Civics 101


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Episodes: 183

 Dec 30, 2019
makes me hopefull

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 Jul 12, 2018


How do landmark Supreme Court decisions affect our lives? What does the 2nd Amendment really say? Why does the Senate have so much power? Civics 101 is the podcast about how our democracy works…or is supposed to work, anyway.

Episode Date
The Fairness Doctrine

What can we do with these invisible magnetic waves in the sky? 

Today we explore what we can say on the air. Are radio and television stations allowed to air their opinions in addition to the news? From 1949-1987 all broadcast media was beholden to the Fairness Doctrine; a law that enforced impartiality and civil discourse. So why did we have this law? How did it work? Why did it end? And finally, what are the arguments for and against bringing it back?

Our guest is Larry Irving, who was counsel to the Telecommunications subcommittee when the doctrine was codified into law (and subsequently vetoed) in 1987. 

May 23, 2023
BONUS: Talking to Kids About the News

Ryan Willard is the co-host of The Ten News, a news podcast created for 8-12 year-olds. He shared some of the ways his team frames complex and controversial topics so that they're appropriate and comprehensible to younger ears. You can hear their show wherever you get your podcasts, or at their website.

May 19, 2023
Reconstruction: The Laws of the Land

While Black citizens fought for their civil and human rights in the Reconstruction era, state and federal governments alike passed law and policy pertaining to them. Courts ruled. Legislatures made law. These are the legal shifts that both supported the Black freedom struggle and actively worked against it. Our guides to the last part of our Reconstruction series are Gilbert Paul Carassco, Kate Masur and Kidada Williams.

May 16, 2023
Reconstruction: The Big Lie

Reconstruction has long been taught as a lost cause narrative.  The true story is one of great force. The great force of a powerful activist Black community that strived to establish a multiracial democracy and achieved great successes and political power. The great force of a violent white community that exploited, abused and murdered those of that Black community who would assert their civil and human rights. The great force of a federal government that was there and then wasn't. This episode is your introduction to that true story.

Our guides to this era are Dr. Kidada Williams, author of I Saw Death Coming and Dr. Kate Masur, author of Until Justice Be Done.

May 08, 2023
Reconstruction: Why We Didn't Learn About It

The Reconstruction Era, a period in American history at the end of and immediately following the Civil War, is one of the single-most important and instructive periods in American history. It has also, historically, been one of the least taught. Why is that, and what are we missing when we don't learn about it? A lot.

In this, the first in a three-part series on Reconstruction, we speak to Mimi Eisen of the Zinn Education Project about America’s first Civil Rights Era and why most of us don’t know enough - or anything at all - about it.

May 02, 2023
Defamation, Libel, and Dominion, Oh My!

What is defamation? Libel? Pre-trial discovery? Actual malice? Today we go into everything tied to the recently settled Dominion Voting Systems vs Fox News Network defamation lawsuit; including slander, libel, discovery, settlement, and the "whackadoodle email." 

Our guide through the world of defamation legalities is Jane Kirtley, Silha Professor of Media Ethics and Law at the Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota. We talk about why these lies were presented to the public, and the possible reasons why Dominion chose to settle instead of continue with the trial.

Apr 23, 2023
US vs: Freedom

How free are we? Are some countries more free than we are? What does freedom even mean?

In this episode in our "US vs" series, we talk with the co-author of the Human Freedom Index, Ian Vasquez, about how we rank in our measure of liberty. Then we do a deep dive into Freedom of the Press with Jenifer Whitten-Woodring, co-author of the Historical Guide to World Media Freedom: A Country-by-Country Analysis.

Here are some links to other episodes we've done that explore our ever-changing tally of who gets those freedoms in the first place:

Declaration Revisited

The Bill of Rights

The 19th Amendment

Apr 18, 2023
How Can The Government Ban An App?

A social media app with 150 million American users is under intense scrutiny by the U.S. government. The threat is "sell or be banned," but how and why can the government do that? What does this kind of business restriction look like? We talked to Steven Balla of George Washington University to get the low down on regulations and bans in the United States.

Apr 11, 2023
How Do Indictments and Grand Juries Work?

What are grand juries? Who gets picked for one? What does an indictment mean?  What's next? Why does it seem like this process is taking so long?? 

Today we explain all the legal processes surrounding the recent indictment of former president Donald Trump, as well as what the Constitution has to say about all of this.

With us is Albert "Buzz" Scherr, professor of Criminal Law and Justice at UNH Law. 


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Apr 02, 2023
Jury Duty: What To Expect When You Get That Summons

On this episode, you've been summoned to learn about jury duty. Do the reasons some people want to avoid jury duty have merit? How do you even get on a list to get summoned to begin with? What should you expect with you get summoned to serve? And should you embrace this particular opportunity to participate in the democratic process? (Spoiler alert: We really think you should!)

Our guest is Sonali Chakravarti, professor of government at Wesleyan University and author of Radical Enfranchisement in the Jury Room and Public Life.

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Check out Outside/In presents: The Underdogs right here!


Links related to the O.J. Simpson case: 

Mar 28, 2023
Who Writes Bills?

If you've learned about things like Separation of Powers and Checks and Balances, you know the tried and true notion that Congress makes the laws, the executive branch enforces them, and the judicial branch interprets them. But would it surprise you to hear that's not how it goes most of the time?

Today we explore who really writes the majority of legislation in the US, and how it got to be that way. We talk with Dan Cassino of Fairleigh Dickinson University, who breaks down that first step of the legislative process.

Here are links to our related episodes; How a Bill (Really) Becomes a Law and Citizens United.

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Mar 21, 2023
Paying Income Taxes

The idea that the more you have, the more you’re expected to contribute in taxes, is a foundation of our income tax system. And there is one government agency that oversees it all: the Internal Revenue Service. 

However, the tax code itself, and the IRS, are subject to the will of politicians - who might have special interests of their own. We talk about how politics, wealth, and power influence how people file for their taxes in the first place, how some of the wealthiest Americans have the lowest income tax rate, and who is held accountable for paying their "fair share."

Curious about the history of the income tax? Check out our companion episode, Why Do We Have An Income Tax?

Also, check out The Secret IRS Files, ProPublica’s investigation into the tax records of the .001%.

Mar 14, 2023
A Primary Battle

For decades, one state has had the privilege of going first in the presidential primary process. But New Hampshire’s “stranglehold” on the way we pick presidents could be losing its grip. The Democratic Party changed its presidential nominating calendar to give voters of color more sway. But New Hampshire isn’t backing down, setting up a major test of the stranglehold and its power.

Today, we present that story from our colleagues in NHPR's newsroom, from the podcast "Stranglehold"

Donate to support Civics 101 and NHPR's journalism right here. 

Mar 07, 2023
Who owns the sky?

If you own land in the United States, do you own the air above it, too? Justine Paradis, Senior Producer at Outside/In from NHPR brings us the airy truth of property rights in air and space in this special collaboration. 

The answer will take us from Ancient Rome (as it occasionally does) to the United States courts, from a world when air travel was science fiction to the world where we know there are valuable resources on the moon... and we all want them.

Guests for this episode are Colin Jerolmack, Michael Heller, George Anthony Long, and Deondre Smiles.

Feb 28, 2023
The 2008 Financial Crisis Explained

In this episode, we ask how the actions of various American financial institutions caused a global recession and destroyed the livelihoods and homeownership of millions of American people. Then we figure out what the federal government decided to do about it. This is the 2008 financial crisis as told by Amy Friend, Chief Counsel to the Senate Banking Committee as the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act was written.  

Feb 21, 2023
Why Do We Have an Income Tax?

Most Americans need help to file our tax return each year - about 90% of people use technology like Turbo Tax, or hire a human tax preparer.  Why does it feel like it takes degree in accounting, or the money to pay someone with a degree, or computer software, just to comply with the law? 

We talk about why our income tax system is the way it is: full of complexity, difficult to navigate, and extremely personal. It's a system where things like who you work for, what kind of resources you have, and how you spend your money, are directly connected to how much you owe the government each year, and what the government provides for you in return. So how did we get here? 

Helping us untangle this history is Eric Toder, Institute fellow in the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center at the Urban Institute, Beverly Moran, Professor of Law at Vanderbilt University, where she focuses on federal income taxation, including individuals, partnerships, tax-exempt organizations and corporate, and Joe Thorndike, Director of the Tax History Project at Tax Analysts.  

Stay tuned for our follow up episode on how to do your taxes successfully, and correctly - we'll talk about the IRS, enforcement and compliance, and the rise of tax preparation software. 

Feb 14, 2023
What's Up With The Space Force?

Many Americans were taken by surprise when a whole new branch of the military - the U.S. Space Force - was launched during the Trump administration. But this branch of the military wasn't created on a whim, and its mission is more complicated than you might expect. 

On this episode, we unpack the history of the militarization of space, the creation of the Space Force, and ask the question: is it here to stay? 

Our guest is Dr. Wendy Whitman Cobb, Associate Professor of Strategy and Security Studies at US Air Force School of Advanced Air and Space Studies.


