Sunday, October 02, 2005

On the Judiciary: Tory Debate No. 4

Thursday, September 15 marked the fourth Tory debate of the year. The resolution this time was the highly philosophical, “Resolved: Judges should apply unjust laws.” I decided after some thought to support the affirmative.

The chairman had asked me the week before if I wished to give one of the opening speeches. The topic, however, was difficult (perhaps impossible) to research, and I could not develop much of a speech beforehand. I decided that I would need a few points from the first speaker in the negative to respond to, and decided to give the second speech in the affirmative.

The debate was scheduled for 7:30 and was to be held in the Branford Trumbull Room as it had been the last time. I put on my grey suit and a blue tie and walked over to the debate at 7:00.

When I showed up, the room was still locked. It suddenly struck me that this was the first debate without the half-hour meet-and-greet period beforehand. In other words, I was a half-hour early. (As it would turn out, there is always about a half-hour pre-debate warm-up and chatting period no matter whether time is allotted for it or not. As a result, the debate this night started at 8).

I decided to walk around in the Branford courtyard for a bit, keeping an eye out for a Tory and admiring the view. I stuck close the archway whose right-hand wall contained the Trumbull Room doorway. As I was milling about, an oriental girl walked by me slowly and then turned around and came back.

“Excuse me,” she said, “but are you rich?”

This was just about the funniest question I’d ever been asked, but I tried to respond as honestly as possible:

“No miss, I’m not rich; I’m a Tory.” I then proceeded to explain who the Tories were and what one of them was doing wandering around the courtyard in his best (and only) suit. It transpired that she was looking for the spot where the auditioning carilloneurs were supposed to be. (The Trumbull Room is attached to the base of Harkness Tower, which contains Yale’s famous and gigantic carillon).

The young lady went off in search of her audition and I stood by. An irritating and incessant siren suddenly started blaring and in a couple of minutes the oriental girl walked by me again, and said that the Branford fire alarm had gone off but there was no sign of fire. Despite the constant noise and the slow flashing of strobe lights visible in windows everywhere, no one seemed the least bit alarmed. Indeed, it was not terribly exciting – just annoying. I soon decided, however, that it would be wise to remove oneself from a building that may be on fire, and I strolled through across the Branford quad, through the archway on the far side and then through the Saybrook quad (the two colleges are attached). I finally reached the gate and exited onto Elm Street.

I made a big loop around, deciding to approach Branford again just as I had the first time to see if anything interesting was going on. By the time I got back to the other side, there was a pair of fire engines on the street. A few security guards had pedaled up on their bicycles as well. Three firemen in full gear entered the gate that I myself had gone through a quarter of an hour ago. The funny thing was that students also continued to use this gate, going in and out freely. It seemed fairly obvious (even to the firemen) that nothing was burning.

Still I thought I would walk about outside, on the pathway that separated Branford and JE, and wait till the alarm had been switched off. I made of a couple of calls to Tories whom I knew to be in Branford, but nobody answered.

The fireman having poked around and found nothing to extinguish, the alarm was finally turned off. It was now around 7:25, and I decided to take a look at the Trumbull room again. This time it was occupied by a few Tories, who were busy setting up our paraphernalia. The secretary and I tried to find a nice spot for the Tory banner (which is a large blue flag with white letters proclaiming: “The Tory Party”). The banner is present at every debate, but for some reason I had never found it worth describing before. We failed to find a spot that could improve on the one it held last time, so we set it up across some of the windows on the far side of the room.

I took another moment to look at my surroundings and discovered that I had misremembered the appearance of the room in describing it for my last piece. It did indeed have oak paneling around the fireplace, but the rest of the room was grey-white stonework crossed by vertical and horizontal beams. A very English-looking atmosphere.

People started wandering in in clumps. A large number of strangers showed up – the chairman of the YPU, a p.o.r. member, an Independent or two, and many first-time visitors. Also present was the Mr. Gonzales of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, a conservative think-tank that takes 60 college students each year into an honors program at either Princeton or Cambridge. The ISI was also apparently in a position to offer us a little financial support, so we were ready to give our all in the debate.

By starting time there were 25 or so people in the room. Most of them would wander off in the first hour though, so that we were left with a fairly standard number for the vote at the end.

The chairman, dressed very snazzily in a three-piece suit with golden a watch-chain peeking out of the vest, called the meeting to order. He asked the secretary to read the minutes from the previous debate, which she did, once again recounting in brief each speech from last time.

When she finished, the chairman asked for any amendments, corrections, or additions, and recognized the former chairman.

The former chairman said that he thought the minutes were unfair to the SSCY, in that they claimed he advocated an approach to the China problem that was free of moral constraints. (I, however, thought the minutes were perfectly accurate). He requested that the minutes be amended to soften the language.

“Second,” said the SSCY.

“Objection,” said I.

“Seeing that the amendment has been both seconded and opposed, I will call for a voice vote,” said the chairman. He asked for the ayes and the nays, and the amendment was passed over my objection by a small but audible margin.

There being no more amendments, corrections or additions to the minutes, the minutes from the previous meeting were approved as amended and the secretary stood again to read the topic of tonight’s debate:

“Resolved: Judges should Apply Unjust Laws.”

The first speaker in the affirmative was the chief whip, who, in siding with me once again, continued his record as the only Tory who has agreed with me on every single debate topic. He argued succinctly that we should not give up our right to decide what is just to judges, and that the judicial branch was not meant to be a second legislature. These were roughly the points that I was planning to make, so I looked forward to the first speaker in the negative’s giving me something else to chew on.

