Policy Debate/Topicality

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Topicality is the questionable stock issue. Some teams argue that topicality is not a "voting issue," and should not influence the judge's decision. However, topicality can become a voting issue if the negative establishes good standards and voters (see below). Topicality arguments are run in the following way.

Foremost comes the resolution. The resolution for 2005-2006 is "Resolved: That the United States Federal Government should substantially decrease its authority either to detain without charge or search without probable cause."

A topicality argument suffices from the Affirmative team not meeting the parameters of the resolution. In other words, the resolution says that the problem should be "substantially decreased." The argument would then be that the affirmative is not substantially decrease the authority of the government.

An untopical case would be one that only says that cops can no longer search without probable cause - thus not substantially decreasing the problem.

Likewise, topicality arguments can be ran on any word in the resolution. A popular argument for this year's topic is "or." If the affirmative case tries to fix both detainment and search and seizure, then it could be non-topical.

Topicality arguments are laid out in the following manner:

  1. Definition - definition of the word that you are running topicality on.
  2. Link - plank in affirmative plan that proves that they are not substantially decreasing, or solvency cards which do not prove the extent of the decrease.
  3. Standards - why the negative's interpretation of the resolution/definition of the word is superior. Possible standards include the argument that a definition from a law dictionary is superior, or that a definition NOT from a law dictionary is superior, that the negative's interpretation provides the fairest division of argumentative ground, that the negative's interpretation provides the best opportunity for education, etc.
  4. Voters - why the judge should vote on topicality in the round. The most popular is "abuse," or it is abusive to the negative team to have to argue a case that meets both standards instead of the one that the resolution requires.

Topicality arguments are one of the greatest arguments in policy debate, however some affirmatives will argue that it should not be voted on (or even used as an independent reason to vote against the negative) because it is frequently run as a time suck. Topicality is an a priori issue for the affirmative: if they lose topicality, they lose the round. Therefore, negatives are able to run quick and usually inapplicable topicality arguments that the affirmative must now dedicate their own speech time to addressing. This tactic is what is referred to as a time suck and is sometimes argued as being unfair by affirmative teams. Some affirmative teams will claim that this is a reason to consider topicality to be a "reverse voter," meaning that if the negative loses the topicality argument that they brought up as a time suck, they should lose the round as punishment. The reverse voter argument is generally not successful unless the negative is running topicality against a very clearly topical affirmative.