Radiolab Presents: More Perfect

by WNYC Studios

40m

average length

33

episodes

54

followers

From the producers of Radiolab, a series about how the Supreme Court got so supreme.

Best Radiolab Presents: More Perfect episodes upvoted by the community

Last updated on May 28, 2020, 5:00 pm

#1

Cruel and Unusual

June 02, 2016 • 42m

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

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#2

The Most Perfect Album: Episode 3

October 02, 2018 • 35m

This season, More Perfect is taking its camera lens off the Supreme Court and zooming in on the words of the people: the 27 amendments that We The People have made to our Constitution. We're taking on these 27 amendments both in song and in story. This episode is best listened to alongside 27: The Most Perfect Album, an entire album (an ALBUM!) and digital experience of original music and art inspired by the 27 Amendments. Think of these episodes as the audio liner notes. The first eight amendments to the U.S. Constitution are literal, straightforward, and direct. But when we get to Amendments nine, 10, and 11, things get… hazy. These are some of the least literal amendments in the Constitution: they mean more than they say, and what they say is often extremely confusing. So in the third episode of the new More Perfect season we take these three blurry amendments and bring them into focus, embarking on a metaphorical, metaphysical, and somewhat astronomical journey to find the perfect analogies to truly understand each one. Episode Three reaches for lofty metaphors of moon shadows, legal penumbras, and romantic relationships — as well as more guttural, frankly gross ones, like the human appendix, to describe the three amendments that define the nature of our union and the powers of the government and the people. And when you're done with the episode, listen to the songs by The Kominas, Lean Year, and Field Medic inspired by Amendments 9, 10 and 11 on 27: The Most Perfect Album.    

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#3

The Hate Debate

November 06, 2017 • 38m

Should you be able to say and do whatever you want online? And if not, who should police this? More Perfect hosts a debate at WNYC's Jerome L. Greene Performance Space about online hate speech, fake news, and whether the First Amendment needs an update for the digital age. The key voices: Corynne McSherry, legal director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation Elie Mystal, executive editor at Above the Law and contributing legal editor at More Perfect Ken White, litigator and criminal defense attorney at Brown White & Osborn LLP — he also runs Popehat.com The key cases: 1957: Yates v. United States 1969: Brandenburg v. Ohio The key links: ProPublica's report on Facebook's censorship policies   Special thanks to Elaine Chen, Jennifer Keeney Sendrow, and the entire Greene Space team. Additional engineering for this episode by Chase Culpon, Louis Mitchell, and Alex Overington. Leadership support for More Perfect is provided by The Joyce Foundation. Additional funding is provided by The Charles Evans Hughes Memorial Foundation.  Watch the event below: NOTE: Because of the topic for the night, this discussion includes disturbing images and language, such as religious, ethnic and gender slurs and profanity. We have preserved this content so that our audience can understand the nature of this speech. ADDENDUM: During the debate one of debaters misspoke and said World War II when he meant World War I. The case he was referring to can be found here.

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#5

The Gun Show

October 12, 2017 • 72m

For nearly 200 years of our nation’s history, the Second Amendment was an all-but-forgotten rule about the importance of militias. But in the 1960s and 70s, a movement emerged — led by Black Panthers and a recently-repositioned NRA — that insisted owning a firearm was the right of each and every American. So began a constitutional debate that only the Supreme Court could solve. That didn’t happen until 2008, when a Washington, D.C. security guard named Dick Heller made a compelling case. Sean Rameswaram interviews Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale on the roof of the Oakland Museum of California, where “All Power to the People: Black Panthers at 50” was on display earlier this year. (Lisa Silberstein, Oakland Museum of California)  Joseph P. Tartaro, president of the Second Amendment Foundation, at his desk in Buffalo, New York. (Sean Rameswaram) The key voices: Adam Winkler, professor at UCLA School of Law, author of Gunfight Jill Lepore, professor of American history at Harvard University Stephen Halbrook, attorney specializing in Second Amendment litigation Bobby Seale, co-founder of the Black Panther Party John Aquilino, former spokesman of the National Rifle Association Joseph P. Tartaro, president of the Second Amendment Foundation Sanford Levinson, professor at the University of Texas Law School  Clark Neily, vice president for criminal justice at the Cato Institute, represented Dick Heller in District of Columbia v. Heller Robert Levy, chairman of the Cato Institute, helped finance Dick Heller’s case in District of Columbia v. Heller Alan Gura, appellate constitutional attorney, argued District of Columbia v. Heller on behalf of Dick Heller Dick Heller, plaintiff in District of Columbia v. Heller Joan Biskupic, author of American Original: The Life and Constitution of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia  Jack Rakove, professor of history and political science at Stanford University  The key cases: 2008: District of Columbia v. Heller The key links: Black Panther Party protest the Mulford Act at the California State Capitol in Sacramento Dick Heller and his hat outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. (Sean Rameswaram) Dick Heller and his gun on the job at a federal building in Washington, D.C. (Sean Rameswaram) Special thanks to Mark Hughes, Sally Hadden, Jamal Greene, Emily Palmer, Sharon LaFraniere, Alan Morrison, Robert Pollie, Joseph Blocher, William Baude, Tara Grove, and the Oakland Museum of California. Leadership support for More Perfect is provided by The Joyce Foundation. Additional funding is provided by The Charles Evans Hughes Memorial Foundation. Supreme Court archival audio comes from Oyez®, a free law project in collaboration with the Legal Information Institute at Cornell.

