The hosts of the documentary style podcast Radiolab have been widely praised for their ability to turn complex, dry topics into clear and captivating narratives. Now, in the Radiolab spin-off More Perfect the team is focusing on a particularly challenging subject: the United States Supreme Court.
The decisions of the nine members of the Supreme Court have shaped the political and social landscape of the country, defining everything from marriages to elections. Each episode features a different Supreme Court case, describing the human stories behind the dense legal text. Much like Radiolab, the hosts create a podcast which is at times witty and entertaining, yet also moving and thought provoking.
Interestingly, the hosts spend much of their time exploring the minds of the justices, rather than those of the plaintiffs or the defendants. Supreme Court justices are ideally supposed to be highly rational and devoid of ideology. The hosts do away with this assumption, unveiling the masks of impartiality. In one episode, the hosts take the listeners all the way back to 1803, when the Supreme Court held very little power.
They describe the political clashes between then justice John Marshall and president Thomas Jefferson, which involve both ideological feuds and, as they were cousins, familial disputes. From bar fights to insult matches, the political drama almost sounds like it comes out of a soap opera. Yet, the story effectively explains how their struggle for political dominance lead Marshall to revolutionize the Supreme Court, establishing it as the powerful force that it is today.
In another episode, The Political Thicket, the hosts discuss a case which although largely unknown to the American public, was of monumental significance for those who served in court. By telling the stories of the justices, More Perfect reminds us that behind our governments are people who, like us, are subject to human error.
The stories of those who have shaped and reshaped America are especially compelling in this time of political upheaval. To understand our present, it may be useful to look at the monumental decisions that have changed a country in the past.
Image: Sunira Moses via Wikimedia Commons