Rank #1: 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 #2: 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 #3: 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 #4: American Pendulum I
What happens when the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, seems to get it wrong? Korematsu v. United States is a case that’s been widely denounced and discredited, but it still remains on the books. This is the case that 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 #5: 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 #6: 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 #7: American Pendulum II
In this episode of More Perfect, how two families grapple with one terrible Supreme Court decision. Dred Scott v. Sandford is one of the most infamous cases in Supreme Court history: in 1857, a slave named Dred Scott filed a suit for his freedom and lost. In his decision, Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney wrote that black men “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” One civil war and more than a century later, the Taneys and the Scotts reunite at a Hilton in Missouri to figure out what reconciliation looks like in the 21st century.
Rank #8: The Gun Show
For nearly 200 years of our nation’s history, the Second Amendment was an all-but-forgotten rule about the importance of militias. But in the 1960s and 70s, a movement emerged — led by Black Panthers and a recently-repositioned NRA — that insisted owning a firearm was the right of each and every American. So began a constitutional debate that only the Supreme Court could solve. That didn’t happen until 2008, when a Washington, D.C. security guard named Dick Heller made a compelling case.
Rank #9: Sex Appeal
“Equal protection of the laws” was granted to all persons by the 14th Amendment in 1868. But for nearly a century after that, women had a hard time convincing the courts that they should be allowed to be jurors, lawyers, and bartenders, just the same as men. A then-lawyer at the ACLU named Ruth Bader Ginsburg set out to convince an all-male Supreme Court to take sex discrimination seriously with an unconventional strategy. She didn’t just bring cases where women were the victims of discrimination; she also brought cases where men were the victims. In this episode, we look at how a key battle for gender equality was won with frat boys and beer.
Rank #10: 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 #11: 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 #12: The Heist
The Supreme Court may not have been conceptualized as a co-equal branch of the federal government, but it became one as a result of the political maneuvering of Chief Justice John Marshall. The fourth (and longest-serving) chief justice was "a great lover of power," according to historian Jill Lepore, but he was also a great lover of secrecy. Marshall believed, in order for the justices to confer with each other candidly, their papers needed to remain secret in perpetuity. It was under this veil of secrecy that the biggest heist in the history of the Supreme Court took place.
The key voices:
- Jill Lepore, professor of American history at Harvard University
The key links:
Leadership support for More Perfect is provided by The Joyce Foundation. Additional funding is provided by The Charles Evans Hughes Memorial Foundation.
Supreme Court archival audio comes from Oyez®, a free law project in collaboration with the Legal Information Institute at Cornell.
Rank #13: 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 #14: The Architect
On this episode, we revisit Edward Blum, a self-described “legal entrepreneur” and former stockbroker who has become something of a Supreme Court matchmaker: he takes an issue, finds the perfect plaintiff, matches them with lawyers, and helps the case work its way to the highest court in the land. His target: laws that differentiate between people based on race — including ones that empower minorities. More Perfect profiled Edward Blum in season one of the show. We catch up with him to hear about his latest effort to end affirmative action at Harvard.
Rank #15: The Gun Show Reprise
Last year in the wake of the attack in Las Vegas, reporter Sean Rameswaram took a deep dive into America's twisty, thorny, seemingly irreconcilable relationship with guns. It's a story about the Second Amendment, the Black Panthers, the NRA, and a guy named Dick Heller, who in 2008 brought the Second Amendment to the Supreme Court for the very first time.
Rank #16: Citizens United
Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission is one of the most polarizing Supreme Court cases of all time. So what is it actually about, and why did the Justices decide the way they did? Justice Anthony Kennedy, often called the “most powerful man in America,” wrote the majority opinion in the case. In this episode, we examine Kennedy’s singular devotion to the First Amendment and look at how it may have influenced his decision in the case.
Rank #17: 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 #18: The Most Perfect Album: Episode 1
This season, More Perfect is taking our 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.
Let's get started. If we're talking about the Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, it only feels right to start at the beginning. The First and Second Amendments are arguably the most ferociously contentious amendments of them all, and the Third Amendment is the underdog that everyone underestimates but (maybe) shouldn’t.
With that in mind, Episode One dives into the poetic dream behind the First Amendment. This is the amendment that reflects the kind of country the Founding Fathers hoped we would be. Next, we examine the fiercely debated words of the Second Amendment, words that often feel like they divide our nation in two. And finally, we question whether the seemingly irrelevant Third Amendment might actually be the key to figuring out where our country is going.
And when you're done with the episode, take a listen to the songs by Joey Stylez, Cherry Glazerr, Sateen, Flor de Toloache, Michael Richard Klics, Palehound, and They Might be Giants inspired by Amendments 1, 2 and 3 on 27: The Most Perfect Album.
Rank #19: 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 #20: Mr. Graham and the Reasonable Man
On a fall afternoon in 1984, Dethorne Graham ran into a convenience store for a bottle of orange juice. Minutes later he was unconscious, injured, and in police handcuffs. In this episode, we explore a case that sent two Charlotte lawyers on a quest for true objectivity, and changed the face of policing in the US.