Feb 07, 2023
The Government and Housing: Policy

"Public housing" did not exist prior to the Great Depression. So it wasn't until Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal that the government had the chance to impose segregation at the highest level. The effects of segregation policy in housing continue to this day in the United States. Akira Drake Rodriguez and Richard Rothstein are our guides to how and why the government did it.

Jan 31, 2023
The Government and Housing: One City's Story

Atlanta was the first city to erect public housing in the United States. It started with Techwood Homes, an all-white development that went up in 1936. Sixty years later it would be torn down, along with others of the now-neglected developments that were the promise of FDR's New Deal. Akira Drake Rodriguez leads us through the story of how residents of public housing in Atlanta worked with, against and despite housing policy in their city.

Jan 31, 2023
Federal Courts: Muhammad Ali and the Draft

This episode is the culmination of our series on famous federal court trials in US history. 

In April of 1967, Muhammad Ali (formerly Cassius Clay) refused to step forward at a draft induction ceremony in Texas. His opposition to serving in Vietnam launched a sequence of trials and appeals that went all the way to the Supreme Court. It's a case about conscientious objection, protest, America's shifting views of the war, and how athletes have the unique role of "soldiers without a weapon."

This episode features Winston Bowman from the Federal Judicial Center, and Jeffrey Sammons from the NYU History Department. 

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Jan 24, 2023
The Last State To Hold Out Against Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Today Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is publicly revered across the nation, a symbol of civil and human rights worthy of a memorial holiday. Federal and state legislatures have agreed to honor this man. That agreement took awhile. The final state to acquiesce, New Hampshire, resisted the holiday until 1999. The story of that resistance reveals a public sentiment about King and the Black Freedom Struggle that is far from the reverence of today. This is the story of how a man becomes a national symbol, and the fight to make that so.

Jan 16, 2023
The Life of a Political Operative

Ever wonder what life is really like for those who work to support a politician’s career?  In September 2022, Hannah McCarthy sat down with Huma Abedin for a show called Writers on a New England Stage. This is an excerpt from their conversation. Huma discusses her memoir, Both/And, and describes what it's like to work alongside and advise a former First Lady, Secretary of State and presidential nominee. You can catch the whole conversation at

Jan 10, 2023
The Lavender Scare

You've probably heard about The Red Scare - the panic around the perceived threat of communism during the Cold War. But The Lavender Scare is lesser known. This was a time when the federal government investigated, persecuted and fired thousands of LGBTQ+ employees, calling them security risks and threats to the country. 

In this episode of Civics 101, we'll dive into the origin and timeline of the Lavender Scare, meet the man who pushed back and started a movement, and learn about the ripple effects we're still seeing today.


Historian Dr. Lillian Faderman,  author of Woman: The American History of an Idea

Professor David K. Johnson. His book, The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government, became the basis for a documentary film that was broadcast nationwide on PBS.

Support our work! Click here to make a donation to Civics 101 today.  

Jan 03, 2023
How the Government Makes a Holiday

How does something go from an annual tradition to a mandated day off? Who decides to make a holiday official? Today we're taking a look at everything from Christmas to National Walk Around Things Day, from our twelve official federal holidays to some day made up by a sock company. Our guides to the holiday season are Jeff Bensch, author of History of American Holidays, and JerriAnne Boggis, Executive Director of the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire.

Dec 27, 2022
Is Santa a Criminal?

Today we answer this question from a listener, "Is Santa a criminal?"

We get to the bottom of the myriad actions of the jolly old elf, and whether he could reasonably be tried for civil and criminal violations, including but not limited to trespassing, breaking and entering, voyeurism, stalking, surveillance, burglary, tax evasion, bad labor practices, emotional distress, and (in one instance) involuntary manslaughter.

Taking us through this complex web of charges is Colin Miller, professor at University of South Carolina School of Law. 

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Dec 20, 2022
The President & The 25th Amendment

When a monarch dies, power stays in the family. But what about a president? It was a tricky question that the founders left mostly to Congress to figure out later. Lana Ulrich, of the National Constitution Center, and Linda Monk, constitutional scholar and author of The Bill of Rights: A User's Guide, explain the informal rules that long governed the transition of presidential power, and the 25th Amendment, which outlines what should happen if a sitting president dies, resigns, or becomes unable to carry out their duties. 

Dec 13, 2022
Who gets to run for president?

What does the Constitution say about who is allowed to be president? And why is the answer to that question still a little unclear? 

Brady Carlson, host of All Things Considered at Wisconsin Public Radio and author of Dead Presidents.  explains the formal and informal rules that govern who is allowed to become Commander-in-Chief. 

Dec 06, 2022

Propaganda is a piece of information designed to make you think or do something specific. So how does it work?

Today on Civics 101, John Maxwell Hamilton (professor and author of Manipulating the Masses: Woodrow Wilson and the Birth of American Propaganda) and Jennifer Mercieca (professor and author of Demagogue for President: The Rhetorical Genius of Donald Trump) take us through the Federalist Papers, the Committee on Public Intelligence, the Four Minute Men, amygdala highjacking, and the myriad ways propagandists  take advantage of our best intentions to achieve a result. 

Nov 29, 2022
Post-Presidency Perks

What does a person get after the U.S. presidency’s over and done with? We answer a question from listener Patrick, who asks if former presidents get anything special. Do they ever, and we lay out the perks of having once held the highest office in the land.  

Please note: an earlier version of this episode stated that Harry Truman was the only living president at the passage of the 1958 Former Presidents Act. Former President Herbert Hoover was also still living at the time of the passage of this Act.

Nov 22, 2022
The White House Press Corps & The Press Secretary

The White House Press Corps  wasn't always such an organized bunch. In this episode, we'll dive into the history and evolution of reporters in the White House. Plus, the how the role of Press Secretary was created, how it's evolved, and how the relationship between POTUS and the press has shifted over the centuries. 


NPR's Scott Horsely and Mara Liasson

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Nov 15, 2022
Are We A Democracy? Or Are We A Republic?

There's a complaint we get pretty often around here, that our tagline contains the word "democracy," but the United States is *actually* a republic. we need to make a change? What did the framers think about democracy? How do we compare to Athens and Rome? And finally, how democratic are we anyways?


Juliet Hooker: Royce Professor, Teaching Excellence in Political Science at Brown University

Paul Frymer: Professor of Politics, Princeton University

Click here for our episode on where the 1965 Voting Rights Act stands today.

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Nov 08, 2022
American Myths Part Two: Progress

There are three American myths that define "Americanness." The frontier, the melting pot and the "self-made man." They're concepts that define how we are to think about transformation, progress and possibility in America. They also rarely hold up. Heike Paul, author of The Myths That Made America, is our guide to the stories we tell about how it is in this country (even when it isn't.)

Nov 01, 2022
American Myths Part One: Origins

In this episode we take a closer look at four well-worn stories: that of Christopher Columbus, Pocahontas, the Pilgrims and Puritans and the Founding Fathers and ask what is actually true. They're our foundational origin myths, but why? And since when? Author Heike Paul, author of The Myths That Made America, is our guide.

Nov 01, 2022
Host v Host: A Trivia Battle of Wits

Senior Producer Christina Phillips puts Nick and Hannah to the test in this trivia face off! Play along as our co-hosts prove their mettle (and also don't) and learn a little something while you're at it. Featuring Nick as Christopher Walken... with apologies to Mr. Walken.

Oct 25, 2022
Civics 101 Presents: Future Hindsight on the Asian American Vote

This is a featured conversation from Future Hindsight, a podcast with a simple premise: civic participation is essential to a functioning democracy. So how do we do it? In this episode, host Mila Atmos speaks with Sung Yeon Choimorrow,  the executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, about Asian American stereotypes, changing the narrative about who Asian-Americans are, and activating Asian communities to take civic action.

You can find so many more conversations that span the civic world at

Oct 18, 2022
Nina Totenberg Live On Stage

In September 2022, Hannah sat down with NPR Legal Affairs Correspondent for a show called Writers on a New England Stage. This is an excerpt from their conversation. Nina discusses her new book, Dinners with Ruth, focusing on her career as a journalist and her relationship with late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. You can catch the whole conversation at

Oct 11, 2022
Taking the Fifth: When What You Say Could Be Used Against You

The Fifth Amendment's self-incrimination clause says that no person "shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself." Basically, it means that the government, or law enforcement, can't force you to talk to implicate yourself in a crime. However, what that looks like in practice... is a little more messy.  When do you have a right to remain silent? When do you become a suspect? What does compulsion look like? Can your silence be used against you? 

We talk about how the Supreme Court has interpreted these questions, and how to exercise Fifth Amendment right when you are interacting with law enforcement, with Tracey Maclin, a professor of Constitutional law and Constitutional criminal procedure at the University of Florida's Levin School of Law, and Jorge Camacho, a clinical lecturer on law and policing at Yale University, where he is the policy director of the Yale Justice Collaboratory


Oct 04, 2022

From the Presidential Oath of Office to the Oath of Allegiance to sworn testimony, Americans take an awful lot of oaths. Today we explore the history of oaths in the US, the linguistic tinkering that's happened to oaths of office over the last few centuries and the repercussions of breaking an oath.

