The Instigator
Pro (for)
0 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
9 Points

Resolved: In the United States, the principle of jury nullification is a just check on government.

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 4/10/2010 Category: Politics
Updated: 8 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 3,061 times Debate No: 11696
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (7)
Votes (2)




Thx to whoever accepts. I am using this to practice for my tournament coming up. Please use LD format, and respond in a timely manner. Thx

Thomas Jefferson said, "I consider [trial by jury] as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution." It is because I agree with the 3rd president of the United States and the author of the U.S Declaration of Independence, I stand in complete affirmation of today's resolution, In the United States, the principle of jury nullification is a just check on government. I would first like to start out with the definition of jury nullification according to the Webster's new world law dictionary. A jury's verdict of "not guilty" despite overwhelming evidence of guilt, often in the face of the jury's collective belief of this guilt, because of its perception that the law is being immorally or improperly applied to the defendant; in other words, the jury nullifies the law because it believes the defendant has been unfairly treated. Trial by jury is clearly expressed as a natural right in the constitution. That being said, my value for this debate is Democracy and my criterion is Constitutionality. The Bill of Rights clearly state the right to not only a trial by jury, but a civil trial by jury. It is a jury's duty to determine if a person is deserving of the punishment they are about to receive.

Contention 1: Jury Nullification was intended to be practiced as stated in constitution.

Sub Point A: Our Founding Fathers supported Jury Nullification. At the time of the Constitution's framing, juries were entrusted to make decisions according to justice, even if the decision went against the explicit instructions of the court. An examination of writings by the founding fathers does nothing to rebut this assumption. Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, John Jay, and numerous others, regardless of party, all proclaimed the independence of the jury, believing that the jury's role included both judging the law and the facts of a case. Dictionaries current with the framing of the Constitution also define the jury as "deciding both the law and the facts in criminal prosecutions." This wealth of evidence proves that the framers intended the Sixth Amendment to guarantee the jury the right to refuse to apply criminal laws when they would lead to an unjust result." It is clearly shown that our country needs juries to decide whether a person was right or wrong. Trial by jury was one of the rights as promised in the constitution. According to Thomas Jefferson, Judges judge the law, but the jury's judge the facts. Juries are needed to achieve justice by providing unbiased opinions.
Sub Point B: Jury Nullification is promised right in the constitution. The remarkable power of nullification flows from several features of the American system of criminal justice. Because the Sixth Amendment gives criminal defendants a right to trial by jury, a court may not enter a directed verdict of guilty even if the court is convinced that a rational juror could not vote for acquittal in light of the evidence presented. A jury cannot be compelled to disclose its reasons for convicting or acquitting. A court may not punish jurors for returning a verdict that the court finds unacceptable. The Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment prevents the Government from appealing an acquittal. The net result is that jurors in a criminal case have the reviewable power to acquit a defendant whom they believe to be guilty.

Contention 2: Jury Nullification Reflects a Community Sense of Justice.
In a democratic society, the government is run for the people, by the people. Sometimes, in a case of injustice, it is the people's duty to decide if they want society to not be run by a corrupt law. This is where jury nullification comes in. According to Rachel E. Barkow, professor of law at New York University, "Jurors are not repeat players in the criminal justice system, a fact that makes them uniquely suited to act as a "necessary counter to case-hardened judges and arbitrary prosecutors." And because they are drawn from the community where a trial takes place, jurors are the best representatives of that community's sense of what justice would require in a particular case." Because of our government, trial by jury, including jury nullification, is needed to insure that the public has a voice on what they consider right or wrong. Democratically, jury nullification is needed to provide a just check on government power.

Contention 3: Jury Nullification prevents government tyranny.
Lysander Spooner, a legal analyst, argues that jury nullification is the only way that governments can be forced to obey the social contracts they have signed, including the Constitution. All governments view an act of rebellion as treason. In doing so, Spooner argues, they condemn the natural right that humankind has to overthrow a tyrant. Since this right, then, is generally of no practical use in redressing wrongs, so there is even more need to rely upon an alternative form of "forcible resistance," i.e., jury nullification, which has the advantage over revolution because it can (and should) be legal. This evidence clearly shows that jury nullification is able to democratically fulfill the desires of the people in political corruptness. By using jury nullification, there is a accountability check on the government that will allow a bloodless revolution the the case of tyrannical leadership. Jury nullification is clearly democratic.
Jury Nullification is clearly shown to be both constitutional and democratic. Jury nullification is just because it was put in place by our founding fathers, reflects a community sense of justice, and prevents government tyranny. I would like to end this debate with a quote from John Adams, our 2nd president. "It's not only ....(the juror's) right, but his duty, in that case, to find the verdict according to his own best understanding, judgment, and conscience, though in direct opposition to the direction of the court." Therefore, I ask for your strongest vote affirming today's resolution.


