More Perfect Supreme Court decisions shape everything from marriage and money to public safety and sex. We know these are very important decisions we should all pay attention to – but they often feel untouchable and even unknowable. Radiolab's first ever spin-off series, More Perfect, connects you to the decisions made inside the court's hallowed halls, and explains what those rulings mean for "we the people" who exist far from the bench. More Perfect bypasses the wonkiness and tells stories behind some of the court's biggest rulings.
More Perfect

More Perfect

From WNYC Radio

Supreme Court decisions shape everything from marriage and money to public safety and sex. We know these are very important decisions we should all pay attention to – but they often feel untouchable and even unknowable. Radiolab's first ever spin-off series, More Perfect, connects you to the decisions made inside the court's hallowed halls, and explains what those rulings mean for "we the people" who exist far from the bench. More Perfect bypasses the wonkiness and tells stories behind some of the court's biggest rulings.More from More Perfect »

Most Recent Episodes

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: "The Great Paper Caper," The New Yorker (2014) Felix Frankfurter, Supreme Court justice 1939 to 1962

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.

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."

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?

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.

We're Back

More Perfect, the show that takes you inside the United States Supreme Court, is back on October 2, 2017. Sex, race, guns, executive orders: Season two has it all. We'll see you in court.

Cruel and Unusual

On this episode of More Perfect, we explore three little words embedded in the 8th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution: "cruel and unusual." America has long wrestled with this concept in the context of our strongest punishment, the death penalty. A majority of "we the people" (61 percent, to be exact) are in favor of having it, but inside the Supreme Court, opinions have evolved over time in surprising ways. And outside of the court, the debate drove one woman in the U.K. to take on the U.S. death penalty system from Europe. It also caused states to resuscitate old methods used for executing prisoners on death row. And perhaps more than anything, it forced a conversation on what constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. The key links: - The invoice that revealed the identity of Dream Pharma- The email exchanges between Arizona and California officials regarding lethal injection drugs- Handwritten lethal injection protocols from Arkansas- An interview with Bill Wiseman, the Oklahoma state legislator who invented lethal injection in America, conducted by Scott Thompson of KOTV. The key voices: - Maya Foa, Director of Reprieve's Death Penalty team- Paul Ray, State Representative, House District 13, Utah- Robert Blecker, Professor at New York Law School and author of The Death of Punishment- Carol S. Steiker, Professor at Harvard Law School- Jordan M. Steiker, Professor at University of Texas Law School The key cases: - 1879: Wilkerson v. Utah- 1972: Furman v. Georgia- 1976: Gregg v. Georgia- 2008: Baze v. Rees- 2014: Glossip v. Gross More Perfect is funded in part by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, The Charles Evans Hughes Memorial Foundation, and the Joyce Foundation. Supreme Court archival audio comes from Oyez®, a free law project in collaboration with the Legal Information Institute at Cornell. Special thanks to Claire Phillips, Nina Perry, Stephanie Jenkins, Ralph Dellapiana, Byrd Pinkerton, Elisabeth Semel, Christina Spaulding, and The Marshall Project. Portions of this episode aired on June 2, 2016.

Cruel and Unusual

Audio will be available later today.

Object Anyway

At the trial of James Batson in 1982, 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. James Batson (L) with his mother Rose (R) (Sean Rameswaram) Joe Gutmann with his students in the mock trial courtroom built at the back of Gutmann's classroom (Sean Rameswaram) Joe Gutmann (L) and James Batson (R) sit together in Gutmann's classroom (Sean Rameswaram) The key links: -The prosecutor's papers highlighting black jurors from the trial of Timothy Tyrone Foster The key voices: - James Batson, the original plaintiff in Batson v. Kentucky - Joe Guttman, the prosecutor in James Batson's case - David Niehaus, lawyer at the Jefferson County Public Defender's Office - Jeff Robinson, director for the ACLU Center for Justice - Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative - Stephen B. Bright, Harvey Karp Visiting Lecturer in Law at Yale Law School - Nancy Marder, professor of law at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law The key cases: - 1986: Batson v. Kentucky - 2016: Foster v. Chatman

Kittens Kick The Giggly Blue Robot All Summer

We tend to think of the Supreme Court justices as all-powerful guardians of the constitution, issuing momentous rulings from on high. They seem at once powerful, and unknowable; all lacy collars and black robes. But they haven't always been so, you know, supreme. On this episode of More Perfect, we go all the way back to the case that, in a lot of ways, is the beginning of the court we know today. Speaking of the current court, if you need help remembering the eight justices, we've made a mnemonic device (and song) to help you out. Listen and share below! Tweet The key links: - Akhil Reed Amar's forthcoming book, The Constitution Today: Timeless Lessons for the Issues of Our Era - Linda Monk's book, The Words We Live By: Your Annotated Guide to the Constitution The key voices: - Linda Monk, author and constitutional scholar - Akhil Reed Amar, Sterling Professor of Law at Yale - Ari J. Savitzky, lawyer at WilmerHale The key cases: - 1803: Marbury v. Madison - 1832: Worcester v. Georgia - 1954: Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1) - 1955: Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (2) Additional music for this episode by Podington Bear. Special thanks to Dylan Keefe and Mitch Boyer for their work on the above video.

The Imperfect Plaintiffs

Last week, the court decided one of this term's blockbuster cases — a case that could affect the future of affirmative action in this country. The plaintiff was Abigail Fisher, a white woman, who said she was rejected from the University of Texas because the university unfairly considered race as one of many factors when evaluating applicants. And while Fisher's claims were the focus of the case, the story behind how she ended up in front of the Supreme Court is a lot more complicated. Edward Blum is the director of the Project on Fair Representation (AEI) 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 takes an issue, finds the perfect plaintiff, matches them with lawyers, and works his way to the highest court in the land. 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. John Lawrence (L) and Tyron Garner (R) at the 2004 Pride Parade in Houston (J.D. Doyle/Houston LGBT History) Mitchell Katine (L) introduces Tyron Garner (Middle) and John Lawrence (R) at a rally celebrating the court's decision (J.D. Doyle/Houston LGBT History) The key links: - The website Edward Blum is using to find plaintiffs for a case he is building against Harvard University - Susan Carle's book on the history of legal ethics - An obituary for Tyron Garner when he died in 2006 - An obituary for John Lawrence when he died in 2011 - Dale Carpenter's book on the history of Lawrence v. Texas - A Lambda Legal documentary on the story of Lawrence v. Texas The key voices: - Edward Blum, director of the Project on Fair Representation - Susan Carle, professor of law at the American University Washington College of Law - Dale Carpenter, professor of Law at the SMU Dedman School of Law - Mitchell Katine, lawyer at Katine & Nechman L.L.P. - Lane Lewis, chair of the Harris County Democratic Party - Sheila Jackson Lee, Congresswoman for the 18th district of Texas The key cases: - 1896: Plessy v. Ferguson - 1917: Buchanan v. Warley - 1962: National Association for the Advancement of Colored People v. Button - 1986: Bowers v. Hardwick - 1996: Bush v. Vera - 2003: Lawrence v. Texas - 2009: Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Holder - 2013: Shelby County v. Holder - 2013: Fisher v. University of Texas (1) - 2016: Evenwel v. Abbott - 2016: Fisher v. University of Texas (2) Special thanks to Ari Berman. His book Give Us the Ballot, and his reporting for The Nation, were hugely helpful in reporting this episode. More Perfect is funded in part by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, The Charles Evans Hughes Memorial Foundation, and the Joyce Foundation. Supreme Court archival audio comes from Oyez®, a free law project in collaboration with the Legal Information Institute at Cornell.

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