From seeds to SNAP, from the Food Pyramid to crop subsidies; the United States Department of Agriculture is one of the most complex collections of responsibilities our government has ever seen. Taking us through the labyrinth are Professor Marion Nestle, author of Food Politics, and Professor Jennifer Ifft, Agricultural Policy at Kansas State University. Support Civics 101 with a donation today!

Congressional Investigations

They're meant to expose wrongdoing and corruption or find the cracks in the systems in order to remedy them. But what, exactly, is Congress allowed to investigate, what is the end goal and what does it mean to be held in contempt? Linda Fowler, Professor of Government and Policy at Dartmouth College, is our guide to congressional investigations — how they happen, why they happen and what happens afterward.

Declaring War

The United States hasn't officially declared war against another country since World War II, and yet, we've been in dozens of conflicts since then. So what does it mean to "declare war," and how has the definition of war, and how the United States engages in it, changed since our framers wrote the Constitution? Albin Kowalewski, a historical publication specialist at the U.S. House of Representatives, helps us answer these questions. He spoke with our former host, Virginia Prescott, in 2017.

A Civics Trivia Special!

Holidays are a big deal at the White House, and they're full of all the regular trappings of a family celebration. There are traditions, festivities, complicated social dynamics, and then a healthy helping of global politics. On this edition Civics 101, we put our hosts' White House holiday knowledge to the test...who will be the victor of the first ever Holiday Civics Trivia Challenge? Plus...we find out, what are the the worse holiday songs ever? Make a donation to support Civics 101 right here. Sign up for Extra Credit, our biweekly newsletter, right here.

The Lottery

The lottery generates over $70 billion in revenue each year. Today on Civics 101 we explore how we got here; from failed lotteries in the Revolutionary War to the Golden Octopus to the Numbers Game to a Mega Millions ticket from your neighborhood shop. Where does all of that money GO? And why are states so dependent on them in the first place? Taking us on this madcap journey are two experts on the lottery in the US; Kevin Flynn (author of American Sweepstakes) and Matthew Vaz (author of Running the Numbers). Also, we're in a friendly competition with our friends at Outside/In as to who can raise the most sugar during our year-end fund drive. Push us over the edge with a small donation today and you'll get a really cool sticker!

Federal Holidays

Of the hundreds of reasons to celebrate and reflect in this country, the United States government has made only twelve of them official federal holidays. What does that actually mean, how does it happen and who gets the day off? Our guides to the holidays are Jeff Bensch, author of History of American Holidays and JerriAnne Boggis, Executive Director of the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire.

Civics at the Movies: NASA and Hollywood

We're launching a new series called Civics at the Movies, where we'll talk about the fun we have (and the inaccuracies we count!) when government and civics appear on screen...from All The President's Men to Veep to...don't even get us started. For our inaugural edition, we're talking about NASA and Hollywood. Why does the agency in charge of science and technology relating to air and space have such a close relationship with the movie industry? And is it true that NASA scientist sometimes get inspiration from science fiction when they invent new gadgets? We turned to NASA's Chief Scientist James Green to find out. ______ This episode was produced by Jacqui Fulton and features music by AnimalWeapon, Chris Zabriskie, Uncanny Valleys, Nangdo, Sci Fi Industries, Ansia Orchestra, Blue Dot Sessions, and Karl Casey. (Note: Nangdo's work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License)

Emergency Powers of the President

Emergency powers are designed for when plans need to change, and fast, by allowing the president to override certain Constitutional provisions in a time of crisis. So how has the national emergency gone from a rarity to a tool that presidents use dozens of times while in office? We look at what a president can (and cannot) do during a state of emergency, and how Congress has tried to put checks on that power, with help from Kim Lane Scheppele, author of Law in a Time of Emergency.

US vs: Two Party System

Americans often take issue with our two-party system. So what other options are out there? Today, with the help of political scientists Guillermo Rosas and Robin Best, we explore the reason why we have (and may always have) such a system, and compare it to other democracies around the world. This episode contains an overabundance of Street Fighter 2 references. Support Civics 101 with a donation today!


The United States charges nearly 8,000 people with being good at relationships. These are our diplomats, or Foreign Service Officers. These are the people who make us look good, make sure the world gives us what we want and need and try to keep tensions at a minimum. To try to understand how this nuanced job actually works, we speak with Alison Mann, Public Historian at the National Museum of American Diplomacy and Naima Green-Riley, soon-to-be professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton and former diplomat.


The 2020 census has concluded, which means it's time for states to redraw their congressional districts. Today we're exploring partisan gerrymandering, the act of drawing those maps to benefit one party over the other. In this episode you'll learn about stacking, cracking, packing, and many other ways politicians choose voters (instead of the other way round). Taking us through the story of Gerry's salamander and beyond are professors Justin Levitt, Robin Best, and Nancy Miller. Civics 101 is free to listen to, but not to make. Click here to make a small donation to support the show today!

After 9/11: The Department of Homeland Security

The terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001, made one thing very obvious: our country's national security strategy was flawed. What followed was one of the biggest reorganizations of our federal government in history: the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in November, 2002. What about 9/11, the attacks, and their aftermath, made it possible for the government to transform, in just over a year? And how has that transformation changed how our government makes decisions about threats to our country, and responds to them? Helping us untangle this story are: David Schanzer, the director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security at Duke University; Darren Davis, a politics professor at the University of Notre Dame who studies public opinion and political behavior; and Eileen Sullivan, the Homeland Security Correspondent for the New York Times. Support Civics 101 with a small donation today!