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#7

The Most Perfect Album: Episode 5

October 24, 2018 • 32m

This season, More Perfect is taking its camera lens off the Supreme Court and zooming in on the words of the people: the 27 amendments that We The People have made to our Constitution. We're taking on these 27 amendments both in song and in story. This episode is best listened to alongside 27: The Most Perfect Album, an entire album (an ALBUM!) and digital experience of original music and art inspired by the 27 Amendments. Think of these episodes as the audio liner notes. Amendments 13, 14, and 15 are collectively known as the Reconstruction Amendments: they were passed as instructions to rebuild the country after Civil War. They addressed slavery, citizenship, equality and voting rights for black people. This week, the More Perfect team explores the legacy of the amendments beyond the Civil War — the ways the promises of these amendments changed the country and the ways they've fallen short. First, More Perfect Executive Producer Suzie Lechtenberg and Legal Editor Elie Mystal explore the loophole in the 13th Amendment's slavery ban that's being used in a strange context: college football. We share songs about the 13th Amendment from Kash Doll and Bette Smith. Then, producer Julia Longoria shares a conversation with her roommate Alia Almeida exploring their relationship to the amendments. Inspired by the 14th's Amendment's grant of equal protection and citizenship rights, Sarah Kay's poem tells the story of her grandmother, a U.S. citizen who was interned during World War II in a Japanese American Internment camp. Despite the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause, the Supreme Court upheld the internment of U.S. citizens based solely on their Japanese heritage in a case called Korematsu v. United States. In 2018, the Supreme Court said Korematsu was "wrong the day it was decided." The Court went on to uphold President Trump's controversial travel ban in Trump v. Hawaii. "Korematsu has nothing to do with this case," wrote the majority. In a dissenting opinion, Justice Sotomayor accused the majority of "redeploying the same dangerous logic underlying Korematsu" when they upheld the ban. Finally, hear songs inspired by the 15th Amendment by Aisha Burns and Nnamidi Ogbonnaya.

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#8

The Most Perfect Album: Episode 9

December 04, 2018 • 26m

This season, More Perfect is taking its camera lens off the Supreme Court and zooming in on the words of the people: the 27 amendments that We The People have made to our Constitution. We're taking on these 27 amendments both in song and in story. This episode is best listened to alongside 27: The Most Perfect Album, an entire album (an ALBUM!) and digital experience of original music and art inspired by the 27 Amendments. Think of these episodes as the audio liner notes. In More Perfect's final episode of the season, listen to liner notes for two amendments that contemplate the still-unfinished status of our Constitution. "27" is an album that marks a particular point in our history: this moment when we have 27 Amendments to our Constitution. What will be the 28th? Maybe it will address our nation's capital. The capital has been a bit of a Constitutional anomaly for much of our nation's history — it's at the heart of the democracy, but because it's not a state, people in Washington D.C. have been disenfranchised almost by accident. The 23rd Amendment solved some of the problem — it gave D.C. the right to vote for president. But it left much of D.C.'s representation questions unanswered. D.C. still does not have voting representation in Congress. Instead, D.C. sends a "non-voting delegate" to Congress. For this liner note, More Perfect profiles that delegate, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, and her unique approach to fighting for power in a virtually powerless role. The song for the 23rd Amendment is by The Mellow Tones, a group of students from D.C. high school Duke Ellington School of the Arts, along with their teacher Mark G. Meadows. The chorus, "Why won't you count on me?" reflects on the continued disenfranchisement of our nation's capital.   The final amendment of the album, the 27th Amendment, put limits on Senators' ability to give themselves a pay raise, and it has arguably the most unusual path to ratification of all 27. The first draft for the amendment was written by none other than James Madison in 1789, but back then, it didn't get enough votes from the states for ratification. It wasn't until a college student named Gregory Watson awakened the dormant amendment centuries later that it was finally ratified. The 27th Amendment song is by Kevin Devine and tells Watson's story.

