Rank #1: The Political Thicket
The question of how much power the Supreme Court should possess has divided justices over time. But the issue was perhaps never more hotly debated than in Baker v. Carr. On this episode of More Perfect, we talk about the case that pushed one Supreme Court justice to a nervous breakdown, brought a boiling feud to a head, put one justice in the hospital, and changed the course of the Supreme Court – and the nation – forever.
Rank #2: The Most Perfect Album: Episode 5
This season, More Perfect is taking its camera lens off the Supreme Court and zooming in on the words of the people: the 27 amendments that We The People have made to our Constitution. We're taking on these 27 amendments both in song and in story. This episode is best listened to alongside 27: The Most Perfect Album, an entire album (an ALBUM!) and digital experience of original music and art inspired by the 27 Amendments. Think of these episodes as the audio liner notes. Amendments 13, 14, and 15 are collectively known as the Reconstruction Amendments: they were passed as instructions to rebuild the country after Civil War. They addressed slavery, citizenship, equality and voting rights for black people. This week, the More Perfect team explores the legacy of the amendments beyond the Civil War — the ways the promises of these amendments changed the country and the ways they've fallen short. First, More Perfect Executive Producer Suzie Lechtenberg and Legal Editor Elie Mystal explore the loophole in the 13th Amendment's slavery ban that's being used in a strange context: college football. We share songs about the 13th Amendment from Kash Doll and Bette Smith. Then, producer Julia Longoria shares a conversation with her roommate Alia Almeida exploring their relationship to the amendments. Inspired by the 14th's Amendment's grant of equal protection and citizenship rights, Sarah Kay's poem tells the story of her grandmother, a U.S. citizen who was interned during World War II in a Japanese American Internment camp. Despite the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause, the Supreme Court upheld the internment of U.S. citizens based solely on their Japanese heritage in a case called Korematsu v. United States. In 2018, the Supreme Court said Korematsu was "wrong the day it was decided." The Court went on to uphold President Trump's controversial travel ban in Trump v. Hawaii. "Korematsu has nothing to do with this case," wrote the majority. In a dissenting opinion, Justice Sotomayor accused the majority of "redeploying the same dangerous logic underlying Korematsu" when they upheld the ban. Finally, hear songs inspired by the 15th Amendment by Aisha Burns and Nnamidi Ogbonnaya.
Rank #3: Kittens Kick The Giggly Blue Robot All Summer
We think of the Supreme Court justices as all-powerful beings, issuing momentous rulings from on high. But they haven’t always been so, you know, supreme. On this episode, we go all the way back to the case that, in a lot of ways, started it all.
Rank #4: Object Anyway
At the trial of James Batson in 1983, the prosecution eliminated all the black jurors from the jury pool. Batson objected, setting off a complicated discussion about jury selection that would make its way all the way up to the Supreme Court. On this episode of More Perfect, the Supreme Court ruling that was supposed to prevent race-based jury selection, but may have only made the problem worse.
Rank #5: More Perfect presents: Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl
On this episode, a three-year-old girl and the highest court in the land. From the Radiolab archives, Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl is the story that inspired More Perfect's creation.
Rank #6: The Imperfect Plaintiffs
On this episode, we visit Edward Blum, a 64-year-old “legal entrepreneur” and former stockbroker who has become something of a Supreme Court matchmaker. He’s had remarkable success, with 6 cases heard before the Supreme Court, including that of Abigail Fisher. We also head to Houston, Texas, where in 1998, an unusual 911 call led to one of the most important LGBTQ rights decisions in the Supreme Court’s history.
Rank #7: The Most Perfect Album: Episode 3
This season, More Perfect is taking its camera lens off the Supreme Court and zooming in on the words of the people: the 27 amendments that We The People have made to our Constitution. We're taking on these 27 amendments both in song and in story. This episode is best listened to alongside 27: The Most Perfect Album, an entire album (an ALBUM!) and digital experience of original music and art inspired by the 27 Amendments. Think of these episodes as the audio liner notes. The first eight amendments to the U.S. Constitution are literal, straightforward, and direct. But when we get to Amendments nine, 10, and 11, things get… hazy. These are some of the least literal amendments in the Constitution: they mean more than they say, and what they say is often extremely confusing. So in the third episode of the new More Perfect season we take these three blurry amendments and bring them into focus, embarking on a metaphorical, metaphysical, and somewhat astronomical journey to find the perfect analogies to truly understand each one. Episode Three reaches for lofty metaphors of moon shadows, legal penumbras, and romantic relationships — as well as more guttural, frankly gross ones, like the human appendix, to describe the three amendments that define the nature of our union and the powers of the government and the people. And when you're done with the episode, listen to the songs by The Kominas, Lean Year, and Field Medic inspired by Amendments 9, 10 and 11 on 27: The Most Perfect Album.
Rank #8: American Pendulum Reprise
What happens when the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, seems to get it wrong? Korematsu v. United States upheld President Franklin Roosevelt’s internment of American citizens during World War II based solely on their Japanese heritage, for the sake of national security. In this episode, we follow Fred Korematsu’s path to the Supreme Court, and we ask the question: if you can’t get justice in the Supreme Court, can you find it someplace else?
Rank #9: One Nation, Under Money
An unassuming string of 16 words tucked into the Constitution grants Congress extensive power to make laws that impact the entire nation. The Commerce Clause has allowed Congress to intervene in all kinds of situations — from penalizing one man for growing too much wheat on his farm, to enforcing the end of racial segregation nationwide. That is, if the federal government can make an economic case for it. This seemingly all-powerful tool has the potential to unite the 50 states into one nation and protect the civil liberties of all. But it also challenges us to consider: when we make everything about money, what does it cost us?
