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2021 NDT Arguments with Cross-Application Potential to High School

Author: Carly Watson

Every year at the end-of-season high school tournaments, a few arguments that were broken at the National Debate Tournament (NDT) pop up. Because of coaches who work in both high school and college and the public college caselist, there’s a lot of cross-pollination at the end of the year. If you’re preparing for an end-of-season high school tournament, I’ve collected a few arguments from the NDT that I think could make an appearance.

Generic Counterplans

It seems like the CJR topic is already swimming in generic and process counterplans but there were a few from the NDT that would make an easy crossover. These have mostly been around but are “updated” and back for 2021:

Referendum Counterplan – Talk about a classic! The Referendum CP is a throwback to the deep debate past and says that instead of the normal means the plan uses, there should be a referendum to determine if the plan should be done. Read by Kentucky round five of the NDT, the CP had the USFG allow for national referenda over the plan and then the states initiate a binding referendum. If the public votes for the plan in the referenda, the plan happens. If the public votes against the plan in the referenda, the plan doesn’t happen. It argues it’s competitive by using the states and being uncertain/not immediate.

The net benefit in the olden days used to be about the importance of participatory democracy and argued that using a referendum process for the CP would cause future decisions to be adopted via referendum. Kentucky had a new twist on the net benefit – they still made the argument that the CP’s process would be adopted in the future but their net benefit was about referendums being able to stop global populism. Politics and other short-term DAs are also probably net benefits if the neg wins that the CP’s implementation is delayed and the link is shielded in the interim

It’s been floating around on the high school topic (heck, it’s been floating around since 1996) but it making it into a big debate at the NDT suggests there may be even more referendum debates on the horizon.

Neg Cites:

Let the People Rule: How Direct Democracy Can Meet The Populist Challenge – John J. Matsusaka

Aff Cites:

The United States as a Democratic Ideal? International Lessons in Referendum Democracy – K.K. DuVivier

The Case Against Referendums: From Greece to California, They Always End Up Undermining Democracy – David A. Bell

Harris Counterplan – The Harris CP is a twist on a counterplan that’s been floating around since the President Trump era. Stick with me here… The CP has the USFG declare that not doing the plan is grounds for presidential removal and then fiats that the 46th president (President Biden) doesn’t do the plan. They argue that the effect of the CP is President Biden being removed from office using the 25th Amendment and Vice President Harris becoming president. They argue that they solve the case (because future President Harris would do the plan) and then read internal net benefits about Harris as president relative to Biden. When Michigan read this CP round five of the NDT, their net benefit was that a future President Harris would legalize marijuana but it could be any number of potential net benefits. I’m not including cites here because (let’s be honest) none of the cards are really about the counterplan or the plan but it’s definitely something that could make its way to the CJR topic.

Office of Legal Counsel Counterplan – The OLC CP (have the OLC issue a finding that binds the executive to do the plan) has been a classic since the college executive restraint topic. It’s a way for the negative to beef up solvency for a counterplan that uses the executive and provides another layer of defense against circumvention, non-compliance, or arguments that “external check are key.” The OLC provides binding legal advice to the president and executive branch and so the OLC CP says that it creates another check on the executive within the counterplan. The Executive Self Restraint (ESR) CP is already out there and folks have been reading the OLC CP in high school but it’s appearance at the NDT might signal a resurgence.

Neg Cites:

The Office of Legal Counsel and Secret Law – Jameel Jaffer

The Unfulfilled Promise of the Constitution in Executive Hands – Corenelia Pillard

Stare Decisis in the Office of Legal Counsel – Trevor W. Morrison

Aff Cites:

Deference To The Executive In The United States After September 11: Congress, The Courts, And The Office Of Legal Counsel – Eric A. Posner

The Decline of OLC – Jack Goldsmith


We get the questions a lot: “What’s the next politics scenario?” Using the NDT as a predictor, the most common politics scenario will be infrastructure by a landslide. There are different impacts (grid, climate, growth, non-linear extinction risks, etc.) but, across debates at the NDT, infrastructure was the dominate scenario. Wyoming read a Colin Kahl nomination DA first and several other teams read it over the course of the tournament. It’s not clear yet when the Senate vote on Kahl will happen so this could pop up at some high school tournaments. The other politics scenario floating around was an H.R. 1 DA (For the People Act) read by Minnesota.

What about the “Custom CP” from the final round?

In the final round of the NDT, Michigan read a counterplan first read by Kentucky round 7 about the intersection of treaty law (e.g. mutual defense pacts) and customary international law (e.g. the law of neutrality). The primary article the counterplan is based on is explicitly about defense-related treaties but you could see a creative negative team making a thematically similar argument about the intersection between CJR and customary international law. This isn’t a generic you could just cut and paste from NDT speech docs but it could be something people use as inspiration to write arguments for end-of-season high school tournaments.

Concluding Thoughts

We did a webinar with some high school students and Spartan Debate Institute instructors about end of season prep and I continue to think that preparing to be aff at end-of-season high school tournaments this year is all about being prepared to defeat process counterplans in the 2AR. It seems like there’s still not a generic disadvantage people have fallen in love with on the CJR topic so preparing to be neg could very well mean preparing to go for a process counterplan. This isn’t an exhaustive list of potential cross-applications from the NDT but hopefully it helps highlight a few arguments that I could see cropping up. Good luck to everyone preparing for the end of the season!

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