As its name would suggest, the student congress category is a form of debate that emulates the style and procedure of the U.S. Congress. Unlike other debate categories, which take the form of oppositional contests between two individuals or teams, student congress is less of a them-vs.-us battle and more of a general speaking competition. “Bills” or resolutions are proposed not by the National Forensics League or another higher body, but by the debaters themselves. Furthermore, there are no winners or losers in Student Congress – while students do receive speaker awards for their performance, no one is said to have won the debate.
One round of student congress generally involves between 10 and 30 debaters and can last for several hours. During the round, students debate “legislation” that they had previously submitted to the tournament. After the tournament’s directors have received all suggested legislation, they select a few bills and inform all of the competitors of their choices. This gives debaters several weeks to research both sides of each bill and to prepare for the upcoming tournament.
Unlike other styles of debate, student congress does not dictate the order or number of speeches in a round, nor does it assign a pro or con side to individual debaters. Instead, after a student proposes a bill, other students may volunteer to speak for or against the legislation, with a student moderator (“presiding officer”) choosing each of the speakers in turn.
The speakers are judged by community members, who sit in the audience and rate debaters on a scale of 1-6. While judging is largely subjective, emphasizing the debater’s ability to appeal to an audience of peers, Student Congress does place particular value on eloquence, logic, organization, extemporaneity and the debater’s responses to questions.