Tonight’s Fordham Debate Topics, Explained

As the spring semester comes to a close, Fordham’s College Democrats and College Republicans meet for a final debate at 7:00 p.m. in Flom Auditorium. Hosted by Fordham Political Review, the debate features a bipartisan discussion on immigration and two partisan debates, one on Merrick Garland’s confirmation as Supreme Court justice and the other on recent religious freedom laws.

Here’s what you need to know about the topics.

Immigration Reform

In 2014, there were 11.3 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States, down from the 12.2 million in 2007, and the Pew Research Center estimates that approximately half of these unauthorized immigrants originated from Mexico. U.S. immigration policy has remained a central focus of public debate, as presidential candidates from both sides call for immigration reform.

The most recent attempt at reform consisted of a bipartisan immigration bill that passed the Senate in June 2013. The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act would have provided a “path to citizenship” for unauthorized immigrants already in the country, increased funding for border security, and “streamlined” the immigration process. The bill ultimately stalled in the House when lawmakers could not agree on its more controversial proposals.

In tonight’s bipartisan discussion, freshmen Abby Govindan and Michael O’Brien of the College Democrats and sophomore Sebastian Balasov and junior Paul Ingrassia of the College Republicans will consider the future of U.S. immigration policy and what possible reform should look like.

Merrick Garland Confirmation

Approximately a month after Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February, President Obama nominated appellate judge Merrick Garland to fill his seat. Garland is President Obama’s third Supreme Court nomination in the past eight years, and if confirmed, Garland would be the 113th Supreme Court justice. With its current eight-justice structure, the Court risks splitting decisions 4-4, in rulings that would uphold the last appeals courts’ decisions without setting legal precedents. Garland’s presence on the Court would alter these splits on controversial cases.

In the six weeks since the nomination, the Senate has not held a confirmation hearing, as prominent Republican officials have voiced their concerns over Garland and President Obama’s ability to nominate a justice during an election year. In response, Democratic officials have charged the Republican leadership with a failure to “do its job.” Nevertheless, Garland has met with both Republican and Democratic senators as he awaits his hearing.

The question before the debaters is thus, Should the Senate hold confirmation hearings and seriously consider President Obama’s Supreme Court nomination, Merrick Garland? Junior Thomas Palumbo will argue for the Democrats, and senior Luke Zaro will argue for the Republicans.

Religious Freedom Laws

Since the Supreme Court’s 2014 ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., religious freedom bills and laws have gained prominence in state legislatures and the media. In Burwell, the Court ruled that insurance plans offered by “closely-held corporations” were not required to cover certain forms of contraceptive as mandated by the Affordable Care Act because the requirement violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. The New York Times wrote that the decision “opened the door to many challenges from corporations over laws that they claim violate their religious liberty.”

Since then, so-called religious freedom laws have been introduced and passed in various states. In part a reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision last summer that legalized marriage for same-sex couples, these bills have focused both on businesses’ ability to deny services to LGBTQ individuals and on mandates specifying which public bathrooms transgender individuals are allowed to use. Notable bills have been signed into law in Mississippi and North Carolina, sparking controversy across the country. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has also vetoed a similar bill in March.

Tonight’s debaters will consider whether or not businesses should be allowed to deny service to LGBTQ individuals for religious reasons. Sophomore Michelle Briney will argue for the Democrats, and sophomore Jacob Linker will argue for the Republicans.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of one of the debaters. The Republican debater for religious freedom laws should be Jacob Linker, not Linkler as previously written.