Rank #10: Justice, Interrupted
The rules of oral argument at the Supreme Court are strict: when a justice speaks, the advocate has to shut up. But a law student noticed that the rules were getting broken again and again — by men. He and his professor set out to chart an epidemic of interruptions. If women can’t catch a break in the boardroom or the legislature (or at the MTV VMA’s), what’s it going to take to let them speak from the bench of the highest court in the land?
Rank #11: Enemy of Mankind
Should the U.S. Supreme Court be the court of the world? In the 18th century, two feuding Frenchmen inspired a one-sentence law that helped launch American human rights litigation into the 20th century. The Alien Tort Statute allowed a Paraguayan woman to find justice for a terrible crime committed in her homeland. But as America reached further and further out into the world, the court was forced to confront the contradictions in our country’s ideology: sympathy vs. sovereignty. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Jesner v. Arab Bank, a case that could reshape the way America responds to human rights abuses abroad. Does the A.T.S. secure human rights or is it a dangerous overreach?
Rank #12: Who’s Gerry and Why Is He So Bad at Drawing Maps?
“It is an invidious, undemocratic, and unconstitutional practice,” Justice John Paul Stevens said of gerrymandering in Vieth v. Jubelirer (2004). Politicians have been manipulating district lines to favor one party over another since the founding of our nation. But with a case starting today, Gill v. Whitford, the Supreme Court may be in a position to crack this historical nut once and for all. Up until this point, the court didn’t have a standard measure or test of how much one side had unfairly drawn district lines. But “the efficiency gap” could be it. The mathematical formula measures how many votes Democrats and Republicans waste in elections; if either side is way outside the norm, there may be some foul play at hand. According to Loyola law professor Justin Levitt, both the case and the formula arrive at a critical time. “After the census in 2020, all sorts of different bodies will redraw all sorts of different lines and this case will help decide how and where.”
Rank #13: The Most Perfect Album: Episode 6
This season, More Perfect is taking its camera lens off the Supreme Court and zooming in on the words of the people: the 27 amendments that We The People have made to our Constitution. We're taking on these 27 amendments both in song and in story. This episode is best listened to alongside 27: The Most Perfect Album, an entire album (an ALBUM!) and digital experience of original music and art inspired by the 27 Amendments. Think of these episodes as the audio liner notes. On first read the 16th and 22nd Amendments are at best sleepers and at worst, stinkers. In a list of Constitutional hits like the right to free speech, the right to bear arms, and birthright citizenship, the amendments covering taxes and term limits tend to fall by the wayside. But in Episode 6 of More Perfect's third season we take these forgotten gems and make them shine. The 16th Amendment sets up the income tax, sinking dread into the hearts of millions of Americans every April. But if the income tax is so hated, why did we vote to put it in the Constitution? And why do so many people willingly pay? In this episode we take on those questions and contemplate whether the 16th amendment might be less about money or law, than is about deciding what it means to belong. Next we move on to the 22nd Amendment and presidential term limits. If we as U.S. citizens are happy with our leadership, why shouldn't we be able to keep electing the same president for as many terms as we want? The ghost of George Washington comes back to give Franklin Delano Roosevelt some major side-eye as we explore the roots of the rule, and why it matters today. When you're done with the episode, check out songs by Post Animal and Pavo Pavo inspired by Amendments 16 and 22 on 27: The Most Perfect Album.
Rank #14: The Hate Debate
Should you be able to say and do whatever you want online? And if not, who should police this? More Perfect hosts a debate about online hate speech, fake news and whether the First Amendment needs an update for the digital age.
Rank #15: The Most Perfect Album: Episode 7
This season, More Perfect is taking its camera lens off the Supreme Court and zooming in on the words of the people: the 27 amendments that We The People have made to our Constitution. We're taking on these 27 amendments both in song and in story. This episode is best listened to alongside 27: The Most Perfect Album, an entire album (an ALBUM!) and digital experience of original music and art inspired by the 27 Amendments. Think of these episodes as the audio liner notes. The 25th and 26th Amendments-- ratified in 1967 and 1971, respectively-- are some of the newest additions to our founding document. However, they tackle some pretty basic questions: who gets to rule, and who gets to vote? If a president dies or is incapacitated, who takes over? And how old do you have to be in order to participate in American democracy? In recent months, the 25th Amendment has swirled in and out of news cycles as Americans debate what it takes to declare a president unfit for office. But this episode looks back, even before the 25th Amendment was ratified: a moment in 1919 when President Woodrow Wilson became bedridden by stroke, and his wife, Edith Wilson, became our country’s unofficial first female president. The 26th Amendment is best encapsulated in a Vietnam-era slogan: “Old enough to fight, old enough to vote.” Eighteen-year-olds at the time argued that if they were old enough to be drafted to fight in the War, they were old enough to have a voice in our democracy. But what about today, when even younger Americans are becoming victims of gun violence and finding themselves at the center of national political debates? Does it mean we should lower the voting age even further? When you're done with the episode, check out songs by Devendra Banhart and Suburban Living inspired by Amendments 25 and 26 on 27: The Most Perfect Album. And watch Devendra Banhart's incredible music video here! Video illustration by Justin Buschardt.Video animation by The Mighty Coconut. Special thanks to The White House Historical Association.