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BYU Republicans and Democrats Gather for Debate


The Event

Held in the main auditorium of the historic Maeser building at BYU, the BYU Republican and Democrat student clubs gathered to debate on Thursday, October 27th. Topics included: mandatory minimum sentencing, $15 minimum wage, and Supreme Court packing, with a different pair of students debating each topic. Each debater had an opening statement, two rebuttals, a closing statement, and a Q&A from the audience. Each segment lasted approximately two minutes.

There was a strong turnout for the event. Based on the number of people cheering for each side, the Democrats had stronger support from those in attendance.

Supreme Court Expansion

Students first debated the Democrat's proposal to expand the Supreme Court. The Republican debater pointed out that the public does not support Supreme Court expansion. He also mentioned there are 150 years of precedent for the current size, and both Republicans and Democrats, including President Biden, have long opposed expanding the size of the court. The Democrat debater repeatedly argued that the court should reflect the United States in terms of demographics. He strengthened this claim by citing studies that showed having one woman or black person on a court resulted in a more fair sentencing. He also claimed the court is now solidly conservative, and therefore no longer represents the will of the people, which gives ample cause for the court to be expanded. The Democrat debater also contended that expanding the Supreme Court would make it less partisan and increase trust in the institution.

The Republican debater pointed out that once the court’s size is expanded, there is nothing to stop the Republicans from expanding it again. He also retorted that increasing the size of the court would remove the Supreme Court’s ability to be independent and thus destroy – not increase – its credibility. After the Q&A portion, there was a fact check that clarified the most prominent Supreme Court expansion amendment proposed four new justices. The Democrat debater was arguing for just two new justices.

Mandatory Minimum Sentences

Mandatory minimum sentence requirements were next up. The Democrats argued for the removal of all mandatory sentence length requirements for criminal offenses. Democrats focused on sentencing for drugs and gun crimes and argued that many sentences being handed down for these crimes were far too long relative to the crime. It was not clear if the examples of long sentences they gave as evidence were the minimum length or not. Democrats also presented evidence to demonstrate that mandatory minimums would not increase crime.

Republicans focused on the increase in murderers and other violent criminals that would go on the streets with the removal of mandatory minimums. The Republican debater argued that history shows mandatory minimums decrease crime rates and emphasized the need to prioritize the safety of law-abiding citizens over that of criminals. In response to the DNC debater’s complaints about the current state of the justice system, the GOP debater enumerated the many ways to reform the criminal justice system without resorting to a complete removal of mandatory minimums. During the question period, the Democrat debater clarified that she supported minimums for all crimes including rape and murder. In response to the idea that mandatory minimums lead to racial disparity in incarceration rates, the Republican pointed out that mandatory minimums apply equally to all races and therefore cannot lead to incarceration disparities.

Minimum Wage

The final debate was over the Democrat's proposal to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 per hour. An Independent debated on behalf of the Republicans and began the debate by citing studies that show increases in unemployment and inflation that attend minimum wage hikes. He also pointed out that the average minimum wage worker lives in a household making $70,000 per year and most starting hourly wages are well above minimum wage. The Democrat debater conceded that there are negative externalities to increasing the minimum wage, but argued they are relatively minor compared to the benefits obtained. He also pointed out that the last time the minimum wage was increased was during the 2008 Great recession and therefore unemployment numbers could not be solely attributed to a change in the minimum wage. Both sides quoted many studies to reinforce their position.

During the Q&A, the democrat debater was asked why not have a $30 minimum wage and responded by saying that $15 is where economists believe there is an equilibrium between the pros and cons of raising the minimum wage. After the debate, the moderators attempted to fact-check the republican debater by stating that a minimum wage earner makes $15,000 a year, not $70,000. The debater piped up and reiterated that he was speaking about the household of a minimum-wage earner. “I have the study right here from the Bureau of Labor Statistics I can show you,” he said holding up his tablet, which prompted a laugh from the audience.


Issac Grow, President of BYU College Republicans and one of the debaters felt the debate was a success. "I think we finished each debate better than we started... we were [also] more organic and not as reliant on notes... we appreciate the BYU dems [student Democrat club] and everyone who showed up."

Republicans and Democrats debate once per semester with different topics for each debate. The next debate will be during the Winter 2023 semester.

Written by: Luke Hanson

The Cougar Chronicle is an independent student-run publication and is not affiliated with Brigham Young University or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

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