For anyone interested in a deeper dive into the Pledge of Allegiance and the American flag, as well as how statutes regarding them and your First Amendment rights have intermingled, check out our earlier episode here.

Also, we have trivia! 8 new questions each week tied to our most recent episode! Click here to test your civics knowhow. And for a more relaxed bit of quizzery, we have a daily worldle too. 

Sep 27, 2022
Federal Courts: The Trial of the Chicago 7

In 1968, a raucous Democratic nominating convention was overshadowed only by the shouts outside to end the war. This is the story of how eight different protestors from very different walks of life ended up before an increasingly indignant judge and walked away scot-free -- but not before putting on a good show. 

Our guests are Victor Goode of CUNCY School of Law, Jeet Heer, national affairs correspondent for The Nation and Jeanne Barr, history teacher at the Francis W. Parker School in Chicago.

Sep 20, 2022
How Powerful Is The President's Veto?

The presidential veto is a powerful tool, but just how powerful it is depends on political context, timing, and party alignment. We'll pull back the curtain on the origin of the veto, how it works, and discuss moments when vetoes have had a real impact on our history. And yes, we'll even find out what the deal is with that pen. 

Our guests are Dr. Gisela Sin of the University of Illinois, and Ken Kato, a former historian at the U.S. House of Representatives. 

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Sep 13, 2022
Disinformation and Misinformation

 In preparation for the upcoming midterms, we talk about lies. This is the true story of the fake world created in disinformation campaigns. The voting populace spreads it like there's no tomorrow, without ever knowing what's real. We tell you what it is and how to avoid it. Our guests today are Samantha Lai of the Brookings Institute and Peter Adams of the News Literacy Project.

If you believe in what we're doing (and think it's true!) consider donating. It really does speak your truth.

Sep 06, 2022
What's The Difference Between The House & The Senate?

The House and the Senate have mostly the same powers: they both propose and vote on bills that may become law. So why does the House have 435 members, and the Senate have 100? Why does legislation have to pass through both sides, and what kinds of power do each have individually? And finally: what role do you, as a voter, play in ensuring that Congress, and your Congressional delegation, is working in your best interests?


This episode features the opinions of former staffers from both chambers, Andrew Wilson and Justin LeBlanc,  former member of the CA assembly, Cheryl Cook-Kallio, CNN political analyst, Bakari Sellers, and the inimitable political science professor from Farleigh Dickinson, Dan Cassino.




Aug 30, 2022
Federal Courts: Espionage and the Rosenbergs

Since its passage after World War I, thousands of people have been investigated for violating the Espionage Act, including Julian Assange, Daniel Ellsberg, and Donald Trump. However, only two people have been executed for violating it during peacetime; Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. 

This episode features Anne Sebba, author of Ethel Rosenberg: A Cold War Tragedy, and Jake Kobrick, Associate Historian at the Federal Judicial Center. It explains the Espionage Act of 1917, the accusations against the Rosenbergs, the twists and turns of their trial, and their execution in 1953. 

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Aug 23, 2022
Everything You Need to Know About Midterms

Know your candidates and causes, find your polling place, have a plan! There are plenty of small steps you can take to be ready for the midterm election. But if you want to know what they're about and why they matter? Look and listen no further. Keith Hughes (with some help from Cheryl Cook-Kallio and Dan Cassino) tells us the five things you need to know about midterms. 

Aug 16, 2022
Federal Courts: Our First Treason Trial

Today we're opening our new series on famous trials in the Federal Courts. In this case, United States v Burr, the judge and jury had to decide whether to convict former VP Aaron Burr for the crime of treason.

Taking us on the journey are Christine Lamberson, Director of History at the Federal Judicial Center, and Nancy Isenberg, professor at LSU and author of Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr.  

This trial has everything. Washington Irving, epaulets, a subpoenaed president, and a letter hidden in a shoe.

Aug 09, 2022
What is the National Debt?

Since our nation's founding, the federal government has borrowed money from other governments, private investors, and businesses in order to operate. Over the last century, the debt ceiling, a Congressional cap on how much debt we can have, keeps getting higher and higher. We talk about how the national debt works, how it's been used as political leverage, and how that impacts the health of our economy. 

Louise Sheiner, senior economics fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Michael Dorf, Constitutional law professor at Cornell Law, help us make sense of trillions of dollars in debt. 


Aug 02, 2022
How to Vote

Voting in America is not always straightforward, nor is its impact always clear. In this episode, we give you the basic tools to vote on Election Day, including tips for avoiding the roadblocks.

And for those of you on the fence about exercising that enfranchisement, a word to the wise: your vote matters. 


Kim Wehle, professor of law at the University of Baltimore School of Law 

Andrea Hailey, CEO of


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Jul 26, 2022
Why You Should Vote (Even When They Don't Want You To)

The United States is a representative democracy. The idea is that we’re a government "by the people" (we vote officials into office) and "for the people" (the officials in office are supposed to represent our interests). But it’s not so straightforward around here. 

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When you take that golden idea and add restrictive voter laws, billions of dollars, and a whacky electoral system,  representation takes on a whole different hue. should vote anyway. This episode explains why. 


Nazita Lajevardi, assistant professor, political scientist, lawyer. Lajevardi teaches at Michigan State University

Kim Wehle, professor of law at the University of Baltimore School of Law 

Andrea Hailey, CEO of


Jul 26, 2022
The Declaration Does Not Apply

A few years ago, Civics 101 did a series revisiting the Declaration of Independence, and three groups for which the tenants of life, liberty, and property enshrined in that document did not apply. We bring you all three parts of that series today, and hear from legal and historical scholars about how Black Americans, Indigenous peoples, and women were excluded from our founding document, and how they responded. 


Find the series page here. 

Part 1: Byron Williams, author of The Radical Declaration, walks us through how enslaved Americans and Black Americans pushed against the document from the very beginning of our nation’s founding.

Part 2: Writer and activist Mark Charles lays out the anti-Native American sentiments within it, the doctrines and proclamations from before 1776 that justified ‘discovery,’ and the Supreme Court decisions that continue to cite them all.

Part 3: Laura Free,  host of the podcast Amended and professor at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, tells us about the Declaration of Sentiments, the document at the heart of the women’s suffrage movement.

Jul 19, 2022
The 1965 Voting Rights Act

It came after decades of discrimination, violence and disenfranchisement -- President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act in 1965, "an Act to enforce the fifteenth amendment to the Constitution of the United States." That Act worked. In the decades since, though, states and the Supreme Court have changed what that Act means and can do.

Our guides to this sweeping legislation are Sonni Waknin of the UCLA Voting Rights Project and Gary May, author of Bending Towards Justice: The Voting Rights Act and the Transformation of American Democracy.

Jul 12, 2022
The 4th of July Myth (and Other Patriotic Trivia)

Today, after one of the busiest civics-related news weeks in history, we take a break to talk about some of the history and ephemera tied to Independence Day. We talk about dates, names, songs, food, and explosions in the sky.

Here are some links to episodes tied to the 4th:

Declaration of Independence

Declaration Revisited

IRL2: The Flag and the Pledge

Throughline's episode on Becoming America

Jul 04, 2022
The National Park Service

The National Park Service has changed immensely since its days of keeping poachers out of Yellowstone. So has its approach to telling the story of America. 

Kirsten Talken-Spaulding of the NPS and Will Shafroth of the National Parks Foundation help us understand how this colossal system actually works and what it's doing to tell the true story of the United States.

Jun 28, 2022
M, F & X: Gender Markers & Government Documents

The government issues IDs so we can prove who we say we are, and since the start, that’s included an expression of binary (male or female) gender. Now, some states - and even the federal government - are starting to change that.  

LGBTQ+ reporter Kate Sosin is our guide.

Jun 21, 2022
What Does The 2nd Amendment Say?

27 words which have been interpreted and reinterpreted by historians, activists, judges, and philosophers. What did the 2nd Amendment mean when it was written? What does it mean right now? And what happened in between?

Today's episode features Saul Cornell, professor of history at Fordham University and author of A Well Regulated Militia, Alexandra Filindra, professor of political science at University of Illinois Chicago and author of the upcoming Race, Rights, and Rifles, and Jake Charles, lecturing fellow and executive director of the Center for Firearms Law at Duke Law. 


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Jun 14, 2022
Precedent and the Leaked Draft SCOTUS Opinion

A leaked draft opinion in a Supreme Court case about abortion reveals that a majority of the justices were, at the time of this draft's release, in favor of overturning the precedent set in Roe v Wade that protected abortion access. 

In our recent episode on judicial precedent, we talked about how the Supreme Court interprets the law, and how precedent gives that interpretation power, ensuring the law is applied equally to everyone. We also talked about how and why the Supreme Court might reconsider, modify, or overturn its own precedent. In this episode, we look at how the draft opinion treats precedent, and how that differs from the way the Supreme Court has treated precedent in the past, including in decisions about abortion. And we talk about the impact this could have, should this draft opinion become final, both on the Supreme Court, and on society. 

