Consulting the Judge


This arises out of a few things, one of which is a post I made earlier about judges speaking up during debates. Another is this college thread about judges following along with evidence in a round.


If we take the premise of both threads to be true- judges can follow along with evidence during the debate, and can speak up during the debate, would rounds be better if debaters could interact with judges during them(after all, judges do now have the right to choose)?

I will start with a series of anecdotes.


1. In my first ever college debate I was judged by Dallas Perkins. I had been judged by him before, but only at the Harvard Round Robin where he did not speak during the debate, nor did he write a ballot explaining why he failed to vote neg on a combination of “free market solves” and the NMD good politics disad vs a sexual orientation employment discrimination case (the nerve of some people). I was the 1A, and to give you a little insight into our squads aff prep at this point we were running a case that basically banned nuclear power and we did not have any evidence that said nuclear power was bad. Moving on. So I read the 1AC which said “USFG” and the first CX question fired my way is “who does the plan”. I began to answer “for the purposes of your disads…” at which point Dallas chimed in “if you finish that sentence, I’ll vote against you right now”. I looked at my partner, who looked horrified, and said “congress”.


2. A coach of mine judged a debate where the following happened. The 2NR went exclusively for 1 K. The 2AR spent a minute on the perm, then stopped and said “if this is enough for us to win, put your pen down”. My coach put his pen down. Voted aff… But then he gave her a 26 for not using all her speech time, which infuriated me because I thought that move was awesome.


3. Over past summers I have started to comment a lot more during practice debates at camp. During speeches, cx, prep etc. Comments range from points about specific arguments to broader strategy issues. And while these comments don’t necessarily make the debates substantially better, tweaking a thing here or there can at least stop the train from going off the tracks.


Now, I’m not yet on board with judges in a tournament setting interjecting of their own choice, I think that has some obvious problems with it. But what if a judge had a blanket policy that they would respond to questions the debaters ask them- either at any point or at only certain points in the debate? I think this is pretty defensible.


First, in limited forms it already occurs. People ask judges how much speech or prep time they have left. These are things that theoretically debaters could keep track of themselves, and knowledge of them confers a strategic benefit. Going a step farther, judges are consulted about their flow. Debaters will ask what the last argument a judge wrote down was if someone keeps talking after the timer goes off. People will ask if a judge flowed something as a “Voting issue”. People will ask “did they go for X” when there is a lack of clarity over whether or not something was kicked. These are all pretty important questions and the answers can be round changing.


So if judges do frequently answer these, why can’t you ask the judge if they think card X read by the other team is good/better than yours/qualified? Why can’t you ask them if they understood the K link argument in the 1NC, or if they knew the 2NC made a floating pic?


I contend that you can. If the judge can answer the above questions (and while it is possible a judge could refuse to answer the questions about prep/what was flowed etc I know no one who would) then they should answer the other questions as well. As long as the judge still requires a point to be made in a speech aboout whatever was in question, it seems totally legit to me.


I will now list the objections I can see to this and give a brief response.

“not fair”

Seems fair as long as each side has equal access to ask questions



Not if the judge only speaks when asked by the debaters.


“judge bias”

Speaking doesn’t uniquely create bias, and as the DP anecdote demonstrates it can help you deal with judge bias.

“Hurts debates”

I don’t really see how this would be. I think it eliminates silly debates that take time away from more pressing issues.


Aff- Chalko

Neg “judge, if I go to this card and just make a thumbs down motion, is that sufficient?”

me: ya

That debate has been improved immensely. I think that maybe the objection could be made that this will hurt bad/dumb arguments, and that is probably true. But as someone who ran a lot of dumb arguments, I never read anything that couldn’t of sustained a short judge cross-x. Even aspec passes the test (the answers to aspec should be obvious/not require judge consultation)

I really can’t think of any other objection that I would say is not a subset of the above, but if anyone can think of some or has a different opinion fire up the comments.




27 thoughts on “Consulting the Judge

  1. irreparabiletempus

    I think you're generally right, but I'm a little worried that one side asks one question, then the other side would ask another one, and then on it could go for a couple minutes…is there some sort of way to cut it off? I don't mind answering questions in the round like did you flow X…but unless the round is a blowout or the arguments are super-bad, I'm a little uncomfortable telling the 2a for sure that her work on the perm will win her the debate…It might, but I might not be sure until I go through the rest of the flow if the round is close.

    1. Scottyp4313nr

      Yea, I'm not sure what a logical limit would be. In one sense, their prep time is finite so if they want to spend it questioning the judge that's their prerogative. Alternatively some amount of time could arbitrarily be designated.

  2. WhitWhitmore

    1. Lie Perm

    2. Rising Expectations

    3. Judge will say 'no'

    4. Consultation crushes heg – Carrol

  3. Mimi_SL

    I might be misunderstanding your system but I see two potential issues:

    Strategy – Why worry about making gutsy decisions if you can just ask the judge if it's a good idea? Knowing when to do something silly like kicking the aff and going for g-lang is a lot harder when you can't ask the judges for advice. It's also a pretty good skill to have. This might just be a function of an unclear limit to asking questions but I don't see why it wouldn't be justified.

    Judge Adaptation – Paying attention to how a judge evaluated past rounds and trying to apply that to a current debate is also something that would be minimized if you could ask your judge if an argument was working for them. Adapting in real time so to speak removes the incentive to pay attention round to round. Whether or not this is very useful might be questionable.

  4. Antonucci23

    "annoying to me"

    Dallas is awesome.

    Neurotic debaters who ask for validation every 15 seconds – not awesome.

