Judge (policy debate)

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A judge refers to the individual responsible for determining the winner and loser of a policy debate round as well as assessing the relative merit of the participant speakers. Judges must resolve the complex issues presented in short time while, ideally, avoiding inserting their own personal beliefs that might cloud impartiality.

Speaker Points[edit]

The judge has the responsibility of not only voting for the side that he or she thinks won the round, but also giving each speaker "speaker points." This standard speaker points comprise a numerical evaluation of the debater's speaking skills ranging from 1–30. The standard variation on this basic scale is 25–29.5, with 30s often reserved for near-perfect speakers. Half points are allowed, such as 26.5, and at the end of some debate tournaments the best speakers are often recognized. At most tournaments, the teams who "break" into elimination rounds - where the winner of the entire tournament will be decided by single-round elimination - are selected primarily by win-loss record, with ties broken and match-ups determined by speaker points.

Judge Qualifications[edit]

Some circuits see lay or inexperienced judges recruited from the community as an important "part of the game." Debaters in these circuits must be able to adapt from presentations to individuals with no debate experience at all, to judges who have themselves been debaters. This use of lay judges significantly impacts delivery and argumentation as the rapid-fire style and complex debate-theory arguments are frequently incomprehensible to lay judges. For this reason, other circuits restrict policy debate judging to qualified judges, generally ex-debaters. The use of lay judges, and its impact in speed, presentation and argumentation is a source of great controversy in the US high school debate community.


Experienced debate judges (who were generally debaters in High School and/or College) generally carry a mindset that favors certain arguments and styles over others. Throughout time, the criterion upon which judges decide debates has changed. Currently increasingly popular within college debate, and trickling down into high school debate, is examining debate from an "offense-defense" paradigm. Because of this, it is customary for debaters to ask a judge what their experience and paradigm is for judging. Judging paradigms include:

Stock Issues[edit]

A stock issues judge believes that the affirmative plan must fulfill all their burdens (see Stock Issues under Theory). If the negative proves that the affirmative is lacking in any one of the issues, it is grounds for the plan to be rejected. Stock issue judges generally prefer a clear, eloquent presentation of issues in round, and dislike arguments that seem to not relate to the topic on the surface.


Policymaker judges tend to take the theoretical viewpoint that they are the "policymaker," and as such, they vote for the side that presents the best policy option. Typically, Policymakers vote heavily on disadvantages and counter-plans, and may not vote on critiquess or topicality arguments. However, more and more policymakers are beginning to incorporate parts of the gamer (see below) paradigm into their views, making them more open to critical arguments. The basic policy of this paradigm is the weighing of the affirmative's advantages versus the negative's disadvantages.

Hypothesis Tester[edit]

A hypothesis tester is viewing the topic resolution as a hypothesis that the affirmative team tests through their plan. This paradigm represents a heavy focus on resolution debate instead of plan-focused debate, and opens up some non-standard options for negative teams to use against the affirmative. Generic topic attacks, inherency arguments, counterplans, counterwarrants, and conditional arguments are generally all accepted by judges with this paradigm.

Tabula Rasa[edit]

This is the Latin phrase that translates to clean slate, tabula rasa judges claim to begin the debate with no assumptions on what is proper to vote on. "Tab" judges expect teams to show why arguments should be voted on, instead of assuming a certain paradigm. While a generalization is unfair, most tab judges will be comfortable with fast speeches, along with counter-plans, disadvantages, and kritiks. However, it is best to ask a "tab" judge on his or her preference in regard to specific types of arguments.

Game Theorist[edit]

Games judges were common in the 1990s, especially among young college debaters judging High School rounds. As the name suggests, these judges believe that debate is a game, and any argument that forms a coherent syllogism is "fair play" in round. Games judges will have no qualms about voting for a policy that vaporizes the moon, disbands the U.S. government, or any other policy action that would normally be considered "absurd" as long as one of the teams can prove that the aforementioned action is the most advantageous choice in the round.


Appearance judges, often known as lay judges, judge based on appearance and eloquence of speech. Appearance judging is normally discouraged in some parts of the country, however, some judges lack experience with the complexities of debate theory and delivery and therefore subliminally resort to this style of judging. Speeding, Kritiks, jargon, and counterplans are strongly discouraged, and disadvantages should be run slowly and with detailed explanation.

Mutual Preference Judging[edit]

Mutual Preference Judging (MPJ) is a practice adopted at some high school and most college policy debate tournaments. MPJ has each debate team rank each judge in the judging pool, and then assigns judges to rounds such that each team likes the assigned judges equally and prefers them as much as possible. MPJ has been criticized by some in the debate community who feel that it rewards niche styles of debating removes the competitive incentive to adapt one's speech to a diverse range of audiences. Others feel that it is necessary because the immense cleavage in the debate community between what arguments are and are not considered legitimate prevents certain judges from being impartial in "clash of civilization debates". Others have even voiced concerns that MPJ reduces the number of rounds judged by women and minority judges, although there is no definitive evidence supporting this assertion. A common complaint even among those who generally support MPJ is that it results in the "balkanization" of the debate community, producing ideological and stylistic enclaves rather than encouraging moderation and adaptation. Ageism is another frequent complaint, since many believe that MPJ appears to favor younger over older critics (although, again, there is no empirical data concerning this).[citation needed]