We talk to Nina Varsava, a law professor at University of Wisconsin, Madison who studies judicial precedent, and wrote the article, "Precedent on Precedent," and Rachel Rebouche, a law professor at Temple University who specializes in family law, health care law, and comparative family law, and has written about the potential impact of overturning Roe v Wade

PS, want to score a cool new Civics 101 sticker and a $500 Airbnb gift card? Donate to the show! You'll support us and maybe you can go rent an idyllic cabin in Norway.

Jun 10, 2022
Precedent and the Supreme Court

When the Supreme Court decides how the law, and the Constitution, should be interpreted in a case, that interpretation becomes a precedent. Once that judicial precedent has been set, it's understood that the interpretation and its reasoning should be applied to similar cases in the future. So why might the Supreme Court reconsider its own precedent? And what happens when a precedent is modified, or overruled? 

We talk to Nina Varsava, a law professor at University of Wisconsin, Madison who studies judicial precedent, and wrote the article, "Precedent on Precedent," and Rachel Rebouche, a law professor at Temple University who specializes in family law, health care law, and comparative family law, and has written about the potential impact of overturning Roe v Wade

PS, want to score a cool new Civics 101 sticker and a $500 Airbnb gift card? Donate to the show! You'll support us and maybe you can go rent an idyllic cabin in Norway.

Jun 07, 2022
Update: Happy the Elephant is Not a Person

Civics 101 teamed up with the Outside/In podcast to bring you the story of Happy, an Asian elephant living in the Bronx Zoo.

Lawyers had petitioned the New York State Court of Appeals for a writ of Habeas Corpus; a legal maneuver that could have freed Happy and set a new precedent for animal rights. But in a ruling out mid-June 2022, the court decided: Happy isn’t going anywhere.  

In this quick update to our previous episode (listen here if you haven’t already)  Hannah debriefs with Outside/In host Nate Hegyi on the 5-2 split decision, and what it means for the future of animal rights. 

Jun 03, 2022
Should Animals Have Human Rights?

Happy has lived in New York City’s Bronx Zoo for years. To visitors, she’s a lone Asian elephant. But to a team of animal rights lawyers, she’s a prisoner. 

They’ve petitioned state courts for a writ of Habeas Corpus; a legal maneuver that, if granted, would declare Happy a legal person who deserves to be freed. It’s the latest case in an ongoing fight to extend basic human rights to animals – one that could have big repercussions in the natural world. 

Because this is a case that deals with animals AND the law, two podcasts from New Hampshire Public Radio have teamed up to take it on: Outside/In and Civics 101. We always hear about the animal rights movement… but what rights do animals actually have? 

Featuring: Maneesha Deckha and Kevin Schneider

Jun 02, 2022
Quick Update

Our episodes come out on Tuesday, but this week is different. Special crossover Civics 101 and Outside/In episode coming out on Thursday, take your trunk and mark your calendar!

Support our mission to explain how the government works here.

May 31, 2022
District, Circuit, Supreme: How does the federal court system work?

The federal judiciary system has three steps: district court, circuit court, and the Supreme Court, and despite what you see on screen, many cases do not end with that first courtroom verdict. This is how the federal judiciary system works, what makes a case worthy of consideration by the Supreme Court, and what happens when case lands in front of SCOTUS. We talked with Erin Corcoran,  Executive Director for the Kroc Institute of International Peace Studies, and Behzad Mirhashem, Assistant Federal Public Defender in New Hampshire and professor of law at UNH Law. 


Listen to our breakdown of Tinker v Des Moines in IRL1: Free Speech in Schools. 

May 24, 2022
Freedom of the Press, Part 2

A free press, ideally, learns what is happening in our democracy and passes that information on to us. How, then, do we learn the truth about this country when there’s so much misinformation, so many opinions, claims of fake news and widespread mistrust of the truth?

Joining us again for part 2 are Melissa Wasser and Erin Coyle.

This episode first aired in October of 2020.

May 17, 2022
Freedom of the Press, Part 1

The only working-class job enshrined in the Bill of Rights, a free press is essential to the health of the democracy. The citizens deserve to know what’s going on, so the framers made sure that news could be printed and information disseminated. But how does the press actually do that? Are they upholding their end of the bargain? What does the best version of the press and the news look like?

Helping us report this one out are Melissa Wasser, Michael Luo and Erin Coyle.

This episode originally aired in September of 2020.

May 17, 2022
The Shadow Docket

The blocking of a majority-Black congressional district in Alabama. OSHA regulations requiring vaccinations or a negative COVID test result. A law in Texas banning abortions after six weeks. All of these controversial issues were decided not through the tried-and-true method of a hearing in the Supreme Court, but rather through a system called "the shadow docket," orders from the court that  are (often) unsigned, inscrutable, and handed down in the middle of the night. Professor Stephen Vladeck takes us through this increasingly common phenomenon.

May 10, 2022
Roe v Wade: Facts of the Case

This is an episode about a case, a couple of cases in fact, that no longer carry the force of Constitutional law. This episode was made when the essential holding of Roe v Wade still stood. That is no longer the case. It’s a rare occurrence for the Supreme Court to overturn a decision outright, especially a landmark decision, but that is indeed what happened on Friday, June 24th shortly after 10 AM, 2022.

Listen to this episode to get an understanding of why Roe and Casey happened in the first place. But know that decisions about abortion access are now the providence of your state.

May 03, 2022
The First National Park

The land had been cultivated and lived on for millennia when geologist Ferdinand Hayden came upon the astounding Yellowstone "wilderness." It wasn't long before the federal government declared it a national park, to be preserved in perpetuity for the enjoyment of all. Ostensibly. How did Yellowstone go from being an important home, hunting ground, thoroughfare and meeting place to being a park? 

Megan Kate Nelson, author of Saving Yellowstone, Mark David Spence, author of Dispossessing the Wilderness and Alexandra E. Stern, historian of Native peoples and Reconstruction are our guides to this rocky start. 

Apr 26, 2022
What is NATO?

In the years after World War II, twelve countries in North America and Europe got together to form an alliance. This alliance, known as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, would build up the collective military and security strength of every country involved - so an attack on one country would mean an attack on them all. How does a security alliance between dozens of countries with different governments, interests, and military power, even work?  What role does NATO play in international war and peace today? 

Helping us answer those questions are Marla Keenan,  an adjunct senior fellow at the Stimson Center, focusing on international security, including human rights in armed conflict, and the protection of civilians, and Rachel Rizzo,  a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Europe Center whose research focuses on European security, NATO, and the transatlantic relationship.

Apr 19, 2022
Citizens United v FEC

Today we explain one of the most controversial Supreme Court decisions in modern history; the case that defined campaign donations as speech and therefore protected under the First Amendment, regardless of who made them. This episode explains the history of the case, PACs, Super PACs, the ruling, the effect of the decision on our campaign system, as well as some common misconceptions. 

Our guides through the case are Professor Jeff Bone from Saint Joseph's University, Maggie Severns from Grid, and Professor Hye Young You from New York University. 

Apr 12, 2022
US vs: Constitutions

The United States Constitution gets a lot of credit for being the first of its kind. The progenitor of democratic constitution making. The spark that started a global fire. Is that the long and short of it, or is there more to the story? 

Linda Colley, author of The Gun, The Ship and the Pen, weaves a longer, more complex narrative in this episode. We explore why constitutions (governmental limits, citizens rights and all) became necessary and who put pen to paper before 1787. 

Apr 05, 2022
Why Is The Senate Parliamentarian So Powerful?

Since 1935, the Senate has had a parliamentarian. Their job is to decide, in a truly nonpartisan way, how things operate in the chamber. Their power to decide what can and cannot be done when it comes to legislation, filibustering, motions, and points of order has grown ever since. 

Today, learn about this complicated and often-unseen role from Sarah Binder, professor at George Washington University, and a person who spent over thirty years in the office, former Senate Parliamentarian Alan Frumin.

Mar 29, 2022
The Constitution and the Bill of Rights

Long before we could decide and insist upon what they mean to us, a handful of powerful men had to put pen to paper. We're revisiting two episodes from our Foundational Documents series: The Constitution and The Bill of Rights. This is the story of how these now-indispensable documents came to be during a time when independence and unity was new and highly vulnerable.

Our understanding and interpretation of these documents has grown and changed in the hundreds of years since they were ratified and in the three years since these episodes were released. Take some time to get reacquainted. Understanding how and why we work is a lifelong practice here at Civics 101.

Mar 22, 2022
Election Security

Be it suspicion of voter fraud, fear of hackers or the general belief that something is amiss, legislators across the country have passed election laws designed to make our elections more secure. Those very same laws are widely criticized for making voting less accessible, especially to certain voting groups. So how insecure are our elections? What do election security laws really do? What is the best way to feel better about the state of elections in this country?

Our guests are Jessica Huseman, Editorial Director of Votebeat  and Justin Levitt, constitutional law professor and newly appointed White House Senior Policy Advisor for Democracy and Voting Rights.

Mar 15, 2022
Why You Should Care About the Federal Reserve

Look up a definition of the Federal Reserve, and you'll see things like "central bank," "monetary policy," and "regulation and stabilization of the financial system." But what does it mean to have a national bank, and how does this government agency impact your ability to have a job, earn and borrow money,  and afford things like groceries, rent, and pet food? 

