By Theresa Schliep
In this election season of often divisive rhetoric and polarizing political ideals, College Democrats and College Republicans hosted a heated debate in Flom Auditorium on Monday that stressed dialogue and bipartisanship.
Ben St. Clair, editor-in-chief of the Fordham Political Review, moderated the debate.
It began with two partisan debates and, in an effort to reflect the bipartisanship espoused by its hosts, concluded with a bipartisan debate.
For the partisan debates, each debater was allowed a two-minute intro and three one-minute responses in a back-and-forth format. Subsequently, there was five minutes for questions and one minute for closing statements.
The first partisan debate was between the College Democrats President Thomas Palumbo, FCRH ’17, and Luke Zaro, FCRH ’16, for College Republicans. The two debated over President Barack Obama’s nomination of appellate court judge Merrick Garland.
Both of the debaters highlighted what they interpreted as hypocrisy of the opposing side.
For instance, Zaro recalled that in 1992, Vice President Joe Biden, then chairman of the senate judiciary committee and in charge of Supreme Court nominations, argued that former President George W. Bush should delay nominating a Supreme Court justice. This contradicts President Obama’s insistence on nominating a Supreme Court justice before the fourth year of his second term concludes.
Contrastly, Palumbo said during Biden’s position on the judiciary committee, every Supreme Court nominee received a hearing, as committee vote and floor vote.
The debaters also disagreed on the responsibility of the Senate. While both conceded the Senate must advise and consent, they differed in their interpretations.
Zaro said with the Senate’s refusal to hold hearings, they fulfilled their constitutional responsibilities.
“When the Senate says they don’t think it’s right on a matter of principle, that seems to be terms of advice,” said Zaro.
“It is not a matter of principle to say just because you disagree with a president does not mean they should not fulfill their constitutional duty,” said Palumbo. “It is the Senate’s responsibility to hear and vote for any Supreme Court nominee.”
They also sparred over the necessity of a nine member court. Zaro said the Supreme Court cannot operate with only eight members, while Palumbo said the eight member Supreme Court has already come to a four-to-four tie.
A tie in the Supreme Court does not set legal precedent, and instead appeals to the opinion of the lower appellate courts.
However, Zaro cited evidence in his argument that showed the infrequency of tied decisions in eight member benches. He argued that since most Supreme Court decisions are ruled nine to zero, nine justices are not always necessary.
Zaro reiterated his interpreted hypocrisy of the opposing side in his concluding statement.
“Alleged principles switch upon political power,” said Zaro.
Palumbo, appealing to the will of the people, said the American people voted for President Obama to nominate any Supreme Court vacancy.
“When confronted with the choice over whether or not they wanted the president to name Supreme Court appointees, the American people said yes,” said Palumbo.
After the Supreme Court debate concluded, a debate over whether or not businesses should be permitted to deny business to LGBTQ individuals began. Jacob Linker, FCRH ’18, debated for the Republicans and Michelle Briney, FCRH ’18, argued for the Democrats.
Briney argued when a person opens a business, they concede to provide business to any person regardless of what she called “an integral part of their identity.”
“Religious freedom only applies insofar as it does not infringe upon the rights of others to exercise their own individual freedoms,” said Briney. “When you allow businesses to discriminate based on integral and unchangeable parts of their identity as sexual orientation is, then that action is bigoted, discriminatory and wrong.”
Briney then asked her opponent to distinguish between a business owner of one religion denying business to a customer of another religion, and a business owner denying business to a gay customer.
In his opening statement, Linker said that many will question the character of his argument.
“As expected, my position will be derided as homophobic, transphobic, bigoted and a variety of other harsh, disgusting other ad hominem sorts of words,” said Linker.
Linker proceeded to defend the rights of business owners to “not participate in particular ceremonies,” such as gay weddings.
“You may sell a cake to someone everyday for 30 years and one day be asked to cater a particular event, and if you say no, that is not discrimination against the person, that is discrimination against the act,” said Linker.
Linker said that the founding fathers prioritized religious freedom over all other freedoms.
Briney reiterated her request for Linker to distinguish between certain types of discrimination.
“He has not given me a sufficient explanation as to why one form of discrimination is sanctioned while another one is not,” said Briney.
Linker said if a customer is denied service at one place, it does not mean they cannot obtain service elsewhere.
Briney said that this denies customers certain rights.
“The fact remains that someone has been denied of their right to choose,” said Briney.
Linker said, “The American notion of secularism is impartiality.”
After the final partisan debate concluded, the bipartisan discussion began. Abby Govindan, FCRH ’19, and Michael O’Brien, FCRH ’19, of College Democrats and Sebastian Balasov, FCRH ’18, and Paul Ingrassia, FCRH ’17, discussed immigration reform and the future of U.S. immigration policy.
The panel agreed that immigration is part of both the country’s history and economy.
“We are the descendents of immigrants who at one point came to America in search of a better life,” said Ingrassia. “This fact is fundamental to our republic and is paramount to the strength of our economy.”
The group also stressed the importance of the financial implications of illegal immigration, such as the cost of deporting the 11 million illegal immigrants in the country or losing their work in agriculture.
After the event concluded, Albrecht, Palumbo and St. Clair asked for audience feedback.
One improvement was more audience involvement.
“We need more audience participation,” said Palumbo, while appreciative of civil debate, also said that more audience participation is necessary in upcoming debates.
“I’m glad to see what we talked about all night, which is civil debate,” said Palumbo. “My biggest thing is to get people more involved, with more audience questions and a bigger audience.”
Audience members also appreciated the civility of the debate.
“I think it went really well, I think it’s important to have civil discussion and to be able to hear everyone’s opinions. Everyone was very respectful,” Tom Romer, GSB ’16.
Albrecht stressed the improvements of relations between the two political clubs.
“The relationships between the College Democrats and College Republicans was never that good in the past,” said Albrecht. “But this year, me and Tom built up on a lot and I hope this partnership continues.”