1. Pro's standards

a. The United States isn't a democracy.

b. Democracy is never explained by Pro in terms of its parameters, context, or application to the resolution - much less its objective value. At best, it's a superficial value.

c. In a democracy, power is vested in elected representatives who are usually guaranteed to represent their constituents; at least, to a certain extent. However, according to Andrew Leipold with USA Today, juries are neither elected nor accountable []; ergo, giving them a power as potent as that of nullification would pervert the right to a jury trial, and would turn the jury into a very antidemocratic institution.

d. Constitutionality as a criterion has no place in this debate; the resolution asks whether nullification is, in a positive sense, a just check on government. At most, his criterion only determines the constitutional permissibility of the principle of nullification - it has no mechanism by which to weigh the justness of the principle itself.

e. This criterion conflicts with a later argument Pro brings up about the "community's sense of justice"; because popular morality has an enormous potential to conflict with constitutional edict, Pro clearly hasn't an objective standard of evaluating the application of the principle, much less the laws being nullified.

Because my opponent's standards fail to get the job done, I offer my own.

2. My standards

Value: Justice

Justice is defined by Black's Law Dictionary, 7th edition, as the fair and proper administration of law. This is an important value in the United States because the justice system is set up primarily to apply laws in an objective fashion so as to impartially arbitrate disputes among men. If a law cannot be fairly and properly applied, the proper channels must be used so that the statute in question might be repaired or scrapped.

Criterion: Objectivism

Ayn Rand argues in The Virtue of Selfishness that the proper purpose of government is "as a policeman which protects man's rights... and settles disputes by rational rules". To ensure that laws are fairly and properly applied to that end, Rand states that the rules under which a government operates must be absolutely objective; otherwise, the use of force would remain solely in the hands of individuals, which contradicts the function of government as a policeman, and subjects individuals within a social setting to the equivalent of mob rule; ergo, objective law and the application thereof are the primary priorities of a just system.

3. Pro's first contention (sub-point A)

a. The fact that the founders intended juries have the power of nullification in no way proves that the principle, as established, is a just check on government. That only means that the founders wanted something. And a desire in no way equates justification, regardless of how intelligent the founders may have been.

b. "Deciding the law" only means that one has the power to interpret the meaning of the law by one's own standards. It in no way equates the power to refuse to apply the law. Unjust convictions (by whatever standard) need to be taken through the proper channels, be that through finding new legislators or appealing the verdict like it's going out of style.

c. His quote from Thomas Jefferson has nothing to do with the affirmative's case: "Judges judge the law, but the jury's judge the facts. Juries are needed to achieve justice by providing unbiased opinions."

That quote, in fact, seems to imply that a jury's role is only that of the fact-finder, while judges have the legal experience necessary to accurately judge the law. Furthermore, allowing jurors to nullify based on their own preconceived notions of justice detracts from the objective use of reason necessary to provide the "unbiased opinions" which Pro holds to be so very crucial.

4. Pro's first contention (sub-point B)

a. The 6th Amendment guarantees a trial by an IMPARTIAL jury specifically; however, considering that the power to nullify opens the door to verdicts based on subjectivity and bias [] (i.e. inconsistency), it's pretty clear that allowing nullification licenses the violation of rights for the sake of satisfying one or more jurors' personal notion of justice.

b. Look at what Pro says. Juries don't have to warrant their verdicts. Bad verdicts can't be punished. Acquittals can't be appealed. If you want to view the resolution from a constitutional perspective, it's pretty clear that the constitutional principle of checks and balances is being entirely violated by allowing jurors the unreviewable, unaccountable, unchecked power of nullification.

c. The biases to which the court makes itself vulnerable by glorifying nullification make it extremely difficult to fairly apply the law, since the administration of law is no longer being governed by rational discretion and objective arbitration, but by the diverse, subjective whims of a few randomly-selected jurors. Preventing the justice system from doing its job correctly isn't the same as justly checking government.