In this episode, we'll explain how the Federal Reserve came to be, how it works, and how the actions the Fed takes influence our economy. Our guest is Louise Sheiner, policy director at the Brookings Institution's Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy. She spoke with Civics 101 in 2017. 

Want to learn more about the financial crisis of 2008? Here's some of our favorite resources: 

PBS has a list of documentaries about the crisis. Christina loved "Inside the Meltdown" from Frontline. 

"The Giant Pool of Money," from This American Life explores the housing crisis. 

Marketplace has a series of reports on the Great Recession, including its continuing impacts on today's economy. 

Mar 08, 2022
When the Supreme Court Got It Wrong: Civil Rights and Dred Scott

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.  

This episode is a broadcast special that aired across the nation on NPR, and is two parts: our episode on how the Supreme Court works, and part one of our series on landmark civil rights cases: Dred Scott v Sandford. 

Mar 01, 2022
How Realistic is National Treasure?

In the latest edition of our special series Civics at the Movies, we talk about the National Archives and how they're portrayed in the iconic film National Treasure. Is there really a map on the back of the Declaration of Independence? Is the security at the Archives really so high-tech? (Spoiler alert: no, and no.)

Our guest is  Jessie Kratz, historian at the National Archives and friend of the show.

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Feb 24, 2022
What are Committees?

90% of proposed bills die in committee. What happens in there?? 

Today's episode consists of two parts. First, the Schoolhouse Rock definition of congressional committees (what they do and why we have them) and second, an exploration of money, power, lobbying, and a secret point system for deciding who gets to be on one.  

This episode features the voices of Dan Cassino, Professor of Political Science at Farleigh Dickinson University and Leah Rosenstiel, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Vanderbilt University. 

Feb 22, 2022
Who Writes the President's Speeches?

The modern presidency includes giving upwards of 400 speeches a year. How does the president find time to do it? They don't. That's where the speechwriters come in. This is how the (ideally) inspiring, comforting, clarifying sausage gets made and former Barack Obama senior speechwriter Sarada Peri is giving us a peek behind the curtain. 

Feb 15, 2022
How Does Security Clearance Work?

From "top secret," like the names and locations of intelligence agents,  to "confidential," like the drinking habits of a prime minister, the federal government has a lot of sensitive information. What are the different levels of security clearance, and how does it all work?

Helping us untangle this web is Juliette Kayyem, professor of international security at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and national security analyst for CNN. She formerly served as Assistant Secretary for Intergovernmental Affairs at the Department of Homeland Security under President Obama. 

Feb 08, 2022
The President and the Price of Gas

When this episode was recorded, gasoline prices in the US averaged $3.28 a gallon. Stickers of President Biden saying "I did that" decorated gas pumps across the country. What handles, if any, does a president have to lower the price of gas? How responsible are they for high prices? 

Today we get to the bottom of the oil barrel with two specialists; Robert Rapier from Proteum Energy and Irina Ivanova from CBS News. They guide us through an economic, scientific, and historical analysis of the powers of the chief executive, from the 70s to now, to control the price of gasoline. 

Feb 01, 2022
The Politics Of The Olympics

The Olympics are a global event. They take years of planning, negotiation and convincing -- not to mention billions of dollars -- to stage. This is how the games are used by the United States and others around the world. This is what it takes to host, what the games do for  a nation and what it means when you refuse to attend. Welcome to the Olympics. 

Our guests for this episode are Jules Boykoff, professor of government and politics at Pacific University and author of several books on the politics of the Olympics, and Nancy Qian, Professor of Managerial Economics & Decision Sciences at Northwestern University.

Jan 26, 2022

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!

Jan 18, 2022
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.

Jan 11, 2022
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.

Jan 04, 2022
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. 

Dec 28, 2021
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!

Dec 21, 2021
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.

Dec 14, 2021
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)

Dec 09, 2021
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. 

Dec 07, 2021
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!

Nov 30, 2021

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.

Nov 23, 2021

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!

Nov 16, 2021
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!

Nov 02, 2021
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.

Oct 19, 2021
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.

Oct 05, 2021
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.

Sep 08, 2021
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.

Aug 24, 2021
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.

Aug 10, 2021
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.

Jul 27, 2021
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.

Jul 13, 2021
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.

Jun 29, 2021
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.

Jun 15, 2021
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.

Jun 01, 2021
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.

May 18, 2021
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,

May 04, 2021
The Chinese Exclusion Act

Between 1882 and 1965, a huge percentage of would-be Chinese immigrants were excluded from the United States. This is the story of how the U.S. came to exclude Chinese workers from immigration and Chinese immigrants from citizenship, the multi-generational reverberations of this practice and its extension to nearly all Asians and Pacific Islanders.

Jack Tchen of Rutgers University and Jane Hong of Occidental College are our guides to the Chinese Exclusion Act.

Apr 20, 2021
Right to Privacy: Roe v Wade

This episode has been updated as of July, 2022. Roe was overruled on June 24th, 2022 shortly after 10 AM. Listen to this episode to get an understanding of why Roe and Casey happened in the first place. But know that decisions about abortion access are now the providence of your state

Mention of Roe versus Wade can silence conversation or incite heated debate. Your opinion of the case can define your politics. Ever since its ruling in 1973, we have told a story about Roe v Wade. But what are the actual facts of the case and what of that infamous opinion still stands today? Renee Cramer of Drake University and Mary Ziegler of Florida State University find the facts in the moral fable.

Apr 06, 2021
Right to Privacy: New Jersey v T.L.O.

Today we travel to the spring of 1980, where the Carter-Reagan campaigns take a back seat to an act of disobedience committed by a 14-year-old girl in Piscataway, New Jersey. The highest court in the land has to decide, how are your 4th Amendment protections different when you happen to be a student?

This episode features the voices of Professor Tracey Maclin from Boston University School of Law and Professor Sarah Seo from Columbia Law School.

Mar 23, 2021
Right to Privacy: Griswold v Connecticut

Despite the fact that they were written in the late 19th century, morality laws were still on the books in the United States in 1965. In Connecticut, one such law prohibited the discussion, prescription and distribution of contraception. After years of trying to get the courts to scrub this law from the books, medical providers had to find a way to get the question before the highest court in the land. It wouldn’t be easy, but in the end the case would transform our notion of privacy and the role of the Supreme Court when it comes to public law.

Renee Cramer of Drake University and Elizabeth Lane of Louisiana State are our guides.

Mar 09, 2021
Right to Privacy: Mapp v Ohio

In 1957, three police officers showed up at the home of Dollree Mapp and demanded to be let in. They had no warrant. Ms. Mapp refused. This landmark case about privacy and unlawful search and seizure defines our protections under the 4th Amendment today.

This episode features Vince Warren, Executive Director for the Center for Constitutional Rights, and Boston University Law professor Tracey Maclin.

Feb 23, 2021
Electoral College Addendum

Today we’re revisiting one of the most requested and controversial topics from Civics 101; the electoral college. High School social studies teacher Neal Walter Young talks about some of the points he debates with his class when they dissect how we vote for the people who vote for the president.

Feb 09, 2021
Insurrection, Protest, Terrorism, Sedition, Coup

When it comes to discussing the events at the Capitol building on January 6, teachers have risen to the challenge. Meredith Baker, who teaches social studies in Virginia, suggested the first step should be defining five very charged terms. And that’s what we do today.

Jan 22, 2021
Ask Civics 101: The 25th Amendment

Members of Congress from both parties have requested that the Vice President invoke the 25th Amendment to remove President Trump from office. Today we explore all four parts of this relatively new amendment with constitutional scholar and author of The Bill of Rights: A Users Guide, Linda Monk.

Support our continued constitutional dives with a donation today.

Jan 08, 2021
The Election

What actually happens on the day of the election and in those that follow? Where did your ballot go and how is it being counted? Who keeps our election secure? This is the how and when of vote-counting in an American election, and what you need to know about Election Night 2020.

Our guides are New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, Casey McDermott, Miles Parks and Matt Lamb.

Oct 27, 2020
Freedom of the Press: Part 2

A free press, ideally, learns what is happening in our democracy and passes that information on to us. How, then, do we learn the truth about this country when there’s so much misinformation, so many opinions, claims of fake news and widespread mistrust of the truth? Joining us again are Melissa Wasser and Erin Coyle.

Oct 20, 2020
Presidential Debates

Today we’re exploring the relatively recent phenomenon of Presidential Debates. How are they run? When did we start doing them? Why was George HW Bush looking at his watch?? And most importantly, why should we keep doing them?

Our experts in this episode are debate scholar Alan Schroeder, and Executive Director of the Commission on Presidential Debates, Janet Brown.

If you enjoy political ephemera and deeper dives in our episode topics, subscribe to our newsletter Extra Credit.

Oct 06, 2020
Freedom of the Press: Part 1

The only working-class job enshrined in the Bill of Rights, a free press is essential to the health of the democracy. The citizens deserve to know what’s going on, so the framers made sure that news could be printed and information disseminated. But how does the press actually do that? Are they upholding their end of the bargain? What does the best version of the press and the news look like?

