Out of Bounds?

Preparing well for speech and debate competitions can be incredibly time consuming! The research alone can seem insurmountable when it involves the kind of complex topics we hope our students will want to investigate. That’s why NCFCA takes intentional measures to help keep participation manageable. We do this in Moot Court with the closed-universe rule and, more recently, in Extemporaneous we have narrowed the scope of each season to either domestic or international topics. While these limits are intended to be helpful, they can also be confusing. We hope this article will clear some of the confusion.

Let’s begin with the boundaries in Moot Court. 

As a time-bound academic exercise, Moot Court takes place in the confines of what is known as the “closed universe” to prevent argumentation from extending into an endless web of potentially related case law. However, the boundaries of the universe can be difficult to understand, and the Moot Court Committee and our Compliance Teams get several questions about the following rule every season.

“The content presented in the round is restricted to a 'closed universe' that is limited to material contained or referenced within the Moot Court packet and the United States Constitution” (2022 Debate Guide: Section III.4).

Understanding this rule begins with understanding what makes up the Moot Court packet. The packet consists of the following:

  1. The case, which is a fictitious lower court’s decision, including the majority and dissenting opinion.
  2. The full text of the cases and/or articles which are directly cited in the fictitious lower court’s decision. (We do not reproduce all of these cases as part of the packet, but links are provided in a list at the end of the case.) 
  3. Any appendices that may be attached to the case.

The “closed universe” consists of the Moot Court packet plus the United States Constitution.  

Confusion happens when one of the permissible cases in the packet cites a case which is not part of the packet (because it was not cited in the fictitious case at bar). In other words, there is a reference to another case embedded within one of the cases in the packet. 

In a Moot Court round, it is permissible to use part or all of the excerpt of the embedded case that is contained within the case that is part of the packet, but ONLY the substance of the excerpt may be used. Competitors may not reach beyond the bounds of the included case to cite any other assertions, conclusions, or arguments from the embedded case. 

Think of it this way: If the fictitious case at bar is State vs. Bananas, and the lower court’s decision cites State vs. Apples, then State vs. Apples will be part of the closed universe and will be included in the list of cases permissible to cite in the round. However, if State vs. Apples cites a precedent from State vs. Oranges, that does not mean that all of State vs. Oranges becomes part of the closed universe. The only part of State vs. Oranges that may be used for argumentation and support in the round is the exact portion cited in State vs. Apples

Now, let’s transition to the boundaries for Extemporaneous. 

Beginning with the 2022 competition season, Extemporaneous topics were set to alternate between a domestic and international focus from one season to the next. The goal is to make the scope of research more manageable and, hopefully, allow for greater depth and quality of speeches. The problem is that the boundary between domestic and international topics can be difficult to define. 

The confusion arises from the fact that many newsworthy events and topics pertaining to the United States involve interaction with international situations. Because the US is a global power, there are daily headlines about how the US interacts or reacts to situations that are occurring globally. The US response to a situation is especially worthy of consideration as a domestic issue if it has broad ramifications for the US economy, security, or national interests. 

For example, at the time of this writing, the US is formulating strategy on how to deal with a Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Biden administration wants to entice Iran back into a nuclear agreement, the US and China are inextricably linked by trade, our border crisis involves Mexico, Canada's trucker protest is largely being funded by Americans, and the list goes on. If a news story involves the US and a foreign country, that becomes a potential US foreign policy question. During a domestic season, competitors and judges should consider a question involving another country or an international issue to be from the US' perspective, even if the question doesn't explicitly state, "from the US' perspective."  Competitors can look at a US foreign policy extemp question through a US-centric lens and be confident that they are analyzing the question accurately.