Resolved: In a democracy, the public’s right to know ought to be valued above the right to privacy of candidates for public office.

This topic prep is meant to stimulate ideas (and give resources) rather than hand feed you contentions to run. Check the additional reading section at the bottom for more ideas!

Want resources on the affirmative? Check out Part 2 here!

The majority of the NSDA’s Lincoln-Douglas resolutions are policy resolutions (X should do Y) or fact resolutions (X = Y). Many debaters are not skilled in the less frequent debates on value resolutions (X > Y) so this is a great place to get a leg up on the competition. Before you get into this analysis, check out Ethos’ post and video on how to structure cases to prove value resolutions (i.e. why X ought to be valued above Y).

This resolution presents two giant questions for Neg.

  1. What reason could a candidate possible have for hiding something (in their past)?
  2. How can we possibly value said reason over the value of the public’s right to know about their elected leader?

When you boil the issues down, it will be an all-out impact war between violating someone’s (a candidate’s) privacy AND The public’ right to know.

Valuing one over the other usually means it comes at the expense of the other, or it needs to be upheld despite the other being broken or trampled.

The Burdens

Don’t shy away from really piling the burdens on Aff. Make them draw bright lines between everything. Does this include health information or past relationships? If it only includes criminal or illegal activity why stop there? Where does Aff draw a bright line at what is allowable and what isn’t? If they fall for it, then force them to explain why they drew the line where they did (and point out discrepancies).

Also – How much information does the public “need to know” in order to be informed on the matter? Will, that change the way they care or vote? If not, then it’s useless to even make that information public.

Don’t shy away from engaging in theoretical debate with this motion. What IF we elected a man with a bad past, and he did an amazing job, all while never breaking the law in office. Is it possible? If the judge agrees that it is possible then how many arguments does it break down?

Make it Aff’s burden to prove that the motion needs to be true in ALL cases, or it should not be voted for.  If a theoretical can break it, you win.


Many of the judicial systems across the world try to replicate the judicial branch established in the United States. So while you don’t want to be Ameri-centric, it is ok to reference “what” the right to privacy IS.

The 4th amendment gives a good scholarly definition:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Don’t use the 4th amendment as your ONLY example, but it is a good starting point.

The Montana State Constitution website gives a good real-world example of how modern legislators try to balance BOTH

The Montana Constitution guarantees citizens both a right to know and a right to privacy. When it comes to public records, these guarantees sometimes seem to conflict.

Article 2, Section 9 of the state constitution states: “No person shall be deprived of the right to examine documents. of state government and its subdivisions, except in cases in which the demand of individual privacy clearly exceeds the merits of public disclosure.” State law further gives citizens the right to inspect and copy public records.

Article 2, Section 10 of the constitution states: “The right of individual privacy is essential to the well-being of a free society and shall not be infringed without the showing of a compelling state interest.

“So which is more important? The right to privacy or the right to know? Sometimes you can provide a citizen with information he or she seeks without allowing him or her to look at confidential portions of records. You can do this by reading a record yourself and giving the person information verbally or by photocopying the record and blocking out confidential portions.In an attempt to balance these two rights, Montana courts have created a body of case law that may provide some guidance. If you are unsure whether a document is confidential or accessible to the public, consult your attorney.”

Resources and Further Reading:

1994 Scholarly Paper on the “Public’s Right to Know” in regards to the Freedom of Information Act:

2009 Journal for Mass Media Ethics, “Public’s Right to Know: A Dangerous Notion

2016 US News: Clinton’s Pneumonia Flap and the Public Fight Over Privacy

2013 NCBI The Genetic Privacy of Presidential Candidates:


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