Sep 22, 2020
Declaration Revisited: The Declaration of Sentiments

The Declaration of Independence called George III a tyrant. And in 1848, a group of women’s rights activists mirrored our founding document to accuse men of the same crime. Today in our final revisit to the Declaration of Independence, we explore the Declaration of Sentiments, the document at the heart of the women’s suffrage movement.

Our guest is Laura Free, host of the podcast Amended and professor at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.

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Sep 08, 2020
Birthright Citizenship: US v Wong Kim Ark

Most of us know about birthright citizenship, but not many people have ever heard of Wong Kim Ark and the landmark Supreme Court decision that decided both his fate and the fate of a U.S. immigration policy that endures to this day.

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Aug 25, 2020
The Declaration Revisited: Native Americans

Today is our second revisit to the document that made us a nation. Writer, activist, and Independent presidential candidate Mark Charles lays out the anti-Native American sentiments within it, the doctrines and proclamations from before 1776 that justified ‘discovery,’ and the Supreme Court decisions that continue to cite them all.

Aug 11, 2020
The Declaration Revisited: Black Americans

Today is the first of three revisits to the Declaration of Independence; three communities to which the tenets of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness did not apply.

Byron Williams, author of The Radical Declaration, walks us through how enslaved Americans and Black Americans pushed against the document from the very beginning of our nation’s founding.

Jul 28, 2020
Civic Action: Voting, Part 2

Voting in America is not always straightforward, nor is its impact always clear. In this episode, we give you the basic tools to vote on election day, including tips for avoiding the roadblocks. And for those of you on the fence about exercising that enfranchisement, a word to the wise: your vote matters. We’ll tell you why.

Jul 14, 2020
Civic Action: Voting, Part 1

The United States is a representative democracy. The idea is that we’re a government by the people (we vote officials into office) and for the people (the officials in office are supposed to represent our interests). But it’s not so straight forward around here. Take that golden idea and add restrictive voter laws, billions of dollars and a whacky electoral system, and representation takes on a whole different hue.

Jul 02, 2020
Posse Comitatus

The Posse Comitatus Act was passed in 1878 as the Reconstruction drew to a close and troops were pulled out of the southeastern United States. The idea was to prevent the military from enforcing laws. After all, that’s what law enforcement is for — state and local police forces are the ones deputized to do that work. But what does it mean when the police use military gear and tactics to enforce that law? Ashley Farmer, Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice Sciences at Illinois State University breaks it down.

Jun 16, 2020
Civic Action: Protest

What is protest, constitutionally? Historically? What is protected, and what is not? And what do you have to know before you grab a sign and go outside? Today we explore the long scope of public dissent from the Boston Tea Party to the current #blacklivesmatter protests.

Our guests are Alvin Tillery from Northwestern University, and Bakari Sellers, CNN commentator and author of the recent book My Vanishing Country.

Jun 09, 2020
The United States Postal Service

It’s the government on your doorstep — the only Executive Branch agency that visits every home in the country on a regular basis. So how does the USPS do it? And what happens when an agency this essential is in trouble? Our guests for this episode are Allison Marsh, history professor at the University of South Carolina and Kevin Kosar, a Vice President at R Street.

May 19, 2020
AP US Government Prepisode

Starting next week, millions of American students are going to be taking their Advanced Placement exams from home. One of those is AP US Government and Politics. This exam is usually taken at school, but this year students are going to take a significantly modified test from home.

We talked to three teachers to find out what is taught in the course, the nine foundational documents that students are expected to know, and myriad tips and tricks for taking the exam.

May 08, 2020
Emergency Powers of the Governor

All fifty states and many tribes in the nation have issued emergency or major disaster declarations in the past weeks. State governors have been issuing orders, offering condolences and rallying cries and clashing with mayors and the President as they navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and attempt to keep their citizens and their economies safe. So what are a governor’s emergency powers? State and local government reporter Alan Greenblatt leads us through the how and why of those powers, and what they mean for the future.

Apr 14, 2020
19th Amendment: Part 2

The Nineteenth Amendment was first introduced to Congress in 1878. It took over four decades of pleas, protests, petitions and speeches to finally get it ratified. We’re told that the Nineteenth granted all women the right to vote in America — but this was not the case in practice. How did the divides in the suffrage movement define the fight for women’s enfranchisement? And how did that amendment finally get passed? With a stern note from someone’s mom.

Apr 07, 2020
19th Amendment: Part 1

The prominent figures and events of the women’s suffrage movement of the 19th and 20th centuries can feel almost mythical at times. That’s in part because they are, in fact, myths. The telling of the Nineteenth Amendment tends to stretch from a convention in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848 to the amendment’s ratification in 1920, but the true story is a much longer one. We explore the myths and unveil the realities in part one of two episodes on the Nineteenth Amendment.

Mar 24, 2020

What do these green rectangles even mean? When did we start using them? And why are we talking so much about the peso? Today it’s the history of American money, from silver certificates to a greenback dollar. Featuring the voices of Stephen Mihm, Ellen Feingold, and Todd Martin.

Mar 10, 2020

What prevents someone from affiliating with a political party? What is the ideology of an independent? And how can these voters exist in a two party system?

Walking us through the world of the party outsiders is political scientist Samara Klar, head of, Jacqueline Salit and president of New Hampshire Independent Voters, Tiani Coleman.

Feb 26, 2020
The Republican Party

What role did slavery play in the formation of the Republican Party? How did a scrappy third party coalition create what became known as the Grand Old Party? And how did the party of Lincoln become the party of Trump?

Taking us on the journey from 1854 Wisconsin to the present day Republican party is author George Will and political scientists Keneshia Grant, Kathryn Depalo-Gould and William Adler.

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Jan 28, 2020
The Democratic Party

How did the Democratic party become "blue?" Why were they initially called Republicans? And most importantly, how did the party that supported slavery become the party that nominated our first African-American president? Taking us on the long winding path from the origin of the party to the modern-day Democrat is author Heather Wagner, political scientist Keneshia Grant, and historian Paddy Riley.

Jan 14, 2020
Third Parties

When it comes to federal elections, third party candidates are almost assured a defeat. And yet the Libertarian Party, the Green Party, the Reform Party -- these underdogs always appear on the scene ready for a fight. So why run if you're not going to win? What do third parties do to American politics? Our mediators for this one are Marjorie Hershey, Professor of Political Science Emerita at Indiana University and Geoffrey Skelley, Elections Analyst at FiveThirtyEight.

Dec 18, 2019
Becoming a U.S. Citizen

The first step, the step that really matters in becoming a U.S. citizen, is becoming a permanent resident. Once you have that Green Card in hand, this country is your oyster. Become a citizen, don't become a citizen -- either way, you get to stay for as long as you like. We hear a lot about the legal path to citizenship, but what does that path actually look like? And why is it so much longer for some than for others? Has it always been like this?

Lighting the way in this episode are Allan Wernick, CUNY professor and Director of Citizenship Now, Mae Ngai, history professor at Columbia University and Margaret Chin, sociology professor at Hunter College.

Dec 03, 2019

It's just a survey; a handful of questions that get issued to every household in the country every ten years. So how does a countrywide headcount end up being at the core of power and money distribution in the U.S.? And why does it matter if you fill it out?

Walking us through the people, money and power at the heart of the census are national NPR correspondent Hansi Lo Wang and Chief Historian of the U.S. Census Bureau Sharon Tosi Lacey.

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Nov 19, 2019
Electoral College

When we vote for a president, we're not really voting for a president.

Today in our episode on the Electoral College, we explore the rationale of the framers in creating it, its workings, its celebrations, its critiques, and its potential future.

This episode features the voices of Northwestern Professor of political science Alvin Tillery, University of Texas Professor of political science Rebecca Deen, and former 'faithless elector' Christopher Suprun.

Nov 05, 2019

The primaries are over, the caucusing has closed, the results are in. Now it's time to party. Nominating conventions are, by and large, a chance for political elites to get together, network and celebrate. The American public has picked a presidential candidate and the convention is there to give it all some pomp and circumstance. But what are all those fancy folk up to in that convention center? And what happens if there is no clear winner after primary season is over?

Taking us out onto the convention floor are Domenico Montanaro (NPR Political Correspondent), Alvin Tillery (Northwestern University), Bruce Stinebrickner (Depauw University) and Tammy Vigil (Boston University).

Oct 22, 2019

We have never actually fired the President of the United States. But we sure have tried. It’s the biggest job in the country, so the road to termination is a long and fraught.  What happens after Congress initiates the process?

What is impeachment? How does the process play out?

Our brilliant friends Linda Monk (the Constitution Lady), Frank Bowman (author of High Crimes and Misdemeanors) and Dan Cassino (Political Science Professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University) are our guides to the Big Show.

Oct 08, 2019
Primaries and Caucuses

It's one of the most democratic aspects of our nation, not to mention extremely recent. In this episode we explore the snarled history of how we select party nominees; from delegates to superdelegates, and from gymnasiums in Iowa to booths in New Hampshire.

This episode features political scientists Bruce Stinebrickner (DePauw University) and Alvin Tillery (Northwestern University), NPR's Domenico Montanarro, Iowa Public Radio's Kate Payne, and Lauren Chooljian from NHPR.