5. Pro's second contention

a. First of all, there's no such thing as "the people"; only an aggregate sum of individuals. To say that "the people" have a right to determine A) whether a law is corrupt, and B) whether they want to apply that law, is to assume that a majority of individuals (by virtue of being the most numerous) have the right to not only determine justice, but to administer it as they please, regardless of the pleas and complaints of individuals outside of that majority. That, as we know, is an appeal to popularity.

b. Even assuming "popular justice" to be a proper code of ethics, people within a society have such diverse values and ideologies that it would be entirely irrational to claim that 12 randomly selected jurors could accurately represent the entire spectrum of values within a given community.

c. Given that jurors are neither elected nor accountable (as earlier evidence and analysis proves), it's pretty clear that a jury taking justice into its own subjective hands is the antithesis of policymaking in a democratic society.

d. Given also that, as Pro earlier argues, juries do not warrant their verdicts, the government isn't going to hear the "voice of the people" beyond the voice that says "not guilty".

6. Pro's third contention

a. I don't think that anyone ever signed a "social contract". I know I didn't.

b. All that nullification does is ignore a law; it doesn't change the law, nor stop people from being subject to it, nor does it even guarantee that unjust laws are going to be targeted. The only guarantee you get with nullification is that SOME law will be ignored. Simply put, nullification isn't a revolution.

c. Keep in mind that Pro has no objective standard for the jury to employ when determining whether a law is just or unjust. All that he provides us with is that the jury, somehow, is a tool of the public; ergo, he gives us nothing but popularity to judge upon.

d. If Pro wants to use nullification as an "accountability check", he ought to recall that, as he so vehemently argues, there aren't any checks on the jury's power to nullify a law.

I hope I kept it pretty basic, since there are two rounds to go; either way, I look forward to Pro's rebuttal, and I await Round 2.
Debate Round No. 1


I thank my opponent for responding to the resolution quickly. I really am glad to be going up against an obviously experienced LD debater. Before we start out I would like to say that the rules come from I would like to defend my own case and attack my opponents case.

Value/Criterion: My opponent first attacked my value of democracy because "the US isn't a democracy." Although the USA isn't in fact a true democracy, it is a government that intends for people to get their voice heard. However, democracy is defined by the political orientation of those who favor government by the people or by their elected representatives. The founding fathers clearly set up a democracy with this definition as evidenced in the constitution. Since the resolution is dealing with the USA, I believe that this value clearly fits the resolution. He also attacked my value by saying that juries are neither elected nor accountable and that the USA is set up so representatives are representing the people. However, my opponent is failing to see that sometimes the people need a direct voice to change unjust laws. For example, during the fugitive slave act, the majority of the northerners were against slavery, however, no law could be made because of the political consequences it would bring about in the south if the law was repealed. However, jury nullification was able to make the public's voices heard clearly. Another example is the health care reform recently passed. Although the majority of people opposed it (1), it was passed anyway because of congress's corruptness. Jury Nullification gives any person, no matter of race or belief, the ability to get their voice heard.
My opponent attacked my criterion by saying that constitutionality is very insignificant in this debate. However, I would like to point out that the resolution states "in the United States". That being said, the constitution is very important because it is the foundation of our government. My opponent stated that nullification might trade constitutionality for public opinion, however, nullification has as he said the POTENTIAL to contradict the constitution. However, trial by jury never deals with the constitutionality of an issue. All those cases are handled by the supreme court, which is not made up of citizens, but rather Supreme Court Justices. Juries are usually only used in civil cases not dealing with constitutionality, but rather laws passed by congress. That being said, I find his attack on my criterion faulty at the best. Now moving on to my 1st contention.
My opponent attacked my sub-point A by saying that even though the founding fathers intended nullification to be part of American government, by no means does this make it just. However, if my opponent attacks this part of the constitution, he might as well attack the rest of it as being unjust. The justice of society is founded on the constitution. Therefore, this attack should fall. My opponent's second attack on my case said that "Deciding the Law" has nothing to do with the power to not apply the law. However, if a person thinks that a law is bureaucratic or just plain unjust, nullification gives the jury an opportunity to properly voice their opinion and change the injustice. Is changing an unjust law not just? Finally my opponent said that my quote had nothing to do with my case. There is really no reason why this isn't applicable. A jury needs to just decide whether a person breaking the law was justified. My opponent failed to mention that judges often have their hands bureaucratically tied when it comes to offering a verdict. Juries don't have any bureaucratic limits to change injustice. That being said, my point should stand.
He attacked my 2nd point by saying that telling juries about their nullification rights result in biases. However, he failed to state what kind of biases that would result in informing jurors about their right. That being said, I can't really refute the argument because the info is incomplete at most. He also said that jury nullification results in an unchecked power. However, because of this unchecked power, jurors will be able to determine a right verdict without fear of persecution by government. This is what the founding fathers justly intended it to be. Therefore, my point should stand.
My opponent first attacked my second contention by saying that nullification doesn't appeal to minorities. However, I would like to bring up a point that the OJ Simpson trial exposed police racism. The trial clearly brought up the fact that some of the LA policemen were in fact racist. Another example is Nullification in the 1800s. Jurors in the North regular acquitted men accused of breaking the Fugitive Slave Act. If jury nullification was biased towards majority, how come these cases were made? The answer simply is that nullification lets the people determine what is morally correct, despite whether it involves a minority or majority. My opponent is acting like nullification hurts people today, where in reality, it reflects what the community thinks. His claim stating that nullification doesn't let the public get their voice heard is simply false because nullification has resulted many times in the supreme court examine if a law is right (fugitive slave act). As I explained earlier about the corruptness of the legislature, I think I make it clear that laws sometimes need to be acted upon directly.
Finally, I will defend my 3rd contention. I believe my opponent is a little confused about the social contract. It was created by John Locke stating that the government has to do what's best for the people and the people overthrow the government if it isn't fulfilling its job. That being said, jury nullification is essential to make sure this contract can be upheld with minimal bloodshed. If a person decides to use civil disobedience to bring changes to a law corruptly created, like civil rights, jury nullification allows them to send a message while going unpunished. Its a win-win situation. Therefore, my contention 3 should stand.
My value of democracy clearly is just and proves that jury nullification is just. My case should stand because I provided clear evidence showing that nullification is beneficial to many parties. Therefore, I ask for the strongest vote affirming the resolution.


