There’s a common misconception that, in TP, moral arguments and pragmatic arguments don’t mix. That’s false. This article is about the Bad Precedent DA—one of the main ways you can couple your principle-based arguments with a pragmatic dimension. We’ll discuss it in four parts: the big idea of Bad Precedent DAs, the structure, how to impact them, and some notes on strategy.
The Big Idea
Every policy has an underlying ideology or value. (You should identify it in all your Neg rounds, as well as in your own Aff case). Sometimes, that underlying principle is bad, but doesn’t obviously make the Affirmative team’s plan bad.
This is where your Bad Precedent DA comes in. Bad Precedent DAs prove that the Affirmative team is making policy based on a bad principle. They then illustrate the danger of that principle or mindset being accepted for future policymaking.
There are two main ways to structure a Bad Precedent DA. I’ve never heard formal terms for these categories, so I’m going to make them up: the standard/violation structure and the link/impact structure. We’ll talk about the standard/violation structure in this post, then cover the link/impact structure in Part 2.
For example, suppose the Affirmative team presents a case that goes something like this:
Goal: Justice (defined as getting the bad guy. Yay!)
Fact: The exclusionary rule. The exclusionary rule in federal evidence law makes any evidence obtained in an improper or illegal manner, like a warrantless search, inadmissible in court.
Harm: Miscarriage of justice. Link: exclusionary rule gets key evidence thrown out on a technicality.
Impact: The exclusionary rule erodes justice.
Plan: Abolish the exclusionary rule. Punish cops personally who submit bad evidence, but still use the evidence.
Advantage: We lock up more bad guys, increasing justice. Yay!
Let’s first look at what the standard/violation structure might look like. This structure is modeled after a topicality press or a kritik, and works best when you’re arguing that the Affirmative team violates an important principle to set their precedent. Here’s the outline:
Claim or Tag: Bad precedent: undermines rule of law
Standard: Insert the principle they’re violating, along with a justification of its importance in general Example: “The rule of law is a central principle to America’s founding, and a bastion against tyranny. Blah blah blah Constitution, blah blah the government cannot arbitrarily take away rights without legal justification. Therefore, this principle must be upheld.”
Optional: Topic-standard link. In some cases, it helps if you clarify that the standard ought to apply to the topic area. Example: “In the US, we have the assumption of innocence and the rights of the accused so that the government cannot silence you by levying false charges against you. The court system is the only place we give the government the direct power to literally or figuratively end citizens’ lives, so the rule of law is extremely important here.”
Violation. Show how the Affirmative team’s case violates the standard or principle. Example: “The exclusionary rule extends the rule of law to the justice system. Aff will tell you that they like the rule of law and they just don’t want evidence to be excluded on technicalities, but they make no legal distinction between bad-faith illegal searches and a warrant with a typo. The Affirmative team wants our courts to recognize illegally obtained evidence—evidence obtained through government overreach in violation of established rights—as legitimate. Doing so runs blatantly counter to the rule of law.”
Optional: Applied violation. Here, add something to illustrate the violation. Example: “A soccer player picks up the ball and runs into the other team’s goal, carrying it in his hands. The ref says it’s against the rules, but decides to count the point anyway.” Alternatively, present a hypothetical situation that could happen under the Aff’s plan. Example: “Dude has marijuana in his house, unbeknownst to anyone but him. He does something that upsets his neighbor, who happens to be a cop. Off-duty neighbor-cop breaks into his house to try to find something to incriminate him, acting on a grudge with no probable cause. Finds marijuana. Dude goes to jail for like 50 years thanks to illegally obtained but legally permissible evidence. This is a clear violation of rights and the rule of law.”
Impact. “Government overtly values its interests above the rights of the accused,” or something—preferably something shorter. I’ll talk at more length about impacting precedent DAs in the next post.
These are fun to run because you get to talk about all the patriotic principles upon which our great nation was founded, and you’re actually right about it. This standard/violation structure is the most clear cut, but stay tuned to read more about the link/impact structure in Part 2.