Sep 24, 2019
How to Run for President

The job description is pretty sparse, the laws are convoluted and the path from A to Z seems fraught with peril. So how does a person go from candidate to nominee to Leader of the Free World? We asked some heavy hitters for the inside scoop on running for President. 

Settle in for a long and strange ride with Former Governor and Democratic nominee for President, Michael Dukakis, CNN political analyst Bakari Sellers and founding partner of Purple Strategies, Mark Squier.

Sep 10, 2019
Starter Kit: How A Bill (really) Becomes a Law

We at Civics 101 adore Schoolhouse Rock and that sad little scrap of paper on the steps of the Capitol. But today we try to finish what they started, by diving into the messy, partisan, labyrinthine process of modern-day legislation.

This episode features the voices of Andy Wilson, Adia Samba-Quee, Alizah Ross, and Eleanor Powell. 

Aug 06, 2019
Starter Kit: Federalism

A tug of war, a balancing act, two dancers dragging each other across the floor. This is the perpetual ebb and flow of power between the states and the federal government. How can things be legal in a state but illegal nationally? Are states obstinate barricades to federal legislation? Or are they laboratories of democracy?

Today's episode features Lisa Manheim, Associate Professor of Law at the University of Washington School of Law and co-author of The Limits of Presidential Power, and Dave Robertson, Chair of the Political Science department at the University of Missouri St.Louis.

Jul 30, 2019
Starter Kit: Judicial Branch

The Supreme Court, considered by some to be the most powerful branch, had humble beginnings. How did it stop being, in the words of Alexander Hamilton, "next to nothing?" Do politics affect the court's decisions? And how do cases even get there?

This episode features Larry Robbins, lawyer and eighteen-time advocate in the Supreme Court, and Kathryn DePalo, professor at Florida International University and past president of the Florida Political Science Association.

Jul 23, 2019
Starter Kit: Legislative Branch

There are 535 people who meet in the hallowed halls of Capitol Hill. They go in, legislation comes out. You can watch the machinations of the House and Senate chambers on C-SPAN, you can read their bills online. But what are the rules of engagement? Where does your Senator go every day, and what do they do? What does it mean to represent the American people?

Our guides to the U.S. Legislative branch are Congressman Chris Pappas, Eleanor Powell, Stefani Langehennig and Emmitt Riley.

Jul 16, 2019
Starter Kit: Executive Branch

In this episode of our Starter Kit series, a primer on the powers of the President, both constitutional and extra-constitutional. Also, a super inefficient mnemonic device to remember the 15 executive departments in the order of their creation.

Featuring the voices of Lisa Manheim, professor at UW School of Law and co-author of The Limits of Presidential Power, and Kathryn DePalo, professor at Florida International University and past president of the Florida Political Science Association. 

Jul 09, 2019
Starter Kit: Checks and Balances

We exist in a delicate balance. Ours is a system designed to counterweight itself, to stave off the power grabs that entice even the fairest of us all. The U.S. government is comprised of humans, not angels, so each branch has the power to stop the other from going to far. The only catch being, of course, they have to actually exercise that power.

In this episode, with the inimitable Kim Wehle as our guide, we learn what those checks actually are, and how the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches (ostensibly) keep things democratic. 

Jul 02, 2019
Life Stages: Death

It's also the final episode of our Life Stages series, and its euphemism-free. We speak to a doctors, lawyers, professors, and funeral professionals about the rules of death; pronouncing, declaring, burying, cremating, willing, trusting, canceling, donating.

Featuring the voices of Dan Cassino, Ken Iserson, Leah Plunkett, Mandy Stafford, and Taelor Johnson. 

May 14, 2019
Life Stages: Retirement

The prospect of retirement -- of leaving the work force, aging, confronting a new body and a new way of life -- is peppered with concepts and requirements so unwieldy they can make your brain turn off. So how do we make retirement prep easier? Shed the dread and face the future armed with a plan? Our guides to the next stage of life are Bart Astor, Tom Margenau and Cristina Martin Firvida. 

May 07, 2019
Life Stages: Marriage

Today, what does it really mean to be married? Divorced? What changes in the law's eyes?  What do you have to do? And, most importantly, how and why has the government decided who is allowed to marry whom?

And while we're at it, what does love, Pocahontas, or a credit card application have to do with any of this?

Today's episode features the voices of Stephanie Coontz, Kori Graves, Dan Cassino, Leah Plunkett, and dozens of County Clerks. 

Apr 30, 2019
Life Stages: Work

The modern day workplace is the product of a centuries-long battle for fair wages, reasonable hours and safe conditions. Today's episode tells the story of the labor in the United States -- from slavery and indentured servitude to the Equal Pay Act and the weekend. What did Americans workers have to go through to make their voices heard, and how did they change labor in America?

Our guests include Priscilla Murolo, Philip Yale Nicholson and Camille Hebert.

Apr 23, 2019
Life Stages: School

As Adam Laats said, "when it comes to schools, the most important thing is who you are, and where you live."

In today's episode, we explore how K-12 education has developed in the US since the 1600s, what teachers can and can't teach, what rights students have in public school, and how the federal government gets involved.

Today's episode features Mary Beth Tinker, Dan Cassino, Kara Lamontagne, Adam Laats and Campbell Scribner. Subscribe to Civics 101 here!

Apr 16, 2019
Life Stages: Birth

What does it take to be born an American citizen? And then, once you are, how do you prove it? And what does it get you? Today on Civics 101, we talk to Dr. Mary Kate Hattan of Concord Hospital, Dan Cassino of Farleigh Dickinson University, Susan Pearson of Northwestern University and Sue Mangold of the Juvenile Law Center to find out where (American) babies come from, and what that means. 

Apr 09, 2019
Founding Documents: Bill of Rights

The Bill of Rights is the first ten amendments to our Constitution. Why do we have one? What does it 'do'? And what does it really, really do?

Our guests are Linda Monk, Alvin Tillery, David O. Stewart, Woody Holton, David Bobb, and Chuck Taft. Visit our website,, where you can get Chuck's wonderful Bill of Rights SURVIVOR lesson plan, along with our favorite Bill of Rights resources.

Each Amendment could be (and has been) its own episode. Except maybe the Third Amendment. So if you don't know them by heart, take two minutes to watch this video.

Feb 26, 2019
Founding Documents: The Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers

Ten days after the Constitution was signed at the Old Philadelphia State House, an anonymous op-ed appeared in the New York Journal. Signed by "Cato," it cautioned readers of the new Constitution to take it with a grain of salt. Even the wisest of men, it warned, can make mistakes. This launched a public debate that would last months, pitting pro-Constitution "Federalists" against Constitution-wary "Anti-Federalists." It was a battle for ratification, and it resulted in a glimpse into the minds of our Framers -- and a concession that would come to define American identity. 

Feb 19, 2019
Founding Documents: The Constitution

After just six years under the Articles of Confederation, a committee of anxious delegates agreed to meet in Philadelphia to amend the government. While the country suffered recession and rebellions, a group of fifty-five men determined the shape of the new United States. The document that emerged after that summer of debate was littered with strange ideas and unsavory concessions. The delegates decided they'd be pleased if this new government lasted fifty years. It has been our blueprint for over two centuries. This is the story of how our Constitution came to be. 

Feb 12, 2019
Founding Documents: Articles of Confederation

While a famous committee of five drafted the Declaration of Independence, a far more unsung committee of thirteen wrote America's first rulebook. The Articles of Confederation was our first constitution, and it lasted nine years. If you prefer Typee to Moby Dick, Blood Simple to A Serious Man, or Picasso's Blue Period over Neoclassicism, you just might like the Articles of Confederation.

The fable of its weaknesses, strengths, rise, and downfall are told to us by Danielle Allen, Linda Monk, Joel Collins, and Lindsey Stevens. Also, Paul Bogush tells us how to play Articles of Confederation the Game with a sack of blocks.

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Feb 05, 2019
Founding Documents: Declaration of Independence

America declared independence on July 2, 1776. But two days later it adopted this radical, revolutionary, inclusive, exclusive, secessionist, compromising, hypocritical, inspirational document. What does it say? What does it ignore? 

This episode features many scholars with differing opinions on the Declaration: Danielle Allen, Byron Williams, Cheryl Cook-Kallio, Woody Holton, and Emma Bray. 

Jan 29, 2019
Founding Documents: Magna Carta

Magna Carta was sealed on a field in England in 1215. It's purpose was to appease some frustrated Barons, and it was never intended to last. Over 800 years later, this document is credited with establishing one of the most foundational principles of our democracy. So what does Magna Carta actually say? And how did it get from dubious stalling tactic in the 13th century to U.S. Supreme Court arguments in the modern era? 

Jan 22, 2019
Midterm Edition: Why Vote?

We've told you that midterm elections matter. But the truth is, midterms only matter to you -- and you only matter to your legislators -- if you show up at the polls. It's the first step in making yourself heard. And once you have, you mean that much more to the people who make our laws. 

In this episode, you'll hear what voting actually does for you and your demographic. Plus, how to make sure your voice is heard, whether you're eligible to vote or not. Our experts this time around are Cheryl Cook-Kallio, Edgar Saldivar and Peter Levine.   

