Civics 101

By New Hampshire Public Radio

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 Dec 30, 2019
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 Jul 12, 2018


What's the difference between the House and the Senate? How do congressional investigations work? What is Federalist X actually about? Civics 101 is the podcast refresher course on the basics of how our democracy works.

Episode Date
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
Fabric of History: School, Students, and Speech

This November we’re going to start releasing Civics episodes every week. But in the meantime, Nick talked to Mary and Gary at the Bill of Rights Institute about a recent Supreme Court case, Mahanoy v BL, where a cheerleader was punished for snapchatting some expletive-laden content after school. This episode is from their civics-themed podcast, Fabric of History. You can hear all their episodes here:

Sep 21, 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
Civics Shorts: Founding Mothers 1 - The Wives

The most well known icons of our nation’s history, the founding fathers, developed our Declaration of Independence, led us into the war for independence, and wrote the laws of our government.

However, while the majority of people, including women, were excluded from those moments in history, their contributions to the forming of our nation were enormous. In a multi-part series, Civics Shorts focuses on some of the women journalist Cokie Roberts called “the founding mothers.” 

First up: the four wives of our founding fathers: Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Dolly Madison, and Eliza Hamilton.

Aug 17, 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
Civics Shorts: Washington, D.C.

Our federal capital, Washington, D.C., is a unique part of the United States. Washington, D.C. was established by the Constitution, and its exact location selected by President George Washington in 1790. Its status as a district rather than a state gives it a distinctive governing structure that has often been a source of contention for its residents. But it’s also a place of great beauty, monumental architecture, and history.

This story was produced by Mitch Scacchi

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Jul 30, 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
Civics Shorts: The Filibuster

To truly understand the U.S. Senate, it’s important to acquaint yourself with the filibuster. With strong supporters and fierce opponents, the filibuster seems to always be the subject of intense political debate. Its name evokes memories of senators giving speeches on the Senate floor for hours on end to stall. But there’s much more to the filibuster than that. Is it a tool of partisan obstruction or the defining feature of the Senate? Does it undermine the democratic process or force bipartisanship and compromise?

Featuring Mitch Scacchi and Christina Phillips

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Jul 15, 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
Civics Shorts: The Vice President

Is it “the most insignificant office” or is there more to it than that? The vice president is the second-highest ranking officer in American government, the next in line to the presidency, often a close presidential advisor, and almost always in the room when the most important policy decisions are being made in the White House. But what else is there to know about the position itself, its structure, and what the vice president’s job actually entails?

Jul 01, 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
Civics Shorts: The First Lady

As long as the United States has had a president, it’s also had a first lady - typically the wife of the current president. While being first lady isn’t an elected position, she still has duties and responsibilities...which we explore in this Civics 101 Short.

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Jun 24, 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
Civics Shorts: The Bill of Rights

The Bill of Rights is the first ten amendments to our Constitution. But while we think of them as fundamental… we almost didn’t have them. So why do we have one? And why did it matter so much? On today’s Civics Shorts, we tackle the Bill of Rights.

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Apr 27, 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

Mention of Roe versus Wade can silence conversation or incite heated debate. Candidates campaign on protecting it and getting it overturned. 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
Civics Shorts: 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. The country was in an economic and political crisis.

So fifty-five men gathered to determine the shape of the new United States. The result was the Constitution, supreme law of the land.

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Mar 12, 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
Civics Shorts: The Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence laid out the reasons the United States wanted to separate from Great Britain… and the ideals on which a new nation was founded. What led to the break up? What did the document say? And who was included… and excluded?

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Mar 01, 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
How a Bill (Really) Becomes a Law

Today AP Gov teacher David Olson shares his favorite episode, How a Bill (really) Becomes a Law. Here is a link to his paired lesson plan, three pages that will get anyone, student or not, up to speed.

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.

Civics 101 is free to listen to, but not to make. Support the show today with a small gift.

Jan 26, 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
Inauguration Day

The Constitution makes it clear that the four-year presidential term begins and ends at noon on January 20th. The time, date and the words of the presidential oath are committed to ink in the law of the land, but the rest of it? The pomp, the circumstance, the parade, the balls, the crowds? Yeah, we invented the rest of it. Journalist and media consultant Brenna Williams takes us through the day that the incumbent or the President-elect becomes the leader of the free world.

