Participating schools may submit legislation when they register entries for competition. If the purpose of legislation is to effect change in the status quo, then ideas should stem from a desire to solve problems or meet needs. The best legislation is debatable, meaning there is some degree of controversy in either the topic or how the legislation intends to address the issue(s). Before students draft legislation, they should research the scope of jurisdictional power Congress has for lawmaking on the given topic, and what agency (or agencies) of the federal government would be responsible for enforcement and implementation of that legislation. See the “Writing Legislation” article.
Tournaments send to participating schools or post online a docket of legislation. Each squad then brainstorms affirmative and negative arguments and finds supporting evidence through research. Students should have a firm working knowledge of issues in the docket, but should not write word-for-word speeches ahead of time; rather, they should be prepared to dynamically respond to arguments given by peers at the tournament.
Contestants act in the manner of a senator or representative, weighing needs of theoretical constituents whom they represent, and in a larger sense, all American citizens. This includes speaking as a legislator would talk, and acting genuinely nice to other delegates. If students think of the purpose of Congress as serving a higher need of solving problems in our society (rather than as a debate competition), they will take it more seriously. Humor is acceptable in the right context, but shouldn’t be the emphasis of speaking or conduct. Contestants should dress the part: professional legislators wear business attire. Dress shoes are highly recommended with restraint toward tasteful accessories that would not distract an audience.
Upon arrival at a Congress, students are assigned to chambers, sometimes labeled as a “Senate” or “House (of Representatives),” where they would be assigned the appropriate courtesy title (Senator or Representative). When tournaments prepare placards (name cards) with students’ names (or make cardstock paper and markers available) or have name tags, it enhances the dignity of the event, and makes identification of speakers by judges more efficient. The first task a chamber assumes is to determine seating arrangement. Either the tournament will provide a seating chart with assigned placements, or students will fill in a blank seating chart. This facilitates easier identification by student presiding officers and judges.
With the legislative docket provided to schools, students in each chamber will:
Once the agenda is set, it is considered part of the standing rules of the chamber; changing it (beyond laying an individual bill or resolution on the table) requires a motion to suspend the rules. This is considered ill-advised, because it has the potential to be manipulative and consumes time better spent facilitating speeches.
Using a single ballot election, presiding officers are elected for each session (or fragment thereof as established by each individual tournament’s procedural rules).
There are many methods of determining who earns a trophy or gavel as the “Best Legislator/Speaker,” or “Best Presiding Officer.” These methods vary in their degree by tournament. The recommended method by the National Forensic League is for judges to rank the top students in the chamber, and for a cumulative rank total to determine who advances and placement. At some competitions, the top-rated students by judges may be considered a slate of nominees for the chamber to cast a preferential ballot ranking their peers, in order of favor.
© 2008 Adam J. Jacobi for CongressionalDebate.org