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#10

The Most Perfect Album: Episode 4

October 12, 2018 • 43m

This season, More Perfect is taking its camera lens off the Supreme Court and zooming in on the words of the people: the 27 amendments that We The People have made to our Constitution. We're taking on these 27 amendments both in song and in story. This episode is best listened to alongside 27: The Most Perfect Album, an entire album (an ALBUM!) and digital experience of original music and art inspired by the 27 Amendments. Think of these episodes as the audio liner notes.Episode Four begins, as all episodes should: with Dolly Parton. Parton wrote a song for us (!) about the 19th Amendment and women (finally) getting the right to vote.Also in this episode: Our siblings at Radiolab share a story with us that they did about how the 19th Amendment almost died on a hot summer night in Tennessee. The 19th Amendment was obviously a huge milestone for women in the United States. But it was pretty well-understood that this wasn’t a victory for all women; it was a victory for white women. People of color have faced all sorts of barriers to voting throughout our nation's history. This includes poll taxes, which were fees people had to pay in order to vote. The 24th Amendment eliminated federal poll taxes in 1964. We hear a song inspired by the 24th Amendment, created for us by Caroline Shaw. Kevin Morby made an excellent song for us about the 24th, too. Check it out here. Finally, Simon Tam, from the band The Slants tells the story of the Supreme Court case about their name, and talks about the song they wrote about the 18th and 21st Amendments for our album. (It’s a jam!)

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#12

The Political Thicket

June 10, 2016 • 44m

When Chief Justice Earl Warren was asked at the end of his career, “What was the most important case of your tenure?”, there were a lot of answers he could have given. After all, he had presided over some of the most important decisions in the court’s history — cases that dealt with segregation in schools, the right to an attorney, the right to remain silent, just to name a few. But his answer was a surprise: He said, “Baker v. Carr,” a 1962 redistricting case.  On this episode of More Perfect, we talk about why this case was so important; important enough, in fact, that it pushed one Supreme Court justice to a nervous breakdown, brought a boiling feud to a head, put one justice in the hospital, and changed the course of the Supreme Court — and the nation — forever. Associate Justice William O. Douglas (L) and Associate Justice Felix Frankfurter (R) (Harris & Ewing Photography/Library of Congress) Top Row (left-right): Charles E. Whittaker, John M. Harlan,William J. Brennan, Jr., Potter Stewart. Bottom Row (left-right): William O. Douglas, Hugo L. Black, Earl Warren, Felix Frankfurter, Tom C. Clark. (Library of Congress)    Associate Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Whittaker at his desk in his chambers. (Heywood Davis)  The key links: - Biographies of Charles Evans Whittaker, Felix Frankfurter, and William O. Douglas from Oyez- A biography of Charles Evans Whittaker written by Craig Alan Smith- A biography of Felix Frankfurter written by H.N. Hirsch- A biography of William O. Douglas written by Bruce Allen Murphy- A book about the history of "one person, one vote" written by J. Douglas Smith- A roundtable discussion on C-SPAN about Baker v. Carr The key voices: - Craig Smith, Charles Whittaker's biographer and Professor of History and Political Science at California University of Pennsylvania - Tara Grove, Professor of Law and Robert and Elizabeth Scott Research Professor at William & Mary Law School- Louis Michael Seidman, Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Constitutional Law at Georgetown Law- Guy-Uriel Charles, Charles S. Rhyne Professor of Law at Duke Law- Samuel Issacharoff, Bonnie and Richard Reiss Professor of Constitutional Law, NYU Law- 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 The key cases: - 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.  More Perfect is funded in part by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, The Charles Evans Hughes Memorial Foundation, and the Joyce Foundation. Supreme Court archival audio comes from Oyez®, a free law project in collaboration with the Legal Information Institute at Cornell. Archival interviews with Justice William O. Douglas come from the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections at Princeton University Library. Special thanks to Whittaker's clerks: Heywood Davis, Jerry Libin and James Adler. Also big thanks to Jerry Goldman at Oyez.