Jan 20, 2021
Who are the United States Capitol Police?

With the January 6th insurrection at the Capitol Building, the United States Capitol Police (USCP) have been thrust into the spotlight. That leaves some people wondering who the United States Capitol Police actually are. How is this agency different from the Secret Service? We explore the founding of the USCP and some of the challenges they have faced while protecting Congress and the Capitol grounds.

Jan 20, 2021
What is moving day like at the White House?

When a new first family sets foot inside of the White House on Inauguration Day they are walking into their new home for the next, usually, four to eight years. That means their furniture in the living, their pictures on the wall, their clothes in the closets. The only hitch is that the outgoing first family is supposed to feel at home up until the moment they leave the White House — also on inauguration day. What does that mean? Approximately six hours while the cat’s away to totally transform a 132-room mansion. The Washington Post’s Bonnie Berkowitz investigated this question a few years ago — she shares what she uncovered.

Jan 18, 2021
What are democratic norms?

Not every guiding principle in the United States is a law. Many are traditions, customs and best practices that someone came up with at one point and we all stuck to. These democratic norms are in place to facilitate a peaceful, respectful, smoothly-run government (they may not do a perfect job, but we need them nevertheless). So what happens when norms like respectful deference on the Senate floor or accepting election results are broken? Susan Stokes, professor of political science at the University of Chicago and Director of the Chicago Center on Democracy gives us the story.

Jan 15, 2021
Has the U.S. Capitol been ambushed before?

The U.S. has a long history of politically motivated violence. And the U.S. Capitol building, as a symbol of the nation, a very public building, and a working office for thousands of people, can also be a target, as we saw in the unprecedented insurrection on January 6th. Has the U.S. Capitol been ambushed before?

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Jan 14, 2021
What happens when one party controls Congress and the presidency?

Once President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in on January 20th, the Democratic Party will be in control of the presidency and both chambers of Congress. What does that mean for legislation?

Dan Cassino of Farleigh Dickinson University breaks down the pros and cons of unified control as well as divided government.

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Jan 13, 2021

The House has (again) drafted articles of impeachment against Donald Trump for high crimes and misdemeanors. What does that mean? How does the process play out? This episode was recorded in October 2019, before President Trump was impeached on October 31, 2019, so our statement that only two presidents have been impeached in U.S. history is now inaccurate, that number is up to three.

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.

Jan 12, 2021
The Peaceful Transition of Power

It has long been a proud claim of American democracy — that we are committed to a peaceful transition of power from one president to the next. That after all is said and done, the results tallied, the legal challenges resolved, a winner is declared and certified. That their challenger will concede and we will move on to the next chapter in our government’s executive branch. What does that signify and why is it important? What is at risk when it doesn’t happen? Constitutional scholar Linda Monk once again lends a hand.

Jan 11, 2021
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.

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Jan 08, 2021
Why does the vote certification take so long?

Even in an election year where it took weeks to count and recount the public’s votes, the United States seems to play a particularly long waiting game when it comes to finally certifying that vote in Congress. Who sets our first Tuesday after first Monday, our first Monday after second Wednesday, January 6th and January 20th? Why does the whole process take so long?

Jan 06, 2021
What role does Congress play in the Electoral College?

The Constitution requires Congress to meet and count the electoral votes on January 6th. It’s the final step in an election process for president that began in early November with citizens casting ballots, continued with election officials counting (and in some cases, recounting) ballots through November, and carried into December with the Electoral College meeting to cast their votes. What happens on January 6th? And can an election result be changed?

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Jan 04, 2021
How does a contested convention work?

These days nominating conventions are about party morale -- celebrating and formally anointing the chosen candidate. There hasn’t been a contested convention — a convention when there is no clear winner on the ballot — since 1952. What actually happens when states have to vote more than once? NHPR Fellow Tat Bellamy-Walker guest hosts for this episode on contested conventions with Shannon Bow O’Brien.

Dec 28, 2020
Holidays at the White House

Who had the first Christmas tree in the White House? Who had the first menorah? And when did we start the tradition of FLOTUS choosing a Christmas theme? All that and more in this short episode on celebrating the season at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

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Dec 21, 2020
What is voter fraud?

