“Equal protection of the laws” was granted to all persons by the 14th Amendment in 1868. But for nearly a century after that, women had a hard time convincing the courts that they should be allowed to be jurors, lawyers, and bartenders, just the same as men. A then-lawyer at the ACLU named Ruth Bader Ginsburg set out to convince an all-male Supreme Court to take sex discrimination seriously with an unconventional strategy. She didn’t just bring cases where women were the victims of discrimination; she also brought cases where men were the victims. In this episode, we look at how a key battle for gender equality was won with frat boys and beer.
The rules of oral argument at the Supreme Court are strict: when a justice speaks, the advocate has to shut up. But a law student noticed that the rules were getting broken again and again — by men. He and his professor set out to chart an epidemic of interruptions. If women can’t catch a break in the boardroom or the legislature (or at the MTV VMA’s), what’s it going to take to let them speak from the bench of the highest court in the land?
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 question of how much power the Supreme Court should possess has divided justices over time. But the issue was perhaps never more hotly debated than in Baker v. Carr. On this episode of More Perfect, we talk about the case that 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.
The Supreme Court may not have been conceptualized as a co-equal branch of the federal government, but it became one as a result of the political maneuvering of Chief Justice John Marshall. The fourth (and longest-serving) chief justice was "a great lover of power," according to historian Jill Lepore, but he was also a great lover of secrecy. Marshall believed, in order for the justices to confer with each other candidly, their papers needed to remain secret in perpetuity. It was under this veil of secrecy that the biggest heist in the history of the Supreme Court took place.
The key voices:
Jill Lepore, professor of American history at Harvard University
The key links:
"The Great Paper Caper," The New Yorker (2014)
Felix Frankfurter, Supreme Court justice 1939 to 1962
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.
Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission is one of the most polarizing Supreme Court cases of all time. So what is it actually about, and why did the Justices decide the way they did? Justice Anthony Kennedy, often called the “most powerful man in America,” wrote the majority opinion in the case. In this episode, we examine Kennedy’s singular devotion to the First Amendment and look at how it may have influenced his decision in the case.
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.
We think of the Supreme Court justices as all-powerful beings, issuing momentous rulings from on high. But they haven’t always been so, you know, supreme. On this episode, we go all the way back to the case that, in a lot of ways, started it all.