Nov 06, 2018
Midterm Edition: Propositions

Regardless of how you choose to vote on Prop 1, you'll finish this episode knowing all about ballot measures. These are bills and amendments initiated by the people, and voted into law by the people. What could possibly go wrong when we sidestep our famously pedantic legislature??

Today's episode features our eminently quotable teacher and former California Assemblymember Cheryl Cook-Kallio, political correspondent at KQED Guy Marzorati, and frequent initiative proposer Tim Eyman. 

Oct 30, 2018
Midterm Edition: Campaigning

How do you stand out in a sea of lawn signs, or make yourself heard above the roar of a thousand ads? Campaigns are hard enough when the whole country is watching -- so what does it take to get the vote when most people couldn't care less? That's the mystery of the midterm campaign. We asked some experts to help us solve it.

In this episode, you'll hear from Inside Elections reporter Leah Askarinam, CNN political analyst Bakari Sellers, politics professor Barry Burden and state house candidate Maile Foster. Plus, Brady Carlson walks us through a midterm of revolutionary proportions. 

Oct 23, 2018
Midterm Edition: House v Senate

Two houses, both alike in...well, many things.  But oh so different in many others. We go from absolute basics to the philosophical differences that exist in the Legislative branch. This episode features the opinions of former staffers from both chambers, Political Science professors, and political analysts. 

Also, Brady Carlson tells the tale of the biggest loss in midterm history, and its relation to a federal holiday.

Oct 16, 2018
Midterm Edition: State and Local Elections

Midterm elections don't have the glitz or drama of presidential campaigning. They're full of aldermen and comptrollers, state senators and governors. These offices seem meager next to national government. But most of the time, it's state and local officials that have the most palpable impact on our lives and on our future elections.

In episode two of our five-part series on the midterm elections, we're taking a good look at the state and local offices that have a big-time impact on your life. 

Oct 09, 2018
Midterm Edition: 5 Things to Know about the Midterms

Today we launch our five-part series on the midterm elections! Keith Hughes, creator of Hip History, tells us the five things he thinks every American should know about midterms and why they matter.

Each episode in this series concludes with a snapshot of an historic US Midterm election, delivered by Brady Carlson. Today, it's 1826: Good Feelings and Hard Feelings.

Oct 02, 2018
The Death Penalty

On today's episode we're looking into a practice that sets the U.S. aside from all other Western countries: Capital Punishment. So, is the death penalty a part of the constitution? How has the Supreme Court ruled on the issue? And ultimately, what can we learn about ourselves from the practice?

Our guest today is Carol Steiker, Harvard Law Professor and author of Courting Death: The Supreme Court and Capital Punishment.

Jul 31, 2018
The Equal Rights Amendment

The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) is a proposed Constitutional amendment that would explicitly guarantee legal equality under U.S. law, regardless of sex. But almost a century after it was first proposed, the ERA has still not been ratified. What's the hold-up?

Lillian Cunningham is a journalist at The Washington Post. She's also host and creator of the podcasts Presidentialand Constitutional.

Jul 24, 2018
The Affordable Care Act

On today's episode, we tackle a defining law from the Obama administration, the Affordable Care Act -- better known as Obamacare. Some people love it, others hate it, but what did the law really do? Is American health care actually more, you know, affordable? And why is there so much talk of repealing the ACA? Our guide today is Julie Rovner, Washington correspondent for Kaiser Health News

Jul 17, 2018

Today on Civics 101, Ron Elving takes us through Tariffs. What are they? What are the pros and cons of taxing goods that enter our country? What is the effect on the consumer? And finally, how do trade wars end?

Jul 10, 2018
Contest Winner: Unconventional

Adia Samba-Quee is the winner of our first ever student contest. She wrote, narrated, and cast a "Parks n' Rec-style mockumentary about the arguments surrounding representation at the Constitutional Convention in 1787."


Jul 03, 2018
The Draft

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When you hear 'the draft' you might think about the Vietnam War... but the history of compulsory military service goes all the way back to before the Constitution was written. In this episode, we start from the beginning: How did conscription change over the years? When was the first national draft law? Who was most likely to be drafted? And the big one: Will the draft ever come back?

Answering those questions and more is Jennifer Mittelstadt: professor of history at Rutgers and the Harold K. Johnson Chair of Miltary History at The U.S. Army War College. 

Jun 26, 2018
The Federal Register

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Today a listener opens up a rabbit hole, and we immediately jump down it. We're learning about the Federal Register, a dense, cryptic document published every single day that records all the activities of the Executive Branch. It's a lot. Joining us is Oliver Potts, the director of the Federal Register, along with Kevin Kosar of the R Street Institute and Nick Bellos of the Regulatory Review. 

Jun 19, 2018
National Institutes of Health (NIH)

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Remember the Human Genome Project? The massively complicated international undertaking that aimed to map the entirety of human DNA? It was funded and coordinated in large part by the NIH, or National Institutes of Health.

The NIH is a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and is the nation's foremost government funded medical research agency. So how does it work? What do they actually do? Do politics influence their research? To find out, we turn to  Dr. Carrie Wolinetz,  Associate Director for Science Policy at the NIH. 

Jun 12, 2018

Norm Stamper was a past-Chief of Seattle's Police Department and an officer with the San Diego PD. He joins us to talk about the history of modern policing, the role of police today, and how to make sense of controversial police killings. 

Jun 05, 2018
Infrastructure – Water!

Drinking water in the United States is, according to the EPA, among the world's "most reliable and safest supplies." Its delivery involves a complex infrastructure of pipes, treatment facilities, aqueducts, dams, and reservoirs, and it operates on a local, state, and federal level. How did we get here? How is the U.S. public water system legislated? And, how is "potable" actually pronounced?

We spoke with James Salzman, author of Drinking Water: A History. He is also a professor of environmental law at the UCLA School of Law and the Bren School of Environmental Science at UC Santa Barbara.

This episode is part of our occasional series on American infrastructure. Listen to our first installment on roads.

May 29, 2018
Freedom of Information Act

On today's episode: What exactly is the Freedom of Information Act, better known as FOIA? Can anybody use it to get their hands on... any public documents? What kind of government secrets have come to light as a result of FOIA? We talk shop with Jason Leopold, a senior investigative reporter for Buzzfeed News. 

May 22, 2018

Space is big - like, insanely, incomprehensibly big - so it's understandable that NASA can seem divorced from the world of cabinet secretaries, White House press briefings, and presidential tweets.

Amy Shira Teitel is the host of the YouTube channel Vintage Space and author of Breaking the Chains of Gravity: The Story of Spaceflight Before NASA. In this episode, she explains how despite its lofty aims, NASA is a lot more political than you might think. 

May 15, 2018
The White House Press Secretary

Mara Liasson, National Political Correspondent for NPR, has reported on White House press briefings for 3 administrations. She tells us about the role of the Press Secretary, and how the job has changed from president to president. 

May 11, 2018

ICE, or U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, is one of the nation's youngest law enforcement agencies. It's also become one of the most controversial. But what does ICE actually do? 

Dara Lind, a senior reporter for Vox, walks us through how ICE got its start, some of its responsibilities today, and what we can expect from the agency moving forward.

May 08, 2018
The National Guard

Miranda Summers Lowe, Military Curator at the Smithsonian and active National Guard soldier, tells us the history of the Guard, the process for calling them out, and what sets them apart from other branches of the USAF. 

May 01, 2018
Presidential Transitions

On today's episode: what happens when the incumbent president leaves office and the president-elect enters? How is information shared? What laws or guidelines govern the transition of power? We talked with Max Stier, President and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, on the written and unwritten rules of presidential transitions. We also explore our own transition, as hosting duties for Civics 101 transition from Virginia Prescott to Hannah McCarthy and Nick Capodice.

Apr 24, 2018
IRL 2: The Flag and the Pledge

Today, our second IRL puts it up the flagpole and sees if anyone salutes it. Hannah goes into the history of the flag and the Pledge of Allegiance and how they've changed since their inception. Then Nick talks about four times behavior towards the flag and the pledge were the subject of Supreme Court decisions. 

Mar 06, 2018
IRL 1: Free Speech in Schools

This is the first in a series called Civics 101 IRL; special episodes where we explore the historic moments connected to our regular podcast topics.  Today we're digging into four incredibly important Supreme Court cases - four cases that have shaped how we interpret the meaning of free speech in public schools.  Is political protest allowed in class?  Is lewd speech covered by the First Amendment? Can school administrators determine what students can and can't say in the school newspaper? Listen in, and find out how students and schools have gone head to head over how First Amendment rights apply in a public school setting.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this episode inaccurately stated that Justice Abe Fortas was Chief Justice. While Fortas wrote the Tinker decision, Earl Warren was the Chief Justice at the time.

Nov 24, 2017
U.S. Territories

Guam, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands are all U.S. territories, but what does that mean? Is there political representation? What is the status of its citizens with regard to the Constitution and U.S. law? And what does the lack of full statehood status allow, or limit? Author Doug Mack leads today's lesson.  

Click here for a live-captioned, downloadable transcript. 

Jul 25, 2017