Claims of voter fraud are widespread, but is voter fraud itself widespread? What is voter fraud, how often does it happen, and how do claims of voter fraud affect an election? Professor Justin Levitt talks us through this murky subject.

Dec 18, 2020
How are seats filled when a member of Congress takes another job?

Today we answer a question from a listener: what happens if a member of Congress becomes president or VP? The process varies from state to state as well as in the different chambers of Congress, but Williams College professor of political science Matthew Tokeshi lays it all out.

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Dec 16, 2020
The 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.

Special thanks to Paul Bogush, who taught us to play Articles of Confederation the Game with a sack of blocks.

Thanks to everyone who has supported our show in the last few weeks, click here to make a donation to Civics 101.

Dec 15, 2020
How do presidential pardons work?

Pardons are one of the powers given the President in the Constitution but not ever crime can be pardoned. What kind of crimes can be pardoned? And how do pardons end up on the President’s desk? Andrew Rudalevige, professor of government at Bowdoin College, breaks down the process.

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Dec 14, 2020
How does the Electoral College vote?

The popular vote has been cast, the electors have been chosen, but the Electoral College still needs to meet and cast their ballots. What does that actually look like? Where and when does it happen? Jessie Kratz, historian of the National Archives, gives us the play-by-play.

Dec 11, 2020
Who are electors?

Today on Ask Civics 101 we look into the electors, the people who will vote for our president on December 14th. Who can be one? How are they chosen? And what is it like to really vote for the president and vice president?

This episode stars Jessie Kratz, historian at the National Archives, and Marseille Allen, a certified elector from Flint, Michigan.

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Dec 09, 2020
What do the National Archives have to do with the Electoral College?

The United States election system is notoriously decentralized, but when it comes to finally certifying our vote for President, things have to go federal. So how do 51 far flung pieces come together to be certified in the Senate on January 6th? Leave it to the National Archives and Records Administration to make it happen. NARA historian Jessie Kratz tells us how it works.

Dec 07, 2020
What does the Solicitor General do?

The Solicitor General represents the United States in cases that make it to the Supreme Court, and they’re also highly influential with the court itself. So what does it mean to be the lawyer for the U.S. and a near-honorary member of the Supreme Court? How does the SG maintain the line between Executive Branch and Judiciary? Professor Amy Steigerwalt lets us in on it.

Dec 04, 2020
What do politicians do after they leave office?

On January 3rd, the new Congress starts its session. But what about those who lost their seats? Where do they go? What do they do? Dan Cassino, Professor of Political Science at Farleigh Dickinson University, lays out the options.

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Dec 02, 2020
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 rebroadcast, introduced by Jason Stern, 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.

This episode features Jason Stern, Mary Beth Tinker, Dan Cassino, Kara Lamontagne, Adam Laats and Campbell Scribner.

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Dec 01, 2020
What's going on in the Georgia Senate races?

All eyes are on Georgia as it nears a runoff election for two Senate seats — seats that have the potential to split the Senate right down the middle between Democrats and Republicans. How did this happen? And what could a 50-50 Senate split mean for Congress? Professor Casey Dominguez of the University of San Diego breaks it down.

Nov 30, 2020
What happens to campaign funds after the election is over?

It doesn’t always happen (and probably shouldn’t) but occasionally there are funds leftover at the end of the long campaign road. Of course, that money was supposed to help that candidate win — and nothing else. There are some restrictions on what they’re allowed to do with it once all is said and done. Deborah D’Souza lays down the facts about those funds.

While you’re here… do you subscribe to the Civics 101 newsletter? No? Well, it’s free and it’s one of our favorite things and it’s where we put all the good stuff that doesn’t make it into the episodes. Go on, now, get it!

Nov 25, 2020
How do we add states? What is the difference between a state and a commonwealth?

Today’s listener question is, “What is the difference between a state and a commonwealth? Will Puerto Rico become a state or a commonwealth?” We go through that difference, the reason Puerto Rico might become a state, and how adding states has benefited the parties.

Our guest for today is Robinson Woodward-Burns, a professor of political science at Howard University.