The first speaker in the negative was the former chairman. He had been unsure of which side to support when the topic was announced a few days ago. Having been asked to give the opening speech in the negative, however, he was prepared to defend it. He made a surprising and (from my perspective) a completely wrong speech. He declared that the Supreme Court is better suited that the common folk of America to decide what justice is. They are the highly educated top – the former chairman actually applied the term “aristocracy” to them and declared that that is the sort of thing we need.

This of course gave me a good opportunity, and I took it. After the former chairman had answered his questions, I volunteered for the second speech in the affirmative and was recognized. My speech was very brief this time. I had only roughly outlined it, and so continued to work it out as I spoke, making sure I worked the essential points in. I had originally planned to present my speech below including, in brackets, points that I would have made in retrospect. This is not really fair, though, so my speech will appear exactly as given:

“I do not know what group the former chairman would consider himself a part of, but I am part of what he describes as the ‘masses’ or those poor, dumb, uneducated, ‘common people’ and I would be loathe to give up my right to decide what is just and what is unjust to some group of high and mighty justices who have proven their unreliability in the past. The United States classically frowns on aristocracy. It is in our Constitution, which lets us know who was forming this country. Does it begin ‘We the aristocrats…’? No, it begins ‘We the people.’ The United States has demonstrated an inherent sense of justice that transcends the knowledge of the tiny collection of men on the Supreme Court.

“It has been pointed out that the courts are the most disconnected from public opinion of the three branches, and it has even been suggested that this is a good thing. I see it as extremely dangerous. Once a Supreme Court justice is seated, we cannot reach him. Indeed we have seen that, for example, a judge like Justice Kennedy can be appointed ostensibly as a Conservative, and then, over the course of his career, become gradually insane.

What would happen if every judge were free to decide for himself what justice was? Where would the rule of law end up?

It is not a judge’s job to create law; it is his job to apply existing law. A remarkably perceptive line from a classic Spencer Tracy movie was the statement that, ‘the law is the law – good or bad. If it’s bad, the thing to do is to change it, not to bust it wide open.’ That is exactly what judges will be doing. And that is the point of my short speech, and I yield the floor for questions.”

There were no very difficult questions posed to me – my favorite one came from the chief whip. Since the chief whip and I are normally in agreement, a question he asks me is generally designed to give me an opportunity of further discussing what he considers to be an important point. This time his question was of a decidedly less debate-related nature:

“Since the gentleman has conceded that the Supreme Court is least dangerous when it is doing nothing at all, does he feel that the Supreme Court’s time would be best spent playing tic-tac-toe, or tiddlywinks?”

I was fortunately prepared for this one, and gave my immediate reply: “I would generally favor tic-tac-toe.” At which point a point of information was volunteered to the effect of: “is it not in fact the case that tic-tac-toe has a very limited number of outcomes and is therefore further than tiddlywinks from allowing outside democratic control?” I countered by saying that I preferred the type of tic-tac-toe played with a larger number of squares, and so this was not in fact the case.

There was a motion made that this exchange be carefully minuted by the secretary.

The next negative speech was given by the Englisher, who seemed to take a pro-aristocracy (and even a pro-monarchy) view. At this point, a distraction began to emerge in the form of an exceptionally noisy party going on in the small courtyard outside the Trumbull Room. The chief whip went to try and quiet them down, while I helpfully volunteered the point of information: “Is it not in fact the case that blasting such rotten, garbage-type noise right outside of at Tory debate is in exceptionally bad taste?” This was, of course, the case.

The chairman himself took the next speech in the affirmative, handing the gavel over to the SSCY for temporary control. The chairman’s speech was very perceptive and strikingly eloquent.

It was approaching 10 PM when the debate rapped up – the Independent Party visitor had actually made two speeches. He was a good political speaker, in the sense that he spoke in coherent sentences that created the illusion of a coherent whole. He was, of course, both in the negative and wrong.

When there were no more volunteers for speeches in the affirmative or in the negative (or second or third speeches in the affirmative or the negative) the chairman asked the acting sergeant at arms to divide the body.

The sergeant at arms picked up our miniature Excalibur, said simply “affirmatives to my right, negatives to my left.” I had had a confident feeling throughout the debate, but I could see I was on the loosing side again. The one recompense was that for the first time the SSCY was voting on my side. Even so, it wasn’t enough – five in the affirmative, nine in the negative, one abstaining. The resolution failed.

A motion to adjourn “as is traditional” was made, and our trip to Yorkside followed, where the conversation focused for the long stretch on religion. The former chairman, seated across from me, was very well versed in the Christian Cannon, and we discussed with the surrounding Tories the interesting basic differences in Judaism and Christianity. The similarities between the two religions were still more interesting – they demonstrated why Judaism and Christianity are capable of harmoniously co-existing. The mood of the discussion was saved from becoming overly serious by the arrival of a Tory’s milkshake that was one-half mint flavor and one-half cookies and cream. At length we were rewarded with the check and I put it my two bits and headed back to my dorm.

I had failed to win a second debate in a row, but I was reminded by a veteran Tory earlier in the evening that success comes in many flavors – if I had succeeded in converting one man to my side it was a victory. So I ended the evening satisfied, perhaps with a small victory on my hands.


At 4:28 PM, Blogger Janelle said...

I congratulate you tories on your impeccable ability in choosing relevant debate topics. Hope everything is going well for you.


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