47 episodes

We’re taught the Supreme Court was designed to be above the fray of politics. But at a time when partisanship seeps into every pore of American life, are the nine justices living up to that promise? More Perfect is a guide to the current moment on the Court. We bring the highest court of the land down to earth, telling the human dramas at the Court that shape so many aspects of American life — from our religious freedom to our artistic expression, from our reproductive choices to our voice in democracy.

More Perfect WNYC Studios

    • History
    • 4.8 • 14.3K Ratings

We’re taught the Supreme Court was designed to be above the fray of politics. But at a time when partisanship seeps into every pore of American life, are the nine justices living up to that promise? More Perfect is a guide to the current moment on the Court. We bring the highest court of the land down to earth, telling the human dramas at the Court that shape so many aspects of American life — from our religious freedom to our artistic expression, from our reproductive choices to our voice in democracy.

    The Supreme Court v. Peyote

    The Supreme Court v. Peyote

    More than 30 years ago, a Native American man named Al Smith was fired for ingesting peyote at a religious ceremony. When his battle made it to the Supreme Court, the decision set off a thorny debate over when religious people get to sidestep the law — a debate we’re still having today.
    Voices in the episode include:
    • Garrett Epps — University of Oregon Law School professor
    • Ka’ila Farrell-Smith — Al Smith’s daughter, visual artist
    • Jane Farrell — Al Smith's widow, retired early childhood specialist
    • Galen Black — Al Smith’s former coworker
    • Steven C. Moore — senior staff attorney at the Native American Rights Fund
    • Craig J. Dorsay — lawyer who argued Al Smith’s case before the Supreme Court
    • Dan Mach — director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief
    Learn more:
    • 1963: Sherbert v. Verner
    • 1990: Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith
    • 2022: 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis
    • "Peyote vs the State: Religious Freedom On Trial" by Garrett Epps
    • Factsheet: Religious Freedom Restoration Act Of 1993, The Bridge Initiative at Georgetown University
    • Our History, the Klamath Tribes 
    Supreme Court archival audio comes from Oyez®, a free law project by Justia and the Legal Information Institute of Cornell Law School.
    Support for More Perfect is provided in part by The Smart Family Fund.
    Follow us on Instagram and Facebook @moreperfectpodcast, and Twitter @moreperfect.

    • 57 min
    Clarence X

    Clarence X

    To many Americans, Clarence Thomas makes no sense. For more than 30 years on the Court, he seems to have been on a mission — to take away rights that benefit Black people. As a young man, though, Thomas listened to records of Malcolm X speeches on a loop and strongly identified with the tenets of Black Nationalism. This week on More Perfect, we dig into his writings and lectures, talk to scholars and confidants, and explore his past, all in an attempt to answer: what does Clarence Thomas think Clarence Thomas is doing?
    Voices in the episode include:
    • Juan Williams — senior political analyst at Fox News
    • Corey Robin — professor of political science at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center
    • Angela Onwuachi-Willig — Dean of Boston University School of Law
    • Stephen F. Smith — Notre Dame Law School professor
    Learn more:
    • 1993: Graham v. Collins
    • 1994: Holder v. Hall
    • 1999: Chicago v. Morales
    • 2003: Grutter v. Bollinger
    • 2022: Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College
    • 2022: Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina
    • “The Enigma of Clarence Thomas” by Corey Robin
    • “Black Conservatives, Center Stage” by Juan Williams
    • “Just Another Brother on the SCT?: What Justice Clarence Thomas Teaches Us About the Influence of Racial Identity” by Angela Onwuachi-Willig
    • “Clarence X?: The Black Nationalist Behind Justice Thomas's Constitutionalism” by Stephen F. Smith
    • “My Grandfather’s Son” by Justice Clarence Thomas
    Supreme Court archival audio comes from Oyez®, a free law project by Justia and the Legal Information Institute of Cornell Law School.
    Support for More Perfect is provided in part by The Smart Family Fund.
    Follow us on Instagram and Facebook @moreperfectpodcast, and Twitter @moreperfect.

    • 57 min
    The Court’s Reporters

    The Court’s Reporters

    Unlike other branches of government, the Supreme Court operates with almost no oversight. No cameras are allowed in the courtroom, no binding code of ethics, and records of their activities are incredibly hard to get. So how do reporters uncover the activities of the nine most powerful judges in the country?
    Live from the Logan Symposium on Investigative Reporting at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, host Julia Longoria talks to journalists behind bombshell investigations of the Court and its justices and how Clarence Thomas’ personal relationships intersect with his professional life.
    Voices in the episode include:
    • Jo Becker — New York Times reporter in the investigative unit
    • Justin Elliott — ProPublica reporter
    Learn more:
    • "The Long Crusade of Clarence and Ginni Thomas" by Danny Hakim and Jo Becker
    • "Clarence Thomas and the Billionaire" by Joshua Kaplan, Justin Elliott and Alex Mierjeski
    • "Billionaire Harlan Crow bought property from Clarence Thomas. The Justice didn’t disclose the deal" by by Justin Elliott, Joshua Kaplan and Alex Mierjeski 
    Supreme Court archival audio comes from Oyez®, a free law project by Justia and the Legal Information Institute of Cornell Law School.
    Support for More Perfect is provided in part by The Smart Family Fund.
    Follow us on Instagram and Facebook @moreperfectpodcast, and Twitter @moreperfect.