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Nov 23, 2020
What is an Executive Order?

Sometimes it’s easier for a president to circumvent our complex legislative process and just do something.

Today we answer a listener question about executive orders: what they are, how they differ from laws passed in Congress, and how they’re checked by other branches and future administrations. This episode features Professor Casey Dominguez from San Diego University.

Civics 101 is free to listen to but not to make, support the show today with a donation.

Nov 20, 2020
How do judicial appointments and elections work?

Article III Justices — that is, most justices at the federal level, are appointed by the President, confirmed by the Senate, and then serve for as long as they please with very few exceptions. This is done, in part, to ensure that they are independent of the political process. At the state level, however, things often work differently. Judicial elections can be held to ensure accountability to the people. What does that mean for these different judiciaries?

Amy Steigerwalt of Georgia State University shows us the way.

Nov 18, 2020
The Declaration of Independence

We’re asking teachers to tell us their favorite Civics 101 episodes from the past, and today 8th grade Social Studies educator extrordinaire Andrew Swan introduces the Declaration of Independence. A breakup letter, a radical document, an ordinance of secession, a masterclass in political philosophy, whatever you think of it, it is how our nation started. This episode features many scholars with differing opinions on the Declaration: Danielle Allen, Byron Williams, Cheryl Cook-Kallio, Woody Holton, and Emma Bray.

If you’re a teacher and want to introduce an episode, just give a holler at and we’ll get right back to you.

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Nov 17, 2020
What Is The Difference Between Constructionist, Originalist and Liberal Justices?

How do Supreme Court justices decide that something in line with the Constitution? In violation or opposed to it? That all depends on what you think the Constitution is actually saying. And the Justices don’t always agree! An originalist justice is going to have a very different approach than a liberal justice will. Amy Steigerwalt, professor of political science at Georgia State University, breaks it down for us.

Civics 101 is free to listen to, but it isn’t free to make. Consider making a gift to support civic education today!

Nov 16, 2020
How do elections rise to the Supreme Court?

Today we answer this listener question: “It has happened before that in very close elections, the Supreme Court chose the winner. How does that happen?”

Our guest is Dan Cassino, Professor of Government and Politics at Fairleigh Dickinson University. He walks us through the two times the Supreme Court or its justices were directly involved with choosing a winner of the presidency.

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Nov 13, 2020
How do recounts work?

A recount may be undertaken if there are concerns about human error or fraud… and in some states, there are laws about close elections automatically triggering recounts. Recounts can happen in local, state, federal, and even presidential elections. How do they work? And how often does a recount change the outcome of an election?

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Nov 12, 2020
Will we ever get rid of the Electoral College system?

The Electoral College is a system. It’s a buffer between we, the people who vote, and the actual election of a president. The way this system works results in what some consider an unfair advantage for certain states and voters. But would we ever actually get rid of the Electoral College? What would that take? What are alternatives to the system?

Rebecca Deen, professor of Political Science at the University of Texas at Arlington, walks us through the what-ifs.

Nov 11, 2020
What is "court packing?"

What determines how many justices are on the Supreme Court? What is the process for adding or removing seats on the bench? And what is “constitutional hardball?”

Today we speak with Robinson Woodward-Burns, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Howard University, and author of the forthcoming book, Hidden Laws: How the State Constitutions Stabilize American Politics.

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Nov 09, 2020
What is a "lame duck" session?

It’s a period that currently lasts about a month, but it used to be much longer. So what exactly can Congress and the President do before they’re sworn in? Our guest is Dan Cassino, Professor of Political Science at Farleigh Dickinson University.

Civics 101 is free to listen to but not to make. Donate and support aural civic education here.

Nov 06, 2020
How do concession speeches work?

The concession speech marks the true end of a candidate’s campaign. There may have been a fight over the votes, there may have been recounts and lawsuits, but eventually there is a winner and there is a loser. What that loser says to their supporters is meant to be a reflection of a crucial American principle: the peaceful transition of power.

If you enjoy Civics 101, consider making a gift to help support the show! And don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter — it’s where we put all the good stuff that doesn’t make it into our episodes!

Nov 05, 2020
The Electoral College

Today we’re reairing 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.

