this year has been about how there is “no neg ground” on immigration. This is not entirely false, but the thing about debate arguments is that judgments like this involve a bit of the “synoptic delusion”. Synoptic delusion refers to the way knowledge is “distributed”-i.e. no one person has all the possible (or relevant) information, bits and pieces of it are strewn about in various people’s heads. One of the things you are doing when conducting debate research is you are trying to tie things together- maybe author A made part of a disad but didn’t really see where it was going, but then author B comes in and makes the connection that allows you to get to author C.

One of the reasons we do research is that in the world there are many, many people who are smarter than us, better writers than us, who have been working and writing on the issues we debate for years if not decades. Research is about you going out to “mine” their work if you will and use it to put together arguments. You can’t know what you are going to find in advance, you can have guesses/hunches, but no one really knows.

As someone older/with more experience than you I still mess this up from time to time. I will get an assignment and say “mmmm this is silly” as I assume no one would ever write/think/argue about XYZ bonkers issue. I’m pretty much always wrong, and when I have been right its also possible I just wasn’t able to find the nuggets that were waiting out there.

So I was thinking about this/writing a post about how the neg should stop complaining and cut some cards on immigration when someone in the slack said “we need a court disad” and like an idiot I said “I can do that”.

NDT Court DA


So there we are, the relevant parts of this. Now to begin I’ll answer the question jumping to your mind- no you should not read this disad/steal it. I mean you can, its still “viable”, but the cases in question have already been heard which makes it trickier (though not impossible, more on that below).


So before we get into specifics about this disad, let’s talk about the process in general from T to B.


I get the assignment

Wooooo court DA! Now I should say from the get go there are a lot of court DAs and I have pretty strong opinions about them

Legitimacy- not an argument.  The way people present it in debate “the court is legit, the plan is illegit, ergo court illegit” is mind blowingly silly.

Activism- See above

Stripping/Interbranch conflict- usually has some ok cards for the link/impact, nothing on the U

Hollow Hope- usually my favorite, no one sees it coming and its about current eventsy stuff so you can string together a story

Court politics- my least favorite. Evidence is usually garbage/old, the Uniqueness ev making predictions is even worse than regular politics etc.


So naturally I picked court politics. No obviously that isn’t what happened- I tried to write the other disads first. Immigration movements/protest were always a good impact to hollow hope so I tried that, the others… It wasn’t happening. The problem is that a lot of stuff has happened to the court recently, and that messed with a huge number of links people traditionally read. While the court is generally moving to be more conservative which is generally good for the hollow hope disad (which argues a liberal court acts as fly paper for social movements) the court wasn’t being very consistent- its rulings were all over the place.


When there is a big problem with link uniqueness generally politics disads are the way to go, largely because judges for some reason agree to set aside common sense when evaluating politics disads. This gives you a greenlight to overcome any problem related to “truth” or “evidence quality” by just reading more evidence. So that is what we set out to do.


Step 1: Finding a scenario


To have a court capital disad you generally need to find a case that is



-has some sort of big impact to outweigh the case


things like a case involving a single persons death penalty appeal may be close, but probably won’t outweigh the case. Some cases are not close- everyone thinks one side is clearly going to win-unfortunately these are frequently the cases WITH big impacts, that’s often why people think they can predict the outcome with such clarity. By the time the NDT rolls around most court cases have been heard and many announced further limiting your options.


This part came largely through luck- one of the first 5 articles I read ended up being an early version of a 1NC uniqueness card- it made a lot of predictive arguments about how the court could rule and said it would be close in very debate friendly language. The case was about gerrymandering, and having been in debate for quite a while I know that isn’t the best internal link ever but that it’s good enough to get to democracy/US credibility which can take you anywhere. At this point I put other potential leads aside and started to dive deep on gerrymandering and while I am at this point looking for anything that could be an argument the main thing I am looking for is a 1NC quality internal link card.


Why? Well if after reading like 30-40 news articles that came up by searching for “internal link card” terms I don’t find anything good- then I would have to rethink my decision. The internal link I mean is a sort of “this is political/not ideological” decision type card. I’ve definitely seen people in the past read court capital disads without such a card, but the degree of difficulty vs a smart aff is pretty near insurmountable. After a few hours I had 2-3 cards that are like “28.8” quality, which was better than I was hoping for and so I decided to commit to gerrymandering.