    • 35 min
    The Political Thicket Reprise

    The Political Thicket Reprise

    This week, we revisit one of the most important Supreme Court cases you’ve probably never heard of: Baker v. Carr, a redistricting case from the 1960s, which challenged the justices to consider what might happen if they stepped into the world of electoral politics. It’s a case so stressful that it pushed one justice to a nervous breakdown, put another justice in the hospital, brought a boiling feud to a head, and changed the course of the Supreme Court — and the nation — forever.
    Voices in the episode include:
    • Tara Grove — More Perfect legal advisor, University of Texas at Austin law professor
    • Guy-Uriel Charles — Harvard Law School professor
    • Louis Michael Seidman — Georgetown Law School professor
    • Sam Issacharoff — NYU law school professor
    • Craig A. Smith — PennWest California humanities professor and Charles Whittaker's biographer
    • J. Douglas Smith — author of "On Democracy's Doorstep"
    • Alan Kohn — former Supreme Court clerk for Charles Whittaker (1957 term)
    • Kent Whittaker — Charles Whittaker's son
    • Kate Whittaker — Charles Whittaker's granddaughter
    Learn more:
    • 1962: Baker v. Carr
    • 2000: Bush v. Gore
    • 2016: Evenwel v. Abbott
    Music in this episode by Gyan Riley, Alex Overington, David Herman, Tobin Low and Jad Abumrad.
     
    Archival interviews with Justice William O. Douglas come from the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections at Princeton University Library.
    Special thanks to Jerry Goldman and to Whittaker's clerks: Heywood Davis, Jerry Libin and James Adler.
    Supreme Court archival audio comes from Oyez®, a free law project by Justia and the Legal Information Institute of Cornell Law School.
    Support for More Perfect is provided in part by The Smart Family Fund.
    Follow us on Instagram and Facebook @moreperfectpodcast, and Twitter @moreperfect.

    • 45 min
    Part 1: The Viability Line

    Part 1: The Viability Line

    When the justices heard oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the landmark abortion case, one word came up more than any other: viability. The viability line was at the core of Roe v. Wade, and it’s been entrenched in the abortion rights movement ever since. But no one seems to remember how this idea made its way into the abortion debate in the first place. This week on More Perfect, we trace it back to the source and discover how a clerk and a couple of judges turned a fuzzy medical concept into a hard legal line.
    Voices in the episode include:
    • George Frampton — former clerk to Justice Harry Blackmun
    • Judge Jon Newman — Second Circuit Court of Appeals
    • Khiara Bridges — UC Berkeley School of Law professor
    • Alex J. Harris — lawyer, former member of the Joshua Generation
    Learn more:
    • 1973: Roe v. Wade
    • 2022: Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization
    • Listen to Part 2: If Not Viability, Then What?
     
    Correction: An earlier version of this episode stated that Justice Blackmun was the first to define pregnancy in terms of trimesters. Upon further review, he seems to have been the first to apply that framework to abortion law specifically, but it appeared in at least one medical text earlier, in 1904. We have updated the episode to address this error.
    Supreme Court archival audio comes from Oyez®, a free law project by Justia and the Legal Information Institute of Cornell Law School.
    Support for More Perfect is provided in part by The Smart Family Fund.
    Follow us on Instagram and Facebook @moreperfectpodcast, and Twitter @moreperfect.

    • 44 min
    Part 2: If Not Viability, Then What?

    Part 2: If Not Viability, Then What?

    Now that the “viability line” in pregnancy — as defined by Roe v. Wade — is no longer federal law, lawmakers and lawyers are coming up with new frameworks for abortion access at a dizzying rate. In this second part of our series, More Perfect asks: what if abortion law wasn’t shaped by men at the Supreme Court, but instead by people who know what it’s like to be pregnant, to have abortions, and to lose pregnancies? We hear from women on the front lines of the next legal battle over abortion in America.
    Voices in the episode include:
    • Mary J. Browning — pro bono lawyer for The Justice Foundation
    • Dr. Shelley Sella — OBGYN (retired)
    • Greer Donley — University of Pittsburgh School of Law professor
    • Jill Wieber Lens — University of Arkansas School of Law professor
    Learn more:
    • 1973: Roe v. Wade
    • 2022: Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization
    • Listen to Part 1: The Viability Line
     
    Supreme Court archival audio comes from Oyez®, a free law project by Justia and the Legal Information Institute of Cornell Law School.
    Support for More Perfect is provided in part by The Smart Family Fund.
    Follow us on Instagram and Facebook @moreperfectpodcast, and Twitter @moreperfect.

    • 35 min

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5
14.3K Ratings

14.3K Ratings

J.Avia ,

Simply Amazing

I love this show for it’s ability to distill the history leading up to supreme court decisions—with professionals and/or the people who were directly involved.

Pat In A Nutshell ,

Season 4 a shell of the past

I understand that it must be getting harder to find compelling content for a show that has multiple episodes, but this podcast used to be about the law, the Supreme Court and analyzing various interesting historical cases. It was not an opinion show with a reporter talking on and on about their life, or interviewing a doctor to get their thoughts on abortions. Please go back to your roots and stick to analyzing cases.

Family shared - Nik ,

An important and compelling series

For my ears, mind and heart, there’s no better use of my listening time than this show. The topics chosen are of great importance to our country and provide perspective beyond what is usually available in the media. The show should be part of any citizen’s civic education. Julia Longoria and Jad Abumrad are the best of radio and podcasting, and what they produce is consistently of the highest quality and also thought provoking.

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