Government Shutdown

Congress agrees on a budget and the President signs it. Or... not. This is what happens when we don't have a full and final budget or a continuing resolution. This is what happens when the government shuts down and how our idea of a shutdown has changed over time. Our guest this time around is Charles Tiefer, Professor of Law at Baltimore School of Law.

State Attorneys General

We often hear them referred to as the "top cop" of a state. The attorneys general are the chief legal advisors and law enforcement officers, the ones in charge of statewide investigations and asserting state sovereignty. They sue presidential administrations and big businesses, give press conferences and advise the legislature. But what is the daily business of a state attorney general? How does the "People's Lawyer" actually work for the people? Our guests are former New Hampshire Attorney General Michael Delaney and New Hampshire policy experts Jackie Benson and Anna Brown.

After 9/11: The FBI

This is the story of where the FBI was on September 11th, 2001. This is what they did — and did not — have when it came to counterterrorism and how the tragedy of that Tuesday morning transformed the Bureau. Our guide is Sasha O'Connell, the director of the Terrorism and Homeland Security Program at American University who spent the bulk of her career to this point working for the FBI. Please note: An earlier version of this episode identified Mohamed Atta's connecting flight as being from Portland, OR. It was from Portland, ME.

John Marshall and the Supreme Court

John Marshall was the longest-serving Chief Justice in Supreme Court history. In today's episode, we learn all about the man as well as the decisions that shaped the highest court in the land; from Marbury v Madison to McCullough v Maryland. This episode features the voices of Susan Siggelakis, Robert Strauss and Randolph Moss.

Civil Rights: Obergefell v Hodges

It's the most recent landmark case in our Civil Rights SCOTUS series, the decision that said the fundamental right to marry is protected under the 14th Amendment. How did it come about? What was the status of marriage before June of 2015? And why is the government so involved in the marriage business anyways? This episode features the voices of Melissa Wasser from the Project on Government Oversight and Jim Obergefell, the named party in Obergefell v Hodges.

Civil Rights: Loving v Virginia

Mildred and Richard Loving were jailed and banished for marrying in 1958. Nearly a decade later, their Supreme Court case changed the meaning of marriage equality in the United States — decriminalizing their own marriage while they were at it. This is the story of Loving. Our guests are Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui of the U.S. District Court for Washington, D.C. and Farrah Parkes and Brad Linder of The Loving Project.

Civil Rights: Brown v Board of Education of Topeka

Five cases, eleven advocates, and a quarter century of work; Brown v Board of Education of Topeka addressed this question: does racial segregation in schools violate the 14th amendment? Walking us through the long journey to overturn Plessy v Ferguson are Chief Judge Roger Gregory and Dr. Yohuru Williams. They tell us how the case got to court, what Thurgood Marshall and John W. Davis argued, and how America does and does not live up to the promise of this monumental decision.

Japanese American Internment

Japanese American internment, or incarceration, spanned four years. Over 120,000 Japanese Americans and nationals, half of them children, were made to leave their homes, schools, businesses and farms behind to live behind barbed wire and under armed guard. There was no due process of law, no reasonable suspicion keeping these individuals locked away. What does this injustice mean to our nation? To the inheritors of that trauma? Our guides to this troubling period of American history are Judge Wallace Tashima, Professor Lorraine Bannai and Karen Korematsu.

Civil Rights: Korematsu v United States

In 1942, approximately 120,000 Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans were ordered to leave their homes. They were sent to internment camps in desolate regions of the American West. Fred Korematsu refused to comply. This is the story of his appeal to the Supreme Court and what happens when the judicial branch defers to the military.

Civil Rights: Plessy v Ferguson

Today in our series on civil rights Supreme Court cases, we examine the anticanon decision of Plessy v Ferguson. Steven Luxenberg, Kenneth Mack, Keith Plessy and Phoebe Ferguson walk us through the story of Homer Plessy, the Separate Car Act of 1890, an infamous opinion and a famous dissent.

Civil Rights: Dred Scott v Sandford

In 1846, Dred and Harriet Scott were living in St. Louis, Missouri with their two daughters. They were enslaved and launched a not uncommon petition: a lawsuit for their freedom. Eleven years later Chief Justice Roger B. Taney would issue an opinion on their case that not only refused their freedom but attempted to cement the fate of all Black individuals in the United States. Taney would ultimately fail and the Reconstruction Amendments would dash Taney's opinion in Dred Scott v Sandford, but not before the case was forever cast as a Supreme Court decision gone wrong. The Scotts' great great granddaughter, Lynne Jackson, is joined by Chief Judge John R. Tunheim of the U.S. District Court of Minnesota to tell the story of the Scotts and their case.

There Ought to Be a Law: Student Contest Finalists

This year we asked students to submit a 1-2 minute audio or video clip telling us what there ought to be a law about, why this is a problem in their community, and how that law would fix that problem. We asked NH State Senator David Watters to weigh in on their proposed legislation. Today we share our top five entries and announce our winner. Full details on our website,