Civics 101 depends on the support of our listeners. Click here to make a donation to the show, in any amount, and you’ll be invited to our virtual trivia event on Thursday, November 19th at 7pm.

Nov 04, 2020
How is my ballot counted?

What does an election look like when there are tens of millions of early and mail-in ballots to count? With different election laws in every state, what does the count look like and when will we know the final tally? Miles Parks, who covers voting for NPR, helps walk us through the drawn out process of counting every vote.

If you enjoy Civics 101, consider making a gift to help support the show! And don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter — it’s where we put all the good stuff that doesn’t make it into our episodes!

Nov 04, 2020
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
Ask Civics 101: Why is our voting age eighteen?

We take it for granted that the voting age is eighteen in the United States, but it hasn’t always been this way. We lowered that age from twenty-one in the seventies — so does that mean we could lower it again? Who gets to make that decision? Ask Civics 101 is on the case.

Oct 23, 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
Ask Civics 101: What does the 25th Amendment say about the President stepping down?

The 25th Amendment tells us what happens if the President is unable to do his or her job -- namely that the Vice President steps in. But under what circumstances does that actually happen, and how has this amendment been invoked before?

Oct 16, 2020
Ask Civics 101: What is the Hatch Act?

What is the Hatch Act? When was it created? It's purpose is to restrict political speech from any federal employee (from members of the Cabinet to USPS employees) while they are working, but what are the penalties? Who is exempt from it? And finally, has anyone been fired for violating it?

Oct 09, 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
Ask Civics 101: How did the Supreme Court become so important?

How did the Supreme Court go from, according to Alexander Hamilton, “beyond comparison the weakest of the three departments of power,” to the grand body that rules on the constitutionality of federal law? Ask Civics 101 takes a closer look at the highest court in the land, appointments and the relationship between party and justice.

Oct 02, 2020
Ask Civics 101: Why is the American campaign season so long?

In the United States, campaign season begins long before primaries and caucuses, and ages before the general election. In the past few presidential elections, some people announced their candidacy nearly two years before election day. And listener Charlie wrote in to ask, Might you consider discussing why the election ‘season’ takes approximately two years? Indeed we might, Charlie! And we did! Here comes another installment of Ask Civics 101 with NHPR broadcast host Peter Biello where we tackle why, exactly, American election season is so long.

And while you’re coming up with some brain burners for us, don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter so we can give a little something back! It’s every other week and it’s packed with our favorite civics facts that didn’t make it into the show, as well as updates from us!

Sep 25, 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
Ask Civics 101: Why do we have the Electoral College?

The Electoral College was created as a bulwark, a barrier between the people and the vote for the president. The founders feared giving people too much power so they created a system that put a check on the people's vote by "men of virtue" (and they were all men at the time). It is because of the Electoral College that a person can win the presidency even if they lose the popular vote — but how does it work, exactly?

Sep 18, 2020
Introducing Ask Civics 101: What are we?

We get a lot of questions here at the show. While we try to answer them in some form or another with our full-length episodes, we’ve always wanted a way to answer you directly. So we launched Ask Civics 101! It’s facilitated by New Hampshire Public Radio host Peter Biello and we’re doing it every week. Send your questions to us at and we’ll get to the bottom of things for you.

Our inaugural episode addresses a question (and critique) that we’ve received for years here at the show. It's an oft-lobbed claim. "We're not a democracy, we're a republic." And it's half true! We are a republic. But we're also a democracy.

What does that actually mean, and why is the question important? For our first-ever Ask Civics 101, we're answering this not-so-straightforward question: what are we?

Sep 15, 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.

If you’re a fan of Civics 101, you’ll love our newsletter, Extra Credit! Full of trivia, ephemera, and the occasional civic gif. Sign up at

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.

Sign up for the Civics 101 newsletter

Aug 25, 2020
Civics Shorts: Presidential Nominating Conventions

Presidential nominating conventions are full of razzle dazzle and drama! But what are they? Who goes to them? Where are they held? So many questions! 

This Civics Short is designed with middle schoolers in mind, but it’s also for anyone who wants a quick refresher.