If I happen to miss something, I apologize; however, since Pro chose to present a wall of text as opposed to following a clearer format, there's little I can do.

1. Pro's standards

a. Both of Pro's first two extensions deal with "the people" using nullification to change unjust laws; first, juries are not "the people"; to say that 12 randomly selected, unelected, unaccountable people have the capacity to represent the ideological perspectives of millions is absolutely absurd. The jury's role is limited to that of a fact-finder for that reason - giving them more power opens us up to a "tyranny of the jury", if you will; secondly, nullification DOES NOT change the law. It ignores it. Ignoring a problem, however, does not make it go away. If he's gauging nullification in terms of changing law, then nullification clearly doesn't check government, since it doesn't perform that function.

b. Juries don't warrant their verdicts. The only "voice" that the government hears from a nullifying jury is "not guilty".

c. Concerning his criterion, note that pointing out the words "in the United States" doesn't make constitutionality an accurate standard. In doing this, Pro fails to attack my actual argument, which was that something being constitutionally permissible doesn't mean it's a just check on government; at best, Pro's criterion could only prove that nullification "isn't unjust"; unfortunately, disproving a negative isn't the same as proving a positive.

d. Once again, he misses my argument. I'm not saying that juries will change the constitution; rather, by the nature of nullification - disregarding the law - juries are stopping the justice system from fairly and objectively applying the law since their verdicts aren't based upon objective evidence and impartial reasoning, but on their personal feelings toward the law; ergo, at the point that he argues the jury to be a tool of the public, he's arguing that the jury has given up its capability to reason, and has become an instrument of the majority's whims; appealing to such popularity and calling it objectivity or justice is a logical fallacy.

2. My standards

a. He failed to attack both my value and my criterion; flow through first that justice is the primary value to look at today, since rights cannot be protected without objective, unbiased application of law. Next, flow through that Objectivism is the optimum standard by virtue of prescribing decisions based on objective reason and rational rules, rather than the subjective whims of the public (which is all that Pro offers). Oh, there's also the fact that Objectivism has the capacity to determine justice, whereas Pro's criterion defines things in terms of negating negatives (in the sense of proving permissibility, rather than justice).

3. Pro's first contention (sub-point A)

a. Now he's adopting circular logic. "What the founding fathers intended is just, because our society's justice is based upon the Constitution... which our founding fathers wrote." I'm sure you see the circle.

b. He argues that, if a person thinks a law to be unjust, he shouldn't apply it. To that I ask, unjust by what standard? Public opinion? Pro argues that juries are tools of public opinion, which obviously means that they aren't acting on their own rationality if we accept his argument; if not, he is contradicting himself, in addition to the fact that jurors making decisions based on their own personal biases against the law is no better.