What I did next is a bit unique- I did a bunch of reading not to cut cards but just to learn. I tried to find either legal briefs or lower court rulings to read about the case. When I am looking for court cards I generally go straight to “amicus briefs” which are “friend of the court” briefs people submit in support of one side or another. They have the best cards because anyone can write them and so they often end up more like a debate 1AC than a legal brief which obviously is good for finding cards. The problem with trying to learn from them is… anyone can write them. And some people write them all the time and “recycle” a lot of arguments or entire sections. One thing about the courts/legal system- almost no one has any idea what they are talking about. JD candidates- know nothing. Law professors- slightly more but still nothing. When you start reading a lot about subject X in law reviews you will find an overwhelming number of articles dedicated to just correcting the facts of other articles. In a podcast turner referred to this as a place where you can easily cut a lot of cards- they are making arguments and they are AT:ing people and it seems like you are being productive but really you are stuck in the minutia no one other than these 2 people care about. What I am trying to do when I read for knowledge like this is to learn 1 to 2% of what an informed person would know- because this is generally enough to be able to quickly tell what newspaper articles are useless, what reporters have no clue, and what arguments will be good or bad.


To give a specific example, check the uniqueness block for the gerrymandering DA. There is a unique twist with this case. In past gerrymandering rulings there was a “political” element- the court didn’t want to be seen as being in favor of either the dems or republicans, and one of them was always a winner or loser in the case since gerrymandering decisions are about how they compete to win votes. Now, a HUGE number of potential aff uniqueness cards that could be read said something like


“The court has never ruled on partisan gerrymandering because they don’t want to be perceived as political, that will happen again here”


And this seems like a reasonable thing to say… Except the circumstances make it not reasonable. 2 things actually

First, and most important, the court scheduled 2 cases on the same day about partisan gerrymandering. One case involves dems, the other republicans- why would they do this to just punt both of them to avoid appearing political? It really only makes sense if they are doing the opposite- making a ruling in both and using the fact that there are 2 cases to deflect controversy over picking a side. Does/would the court do that? Check the “docket sequencing” link for ev

Second, the court heard a very similar case last term and “punted” it- they sent it back to lower courts because the facts weren’t developed enough. That is what the court does to avoid looking political and they already did it… but then let the case come back- why do that just to punt?


There is also the issue that in addition to these cases there was a RACIAL gerrymandering case being heard slightly before and more than a few journalists who wrote otherwise good sounding cards did not know that there was a difference. Maybe some people out there don’t care, but I would be sipuku level mortified to learn that my team lost because they read a card I cut because I didn’t understand that difference. It’s entirely possible that you can produce a file with bad cards that don’t make sense and never get called on it-but you probably don’t want to plan on that as the a-strat.


The internal link is another area where it helps to know stuff. You can find plenty of cards written recently by “qualified” people that will say things like ” the court isn’t political- they just call balls and strikes”- in fact that is a famous quote from Roberts. These people are being silly and the cards are bad, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is an argument you could be forced to debate and answer. In looking for articles a lot kept coming up by Joan Biskupic, a writer for whom if Slate did not exist it would have to be created. I found it odd that she was banging the drum of “roberts is the swing vote/he is political” so hard given her other court writing but upon a quick google it turned out she had a new book about Roberts coming out.

Here is a recent episode of Left, Right, and Center where she talks about it.

Spoiler alert- in the book she thinks the disad is a real thing. In fact she explains how

-judges will change their vote repeatedly on the same case in response to lobbying

-Roberts goes around trying to convince judges to vote a certain way for certain reasons

-this is true not just of trivial cases but ones that really matter like the ACA


This produced some pretty good cards, with the best ones coming out on like day 1 of the tournament, so make sure you cut your updates.



Anywhoo- peruse the file and you will see that basically the things I wrote blocks to were things that were likely to be a problem-either because the aff was likely to push there or because they had truth on their side and might “stumble” into a good argument. Those where the places I spent extra time doing searches/coming up with tricks. So in closing I want to talk about one specific trick the “docket sequencing” link.


Vs court capital a big aff argument is the “thumper”. A thumper is a link uniqueness argument that argues either something that recently happened or something soon to happen should have triggered the link- so here if your link was like “controversial ruling” a thumper would be arguing that any recent ruling or soon to be issued ruling would be controversial. Having a specific link helps insulate you from thumpers,but that is generally not enough. The point of the docket sequencing link was to set up a reasonable explanation of uniqueness: the court can’t entirely avoid controversy so it tries to MANAGE it as best it can, one way they do that is scheduling cases (this dovetails with uniqueness arg). The plan is fiated out of the blue which makes this impossible, so the court has to “manage” the controversy in a different way.


Now, this link is 100% american cheese- its a stupid interp of fiat. That being said if you make/present it in well formed way and the aff mishandles it there is enough “meat” in the cards that you can trick a judge into thinking it isn’t cheese. These kind of tricks can’t stand up to much scrutiny so you generally are in better shape by having a few so they don’t get a large amount of pushback. Other examples of tricks in this disad

-the “buffet” of options- they don’t need a definite ruling, just somewhere along the spectrum

-the twitter fight 2NC disad










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