Find more Civics 101 on our website,

Aug 17, 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
Civics Shorts: Judicial Branch

It’s that time of year again, Supreme Court ruling season! The Supreme Court, or SCOTUS for short, came out with a number of major decisions recently. But how does a case get to SCOTUS? And what role do district and circuit courts play in the judicial branch?

This Civics Short is designed with middle schoolers in mind, but it’s also for anyone who wants a quick refresher.

Jul 17, 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
Civics Shorts: The Electoral College

The Electoral College has been called “complicated and confusing.” But our Civics 101 Shorts series eat “complicated and confusing” for breakfast! This episode explores what the Electoral College is, why we have it, and how it works.

Find more Civics 101 on our website

Jun 24, 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
Civics Shorts: The Three Branches

The United States government spreads power across three branches of government: the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. Why three branches? What does each branch do that the others cannot? And how do they work together? 

Today’s Civics Short, designed for middle schoolers but fun for all, takes a closer look at the who, what, where, and whys of the Census.

Find more Civics 101 on our website

Jun 03, 2020
Civics Shorts: The Census

Every ten years the United States government tries to count every person in the country with a census. What is the census? Why does the government need to count people? Who is it doing the counting? Today’s Civics Short, designed for middle schoolers but fun for all, takes a closer look at the who, what, where, and whys of the Census.

May 26, 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
Civics Shorts: The CDC

The CDC, or the Centers for Disease Control, have been in the news a lot lately. But what is the CDC? And what does it do? Today’s Civics Short, designed for middle schoolers but fun for all, takes a closer look at the who, what, where, and whys of the CDC.

Watch “The Winged Scourge

Find more Civics 101. And check out our Learn at Home lessons.

Apr 09, 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
Introducing Civics Shorts: Running for President

You asked, and we are at your service! Producer Jacqui Fulton will be bringing you 6th, 7th and 8th graders out there these Civics Shorts. Quick and easy lessons on the basics of democracy. We’re kicking off with an explainer on how to run for president — who gets to do it? How do you launch a campaign? What’s the election process? All in less than ten minutes.

Mar 27, 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
Special Announcement for Educators

Many of you are now teaching remotely or (for you parents out there) ultra-locally, and we want to offer whatever assistance we can. Taking this short survey will help us figure out what we can make for you. Here’s a link to the survey.

Mar 24, 2020
Civics 101 Presents Code Switch
Mar 13, 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 Stump Speech: Student Contest Winners

What’s wrong in America today? What would you do to fix it? Today we share the winners of our third annual Student Contest. Hailey Cheng, Tigist Murch, and Vijay Damerla give us their minute-long pitch for what America needs. Political Science professor Dan Cassino weighs in on the tactics used in these three speeches, and whether or not they’re shared with the current presidential candidates.

To hear all the finalists, visit

Feb 11, 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.

Find more on our website,

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.

After you listen, why not stand up and be counted as a supporter of Civics 101? We're in the throes of our end of year fund drive and we're asking you, dear civics listener, to consider making a contribution to the future of Civics 101. It's easy, mere moments, faster than filling out the census! If you're so inclined, you can make your gift here:

Nov 19, 2019
Student Contest Announcement: Stump Speech

Can you tell us what America needs?

In this year’s Student Contest, we’re looking for your stump speech, that 60-second pitch to the nation on what you’d focus on if you were running for president. What are the most important issues? How would you fix them?

All students are welcome to contribute to this contest.

The winning speeches will be assembled and released to our Civics 101 audience. The deadline is 12/31.

To submit, record a 60-second or so voice memo of your stump speech on either your phone or computer and send it to Make sure to tell us your name and your school!

Alternatively, you can leave your stump speech on our Civics Hotline by calling 202-798-6865. Good luck!

Nov 12, 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
Introducing: Stranglehold

Want to dig deeper into the world of presidential primaries? No better place to start than New Hampshire. Our colleagues Lauren Chooljian and Jack Rodolico tell the story of New Hampshire's grip on the First in the Nation primary in this podcast about power and the characters who wield it here in the Granite State.

You can subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, and learn more about Stranglehold at

Original music by Jason Moon and Lucas Anderson.

Stranglehold reporting/production team:

Lauren Chooljuan, Jack Rodolico, Jason Moon, Casey McDermott, Josh Rogers, Nick Capodice, Hannah McCarthy and the NHPR newsroom.