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#14

Who’s Gerry and Why Is He So Bad at Drawing Maps?

October 03, 2017 • 23m

“It is an invidious, undemocratic, and unconstitutional practice,” Justice John Paul Stevens said of gerrymandering in Vieth v. Jubelirer (2004). Politicians have been manipulating district lines to favor one party over another since the founding of our nation. But with a case starting today, Gill v. Whitford, the Supreme Court may be in a position to crack this historical nut once and for all. Up until this point, the court didn’t have a standard measure or test for how much one side had unfairly drawn district lines. But “the efficiency gap” could be it. The mathematical formula measures how many votes Democrats and Republicans waste in elections — if either side is way outside the norm, there may be some foul play at hand. According to Loyola law professor Justin Levitt, both the case and the formula arrive at a critical time: “After the census in 2020, all sorts of different bodies will redraw all sorts of different lines and this case will help decide how and where.” The key voices: Moon Duchin, Associate Professor at Tufts University Justin Levitt, Professor of Law at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles The key cases: 2004: Vieth v. Jubelirer 2017: Gill v. Whitford The key links: “A Formula Goes to Court” by Mira Bernstein and Moon Duchin “Partisan Gerrymandering and the Efficiency Gap” by Nicholas Stephanopoulos and Eric McGhee  Special thanks to David Herman. Leadership support for More Perfect is provided by The Joyce Foundation. Additional funding is provided by The Charles Evans Hughes Memorial Foundation. Supreme Court archival audio comes from Oyez®, a free law project in collaboration with the Legal Information Institute at Cornell. 

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#15

The Architect

December 07, 2017 • 36m

On this episode, we revisit Edward Blum, a self-described “legal entrepreneur” and former stockbroker who has become something of a Supreme Court matchmaker: he takes an issue, finds the perfect plaintiff, matches them with lawyers, and helps the case work its way to the highest court in the land. His target: laws that differentiate between people based on race — including ones that empower minorities. More Perfect profiled Edward Blum in season one of the show. We catch up with him to hear about his latest effort to end affirmative action at Harvard.  The key voices: Edward Blum, director of the Project on Fair Representation Sheila Jackson Lee, Congresswoman for the 18th district of Texas The key cases: 1977: Regents of the University of California v. Bakke 2003: Grutter v. Bollinger 2013: Shelby County v. Holder 2013: Fisher v. University of Texas (1) 2016: Fisher v. University of Texas (2) The key links: More Perfect Season 1: The Imperfect Plaintiffs Blum's websites seeking plaintiffs for cases he is building against Harvard University, the University of North Carolina, and the University of Wisconsin Students for Fair Admissions' complaint; and Harvard's response. “To become leaders in our diverse society, students must have the ability to work with people from different backgrounds, life experiences and perspectives. Many colleges across America – including Harvard College – receive applications from far more highly qualified individuals each year than they can possibly admit. When choosing among academically qualified applicants, colleges must continue to have the freedom and flexibility to consider each person’s unique backgrounds and life experiences, consistent with the legal standards established by the U.S. Supreme Court,  in order to provide the rigorous, enriching, and diverse campus environments that expand the horizons of all students. In doing so, American higher education institutions can continue to give every undergraduate exposure to peers with a deep and wide variety of academic interests, viewpoints, and talents in order to better challenge their own assumptions and develop the skills they need to succeed, and to lead, in an ever more diverse workforce and an increasingly interconnected world.”  - Robert Iuliano, senior vice president and general counsel of Harvard University  Special thanks to Guy Charles, Katherine Wells, and Matt Frassica. Leadership support for More Perfect is provided by The Joyce Foundation. Additional funding is provided by The Charles Evans Hughes Memorial Foundation. Supreme Court archival audio comes from Oyez®, a free law project in collaboration with the Legal Information Institute at Cornell.

