Jordana Sternberg -- Pace Academy

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Judging philosophy:

The following should give you an idea of how I think about debate(s):

General (or, the short version):

I enjoy watching debaters who clearly understand – and can explain and use – their warrants and the broader context of the topic, world events, etc. I will reward your speaker points if you demonstrate this knowledge and, conversely, I am not impressed with debaters who just memorize the index and taglines of a few favorite camp files that someone else cut.

If debate is a balance between playing a tricky game versus arguing “truth” through evidence, I prefer truth-and-evidence, and I can be persuaded most readily with logic (including analytics) and with good, specific evidence that says what it is supposed to say and is not highlighted into oblivion. If a card is highlighted in such a fragmentary or nonsensical way that it barely contains any warrants or context, I may be reluctant to assign it any weight -- and if it is competing with an opponent's card with highlighted warrants and context, the fragments will probably lose. It is important to me that your cards say what they are supposed to say, but without taking the place of the debaters' analysis and explanation.

Related to the foregoing: a lot of affirmative advantages seem to be all impacts with no internal links and very tenuous connection to the plan action, but no one ever takes the time to make the analytical arguments to point out the disconnects. Why not? I recognize that's merely defense, but sometimes it seems like DAs are held to a higher standard than the 1AC as far as the internal links.

Don’t assume what conclusions I may have made going into the last rebuttals – you should know why you’re winning when you stand up to speak and explain it clearly and as a complete picture rather than just extending a series of args for me to piece together on my own.

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Critical arguments:

Not my favorite thing to think about. The more philosophical, the less interested I am. I am less bored by criticisms that have to do with whether the aff would solve and/or would cause problems. Bottom line: give me a coherent explanation for how your arguments apply to the issues in the debate and mean that you should win the ballot. This clarity of explanation is especially important if your argument requires me to ignore the convention of "uniqueness" and/or changes the role of the ballot from the conventional policymaking assumptions (which are my default), so make sure you are clear about what happens if I vote for you versus what happens if I vote for them. By the same token, I will not assume the intermediate steps for you if you don't put them on the flow and explain them well.

On a personal level I am generally skeptical of anti-capitalist pro-socialist views, but this does not mean I would not consider and vote on good and well-reasoned arguments even if I don't personally believe in them.

Last on this subpoint: you should strike me rather than make arguments that malign debate as a community or an activity in front of me, especially if you want a win. If you make it personal like that then I think it is fair for the judge to question your personal motives for competing in the first place and your participation is likely to appear hypocritical and in contradiction of what you claim the ballot means. And also I am just plain biased in favor of debate = good.


They need to be competitive with the plan (and the aff needs to have a topical plan). Obviously. But more importantly, I think CPs need to be logical and anchored in some level of defensible reality and preferably grounded in the literature. Don’t be having some random Montana state agency enforcing a federal statute (that the Supreme Court of Massachusetts wrote instead of the Congress), in Guam, with the consent of the French Prime Minister, with no evidence that says that can be done effectively, just because if it actually ever happened it could theoretically access the aff advantages without your disad.

Now, if the aff doesn’t question solvency or the logic of the bad CP, I might vote for it as uncontested, but not without hassling the debaters on both sides about it afterward.

A few CP specifics:

States: I think 50 states acting in unison is unrealistic and probably abuses fiat. I think Lopez is misunderstood at best and more often than that, simply not understood at all. On the other hand, I think an argument that the states should do the plan instead of the USFG, but as laboratories of individual innovation and for the reasons actually advocated in the federalism literature and not uniformly, could be credible. (Although, theory arguments against that, e.g. you can’t fiat 50 actors, may be persuasive too.)

Consult/condition: I am highly skeptical of consult and condition – for a variety of reasons but mainly because I find them generic and destructive of education. However, if you have great cards that are reasonably specific to the plan action and to the applicability of the CP action, you might persuade me – I’d have to hear the cards and the theory args.

International fiat: Undecided but my instinct is against it. Similar to consult, I think it is unfair for the neg to be able to pick a random country and circumvent the whole debate about the aff.


If you (they) go for it, I will probably read the cards. I have no problem listening to a good topicality debate, and I would not hesitate to vote neg if the neg wins. One important factor: my inclination is to vote aff if the cards don't support the violation. An example of this is the "in = throughout" violation. The most common card on this last year was terrible -- my recollection is that it was something about some local statute in some county in the 1800s for which the judges interpreted the law to apply "throughout" the county, and debaters highlighted about four words of the paragraph. Similarly, the "increase does not mean removing a barrier" argument does not seem to be based on any definition of "increase" that I have seen, it is just an effects T argument. So, if the T argument relies on cards, and the cards don't support the claim that the language of the topic means what you say, it is hard for me to conclude that the aff is not within the topic. I might even refuse to pull the trigger even if the aff doesn't make this argument, but I would be very unhappy about having to do that, so aff, please do your job.

A lot has changed in the time I was out, so I have had to play catch-up rather than judge throughout the evolution and development of some arguments. I think I am mostly caught up now, but (as I think is the case for almost any judge) don't blaze through a list of theoretical arguments without leaving any flowing time, and make sure that at some point in the debate you've explained the important arguments that you are relying on. Also, occasionally there are still some buzzwords/catch phrases I haven't heard yet.

I will vote on theory if you persuade me that your opponent has done something that would set a precedent that is bad for debate if permitted to win on it. But, I can be convinced not to vote on theory if the opponent persuades me that a vote for them would not set a precedent that is bad for debate. Obviously there are multiple levels at which these principles can be argued.


What’s with the 1NC not naming the off-case arguments at the top of the shell anymore? It is much easier to mentally process (and flow accurately) what you’re reading at top speed if the judge has a clue for some context at the beginning of it.

I find pre-written overviews to be far more annoying than useful. I already understand the thesis of your DA (and if I don’t, reading an overview at top speed is not going to help), and there’s no way that the overview you -- or someone else -- wrote before you got to the tournament applies to the issues in the round better than what you could say if you thought about it with your brain after you’ve actually seen what args are left on the flow.

“Reading” a card does not mean passing your lips over the words in an incomprehensible buzz – that is a waste, at least it is if the cards are any good in the first place. I will usually tell you if you are not clear enough.

Too often I hear debaters make great arguments in the cross-x and then never again, or on the off-chance it gets into the 1NC (or 2AC), it is ignored for the rest of the debate. I want to see debaters THINKING.


Feel free to ask about anything not covered here. And feel free to ask about law school and lawyering if you’re considering it – I enjoyed being a lawyer because of the similarities to debate.

And, have fun, be smart, call out your opponent on bad arguments and bad evidence, show me what this game has taught you!

Seasonal voting record:

TourneyDivRdAFF    NEG    Decision

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