Case (policy debate)

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In policy debate, which is a form of argument competition, a case, sometimes known as plan, is a textual advocacy presented, in form of speech, by the affirmative team as a normative or "should" statement; it is generally presented in the First Affirmative Constructive (1AC). A case will often include either the resolution or a rephrasing of it.

The case is the advocacy established by the affirmative in the First affirmative constructive speech, often constructed around the support of a policy recommendation known as the affirmative plan. While the 1AC defines the parameters for the bulk of an affirmative's argument, the term "case" can be used to cover the entirety of the affirmative argument more broadly, referring, for instance, to additional advantages, counter-arguments, or rebuttal evidence that might be introduced in later speeches (if at all).

The Structure of the Case[edit]

The case is a form of on topic debate and can also be referred to as C, if done in the standard way C is a very effective way to win a case. The case is generally organized into sections called "observations" or "contentions", with advantages attached to the link or link break.

Observation or Contention[edit]

A typical case includes between two and four observations/contentions, depending on the speed of the intended speaker and the length of the observations/contentions. Traditionally, observations/contentions address one of the stock issues and are labeled accordingly. For example:

  • Contention 1: Significant Harms
  • Contention 2: Inherency
  • Plan
  • Contention 3: Solvency


  • Observation 1: Inherency
  • Plan
  • Advantage 1
  • Advantage 2
  • Advantage 3
  • Observation 2: Solvency

These outlines are quite general, and different debaters may retain some or none of the above structural elements as their situations dictate. On an aesthetic level, for example, it is not uncommon for some cases to include creative titles for observations and advantages. A case increasing the number of pilots in the United States Air Force might call the first contention "Air Power."

On a more practical level, recent policy debate cases have made a habit of including one or more contentions which do not directly relate to the affirmative thesis, but are designed to preempt common negative attacks. For instance, a team running a case often considered nontopical might devote 45 seconds of the first affirmative constructive to reading contextual definitions of disputed terms in order to frame the debate in a favourable light early on. (Because topicality is a "meta-issue" it is traditionally omitted from the opening presentation of the case, although historically an introductory contention where the affirmative defined the terms of the resolution was much more common.) Additionally, teams might decide to include "non-unique" contentions, where the information presented bears little on the overall affirmative argument other than to say that any negative disadvantage should have already occurred in the status quo.


While some high school regions prefer affirmative cases to be organized around the "stock issues," others have stressed an emphasis on a "comparative advantage" style case construction. The primary difference between the two forms of cases is one of style and emphasis, though in many instances the information presented can be almost identical. A case built around "advantages" stresses the superiority of the plan (or broader affirmative advocacy) to the status quo, through a series of direct comparisons between the plan and the status quo. The impact calculus offered within advantages can vary widely across different cases. Some might argue that the plan effects a "policy" change for the better, or prevents something that is bad that the status quo all but guarantees. For instance, an advantage to a plan increasing the strength of United Nations peacekeeping operations in Kashmir could argue that such an operation would prevent nuclear war between India and Pakistan.

An advantage might also be more philosophical in nature. Loosely defined as "critical" or "kritikal" such advantages tend to eschew traditional cost-benefit analysis, claiming either that there are philosophical problems with the status quo such as prevalent racism, heteronormativity/homophobia, patriarchy, militarism, which the plan can address, or that certain forms of analysis (for instance, Consequentialism) are on face immoral and should be rejected as possible tools to evaluate the affirmative case.

Some more "critical" cases might also argue that the advocacy of the affirmative should not be reduced to a "plan" or policy advocacy, opting instead to defend it as a "speech act" or "discourse" more holistically.