    "Am I awesome? Is that argument awesome? Am I doing OK? How do you like this perm? Can you re-explain your 'paradigm'? Did you flow that? Can you flow them? They suck, right? We're totally winning uniqueness, right? Isn't that awesome? Do you think uniqueness controls direction of the link? Why not, since my lab leader said so? Well, that's ok, because we're winning both uniqueness and the link, right? Give me a thumbs up! Give me a standing ovation if I'm KICKING THEIR ASS! why aren't you? Explain yourself!"

    I have judged some pretty bad rounds. This promises a new low – the low that I will judge in hell. It's like post-round judge cross-ex that never ends.

    Obviously, if you want to subject yourself to this, I don't think there's anything flawed or unfair about your model. I just think you might be setting yourself up for madness.

    1. maximiliantiger

      Wouldn't this be constrained by speech/prep time? Very much unlike post-round judge cross-x, it *does* end.

      edit: I'm not trying to say that "there's only 8 minutes of it" or whatever, just that unlike post-round debaters have a strong incentive not to carry on the conversation

      1. Antonucci23

        Yes, you are correct – debaters could only bug you for the length of the debate. This observation seems uncontroversial and thus trivial.

        I'm not sure what incentive you're referencing. Regardless, debaters do not often respond well to incentives, however rational. For example, there should be a strong disincentive to doing dumb things, yet many debaters do dumb things all the time.

        Any snark aside, debate really is an anxiety-producing event for the majority of its participants. Allowing high school sophomores to constantly express that by asking me if they're doing OK seems like an annoyance for me and a counterproductive crutch for them.

        Here's my approach. Do your thing. If I have questions or want to express irritation, I'll yell things randomly, aka heckling. These outbursts may discomfit you, which is what makes them entertaining for me.

        Mr. Phillips wishes to engage in two-way communication with you over the whole debate. He might have a great approach; most of us lack the patience. I can't even deal with sorting out your intensely awkward approaches to paperless, let alone telling you which disad to extend.

  5. DavidKP

    As Mimi said, this also might be just me not fully understanding, but-
    While I think this could be largely beneficial, I think my main concern would be that it might take away from debate being fundamentally a persuasion activity. While I'm not totally sure if it would be completely detrimental, it seems like the fact that it takes away worry about "making gutsy decisions if you can just ask the judge if it's a good idea," etc. might pose some problems.

    The other concern I have has already been expressed-the seemingly lack of limits on this system, which I'm not sure 8 minutes of prep constrains a whole lot since people could just ask questions instead of prep.

    All in all, if judges can speak up, debaters can ask questions, and judges reading ev along with the debate, it seems like debate becomes less and less about communication and persuasion, which, at least in my opinion, is problematic.

    1. Scottyp4313nr

      I didn't use strategy tips as an example of the kind of question to ask becuase I think it is different to say "do you think this card says what they say it says" and to say " should I kick the CP and go for politics". The line may be hazy. But yes/no and fact questionis "did you flow x" seem to be pretty different from the kind that would "ruin gutsy" decision making skills.

      As for wasting time, I guess during prep you may answer some questions as opposed to getting to surf the web, but prep time is finite. Teams who waste all their prep seeking validation from the judge won't do very well I'm guessing.

      1. DavidKP

        Okay. I think my other concern is about judge intervention, while obviously it would be limited by the judges only speaking when asked, couldn't this send a signal that judges have a more active role to play in judging–>more interventionist decisions?

        I agree that if the norm was yes/no style questions, the limits problem might be lessened.

  6. timalderete

    I think that there could be a disproportionate side bias – consulting the judge prior to (or during) the 2AR would have a much bigger impact than consulting the judge prior to the 2NR. 2NR: "Which disad should I go for?" vs 2AR "What is the best answer to that disad?"

    1. DavidKP

      I think that Scotty's model should account for this–no "strategy" questions, but rather limiting it to "yes/no" questions.

  7. timalderete

    "Yes/No" questions quite easily become strategy questions. "Do you think 2AC #1 is strong?" "Do you think 2AC #2 is strong?"

    1. Scottyp4313nr

      I did not mean yes/no as in any question that could be answered yes or no, but questions like "did you flow X" or "did you understand y"

      1. bookworm914

        So in some sense it's still questions about the judge's flow, and not questions about the judge. Arguments that don't make sense to the judge may be frequently distinguishable on the flow by the presence of many ellipses and/or question marks.
        Questions about the strength/utility of an argument might be answerable by looking at comments on the ballot, but not by looking at the flow itself.

  8. ordinarywang

    I don't understand your first point. Why would Dallas vote NEG if you finished that sentence? Didn't you finish that sentence anyways with "Congress"? And how would you answer that question?

    Anyone can answer these questions, I'm just looking for clarification since I'm a bit confused. Thanks.

    1. Scottyp4313nr

      Instead of specifying a definite agent, sometimes people say they will have an agent ONLY for the purpose of disad links. He was saying he does not think that is acceptable.

      1. maximiliantiger

        From his judging philosophy at one point, to add a little light:

        "My theoretical proclivities definitely run towards policy making. I try to judge
        a debate like I would decide how to vote in a town meeting. I care more for
        the science of policy choice than the arts of rhetorical criticism.
        This theoretical tendency is most pronounced in two specifics: Affirmatives
        should have clear and specific plans, and both sides should eschew
        hypothetical or conditional argumentation. Affirmatives may not be precisely
        required to specify their agent, but they certainly have to say what the plan
        is (legislation? Judicial ruling? Executive order?) which amounts to about the
        same thing. If you don’t specify, the neg can definitely get me to “pull the

        He expands on this in this article:
        Perkins, Dallas. "Counterplans and Paradigms,"Argumentation and Advocacy 25 ( l989): 140-149.

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