1) Also, keep in mind that nullification doesn't CHANGE the law. It merely IGNORES it; additionally, jurors aren't voicing their opinions. Unlike a Supreme Court decision, there are no formal opinions published concerning the results of the case. The jury says "guilty" or "not guilty", and then leaves.

2) He says, and I quote, "Juries don't have any bureaucratic limits to change injustice." That's unchecked power, my friends. In a democratic society (which he claims the US to be), unchecked power is a source of tyranny.

c. His quote says that juries judge the facts, and must render an unbiased opinion - considering that Pro is expanding the role of the jury beyond a judge of fact, and is opening the door to the unaccountable use of whims, emotions, and (as Pro defines it) "beliefs" by the jury in place of objective judgment, the quote works better for myself.

4. Pro's first contention (sub-point B)

a. What kind of biases? Well, let's see. Religious biases, racial biases, emotional biases, hatred of a particular law, pity for the defendant, lack of legal education - the list goes on. In fact, these biases are most likely to show up when juries are informed of their power to nullify [].

b. "jurors will be able to determine a right verdict" <-- By what standard? Their own personal presuppositions about what justice is? Because, I highly doubt that juries are going to sit down in the deliberation room and ask, "What would the founding fathers do?" Also, keep in mind that unchecked power in the hands of ANY group, whether citizens or government, is a bad thing in a supposedly "democratic" system - especially when that group is a randomly chosen, yet specially-privileged minority (even if it IS under the control of the whims of the majority. Also, keep in mind that the government can't intrude on deliberations - or combat acquittals - even without nullification. Just because they won't be punished doesn't mean they're making just decisions. At best, it's an unchecked check - not a just check.

5. Pro's second contention

a. Apart from a few emotionally-evoking cases, he doesn't actually extend his argument. All he says is "nullification lets the people determine what is morally correct"; again, I ask: by what standard, and by what right? The jury, as Pro presents it, is deciding based on one of two (equally immoral things): either their own personal "intuition" about what justice is, or the "collective will" of the majority. Either way, there's no objectivity involved.

1) The community doesn't "think". Communities don't have the ability to reason, or even to act upon whim. Only individuals have the power of thought. Unless, that is, Pro is appealing to popularity again.

b. He drops the argument concerning about how 12 randomly selected people can't accurately represent the ideologies of millions (assuming that popular sovereignty is a legitimate determiner of justice); ergo it's antidemocratic, contradicting his value. You can't vote for him there.

c. Correlation doesn't imply causation; simply because the jury nullifies and then the Supreme Court renders a decision does not mean that the former CAUSED the latter.

d. Nullification doesn't directly act on the law. Nullification is nothing more than blatantly ignoring the law based off of SOMEONE'S (whether the juror's or the majority's) feelings about the law.

5. Pro's third contention

a. I know what the Social Contract is. And I know that John Locke is responsible for a formulation of it; I contend, though, that neither I nor any government official signed such a contract. Strangely, though, Locke argues that people haven't the right to take justice into their own hands like courtroom vigilantes; one must alter the legislative (or establish a new one) through voting; that is, one must go through the appropriate channels [].

b. In civil disobedience, one must be willing to face the consequences - Gandhi and Thoreau were imprisoned, for example. Juries face no penalties, making nullification nothing more than whim-driven disregarding of the law.

Very few characters, so I look forward to Pro's Round 3 arguments; and, Pro - please try to follow a cleaner format. The lack of a format really obfuscated your arguments. Thanks.
Debate Round No. 2


bamafan forfeited this round.


You extend those arguments, and you negate the resolution so hard.

Debate Round No. 3
7 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 7 records.
Posted by Cody_Franklin 8 years ago
I waive my right to cross-examine the affirmative.
Posted by bamafan 8 years ago
i changed it to 3 rounds. Post cx questions in comments. 5 question limit please
Posted by Cody_Franklin 8 years ago
Yeah, CX doesn't work.
Posted by BlazingSleet 8 years ago
How would your CX work? I post a list of questions, you respond to all of them, etc? What if I had follow up questions after you give an answer?
Posted by alto2osu 8 years ago
Unfortunately, CX time isn't very practical on this website :) I recommend it in the comments. If it were 3-4 rounds, I'd accept it.
Posted by bamafan 8 years ago
ok. i wanted to leave room for cx though
Posted by Cody_Franklin 8 years ago
Make it three rounds, and I accept. That's LD format, after all.
2 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Vote Placed by asiansarentnerdy 8 years ago
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Vote Placed by Cody_Franklin 8 years ago
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