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#18

The Imperfect Plaintiffs

June 28, 2016 • 66m

Last week, the court decided one of this term’s blockbuster cases — a case that could affect the future of affirmative action in this country. The plaintiff was Abigail Fisher, a white woman, who said she was rejected from the University of Texas because the university unfairly considered race as one of many factors when evaluating applicants. And while Fisher’s claims were the focus of the case, the story behind how she ended up in front of the Supreme Court is a lot more complicated. Edward Blum is the director of the Project on Fair Representation (AEI) On this episode, we visit Edward Blum, a 64-year-old “legal entrepreneur” and former stockbroker who has become something of a Supreme Court matchmaker — He takes an issue, finds the perfect plaintiff, matches them with lawyers, and works his way to the highest court in the land. He’s had remarkable success, with 6 cases heard before the Supreme Court, including that of Abigail Fisher. We also head to Houston, Texas, where in 1998, an unusual 911 call led to one of the most important LGBTQ rights decisions in the Supreme Court’s history. John Lawrence (L) and Tyron Garner (R) at the 2004 Pride Parade in Houston (J.D. Doyle/Houston LGBT History) Mitchell Katine (L) introduces Tyron Garner (Middle) and John Lawrence (R) at a rally celebrating the court's decision (J.D. Doyle/Houston LGBT History) The key links: - The website Edward Blum is using to find plaintiffs for a case he is building against Harvard University- Susan Carle's book on the history of legal ethics- An obituary for Tyron Garner when he died in 2006- An obituary for John Lawrence when he died in 2011- Dale Carpenter's book on the history of Lawrence v. Texas- A Lambda Legal documentary on the story of Lawrence v. Texas The key voices: - Edward Blum, director of the Project on Fair Representation- Susan Carle, professor of law at the American University Washington College of Law- Dale Carpenter, professor of Law at the SMU Dedman School of Law- Mitchell Katine, lawyer at Katine & Nechman L.L.P. - Lane Lewis, chair of the Harris County Democratic Party- Sheila Jackson Lee, Congresswoman for the 18th district of Texas The key cases: - 1896: Plessy v. Ferguson- 1917: Buchanan v. Warley- 1962: National Association for the Advancement of Colored People v. Button- 1986: Bowers v. Hardwick- 1996: Bush v. Vera- 2003: Lawrence v. Texas- 2009: Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Holder- 2013: Shelby County v. Holder- 2013: Fisher v. University of Texas (1)- 2016: Evenwel v. Abbott- 2016: Fisher v. University of Texas (2) Special thanks to Ari Berman. His book Give Us the Ballot, and his reporting for The Nation, were hugely helpful in reporting this episode.   More Perfect is funded in part by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, The Charles Evans Hughes Memorial Foundation, and the Joyce Foundation. Supreme Court archival audio comes from Oyez®, a free law project in collaboration with the Legal Information Institute at Cornell.

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#20

The Most Perfect Album: Episode 2

September 25, 2018 • 30m

This season, More Perfect is taking its camera lens off the Supreme Court and zooming in on the words of the people: the 27 amendments that We The People have made to our Constitution. We're taking on these 27 amendments both in song and in story. This episode is best listened to alongside 27: The Most Perfect Album, an entire album (an ALBUM!) and digital experience of original music and art inspired by the 27 Amendments. Think of these episodes as the audio liner notes. The Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Amendments enshrine some of our most important civil liberties. They tell us about the rights we have when the government knocks on our door, including protections from "unreasonable searches and seizures," self-incrimination, "cruel and unusual punishments," and the right to "a speedy and public trial"-- among others. Episode Two looks at these amendments through the story of one man, Christopher Scott, who finds himself face-to-face with Dallas police officers as they investigate a violent crime. The role that these amendments play—and fail to play— in Christopher’s encounter tells a profound story about the presence of the Constitution in our everyday lives. And when you're done with the episode, listen to the songs by Briana Marela, Torres, Sons of an Illustrious Father, Adia Victoria, Nana Grizol, and High Waisted inspired by Amendments 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 on 27: The Most Perfect Album.   Special thanks to Gloria Browne-Marshall and David Gray.

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