Supreme Court and Debate Research
Robert Barnes in today’s Washington Post has a fascinating article on the Supreme Court. Well, fascinating to me. But then I used to enjoy spending hours reading law school journals, congressional testimony, and medical school journals. It was all for debate and debate was all about research.
I am strange enough to think breadth of Congressional authority under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution is an interesting question. But even more intriguing the extent to which ideology and politics plays in Supreme deliberations. Should have been a lawyer.
From the Post: “In six hours of oral arguments over three days later this month — the most time the court has spent on a case in 45 years — the Obama administration will try to convince the justices that the Constitution grants Congress broad power to regulate interstate commerce and provide for the national interest. Broad enough to require that almost every American purchase health insurance or pay a penalty.”
As a college freshman, together with a freshaman partner, we did well enough at several debate tournaments — semi finals, quarter finals — to get an invitation to the Harvard Debate Tournament. We did not apply for the invite. The invitation simply showed up in the mail. Everyone was ecstatic. Little did we know what was about to happen.
The topic was regulating land-use. So we had researched urban sprawl, housing density, storm water runoff, various mining methods, etc. In one round we were scheduled against the University of Alabama — there are eight preliminary rounds in a college tournament. They were the affirmative team, meaning they argue for a significant change in land-use regulation. We are the negative team. That means that we do, as in the opening trial remarks of “My Cousin Vinny”, everything that guy just said was bullsh*t.
Turns out the East Coast and South East had a much more expansive definition of land-use than us Midwestern folks. They proposed mandatory use of seat belts in automobiles and banning the production and use of chlorofluorocarbons. Both of which were subsequently adopted into law. But I looked at my partner with an expression that must have been of shear terror. We had never even talked about these topics as land-use issues, much less researched them. We got crushed — sort of the 67-0 football game score where you wonder whether the losing team will bother to exit the locker room after halftime.
After that, research became even more important than I already thought it was. The following year my former high school debate partner and I became a team for the University of Miami and we won a few tournaments, including Florida State. Hurricanes winning in Seminole country. That was sweet.