Oct 25, 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
Student Contest Winner: On the Bench

It's time for the 2nd annual winner of our Student Contest! Our winners are Jessie Aniloff, Katie Bruni, and Tara Czekner from Anthony Micalizzi's class at Villa Joseph Marie High School 

In their podcast, On the Bench, they share their thoughts on representation in the Supreme Court, citing the work done by the four female justices to take the bench thus far. 

Aug 13, 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
Upcoming Series: Civics Starter Kit

An announcement of our new series, airing on July 2.

Jun 25, 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
Special Announcement: Student Contest

Go to for rules and resources. Make an under 15 minute podcast episode in any format by May 15th.

We want to hear about your favorite civics primary source. This can be anything from Abigail Adams’ pocket to an interview with a family member about their protest sign to an old campaign button. It’s the ‘thing’ that rings that civic participation bell for you, and helps you to understand a moment, a political movement, a complicated element of our government, or your rights.

Feb 22, 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.

Subscribe to Civics 101 for all your civil needs. Find out more at

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
Special Announcement: Upcoming Season

For our next season, we're going to tackle America's founding documents: Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Federalist Papers. Episode One will release on January 22nd, but don't hold back in the meantime! We want to hear your questions, comments and ideas. And if you're a teacher who has found a unique way to teach the founding documents, drop us a line! That email is

Nov 20, 2018
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
Special Announcement and IRL2 rebroadcast

First off, our next season of Civics 101 will launch this October with a special miniseries on the midterm elections. Each episode will better educate you on what you're voting for in November (you are voting, right? Even if you can't yet, we've got some stuff for you) and each will include a breakdown of the wide-ranging effects of a historic US midterm.

Second, this is a rebroadcast of IRL2, our episode on the history of the American flag and the Pledge of Allegiance, focusing on times the use (or lack thereof) of these icons challenged the 1st Amendment.

Aug 21, 2018
IRL1: Free Speech in Schools [Rebroadcast]

A rebroadcast to get ready for the school year: 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.

Aug 07, 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

On today's episode: How does the government respond when an American is taken hostage? Is it true that we don't negotiate with terrorists? Who in the government handles these situations? We talked with Chris Mellon, a policy analyst at New America and coauthor of a paper on whether American hostage policies are effective. 

Apr 20, 2018
Infrastructure - Roads!

Dams, highways, telephone poles... all of these things fall under the huge umbrella we call INFRASTRUCTURE.  But what does all that concrete and copper have to do with government?  More than you might think. Our infrastructure is what gives Americans access to community, communication, and business – it’s a system so complicated it takes dozens of federal administrations and agencies to oversee and regulate it.


 In this episode, the first in a sporadic series on American infrastructure, we look specifically at roads. Who pays for them? How do we benefit from roads, even if we aren't the ones driving on them? What the heck is a public-private partnership?   Our guests are Civics 101 Senior Producer Taylor Quimby, and Shailen Bhatt, President and CEO of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America. 

Apr 17, 2018

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is a U.S. foreign intelligence service. It was created in the wake of World War II and Pearl Harbor, at the dawn of the Cold War. But the agency's record and methods are controversial.

What is the purpose of the CIA and what is the role of espionage within a democracy?

Journalist Tim Weiner joins us to trace the inner workings and history of the CIA.  He is the author of Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA..

Apr 10, 2018
The Americans with Disabilities Act

On today's episode: How does the government look out for people who use a wheelchair, are deaf or blind, or have other disabilities? What forms of discrimination do people with disabilities face, and what did it take to get protections passed into law? How well are businesses complying with those protections? We spoke with Lennard Davis, professor of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago and author of Enabling Acts: The Hidden Story of How the Americans with Disabilities Act Gave the Largest US Minority Its Rights

Apr 06, 2018
The Eighth Amendment

The Eighth Amendment grants us the right for protection against excessive bail, fines, or cruel and unusual punishment. But how do we define cruel and unusual? And how has that definition changed over the course of history? Is it still "an eye for an eye" out there? Walking us through everything from unreasonable bail to capital punishment is John Bessler, Associate Professor of Law at the University of Baltimore and Visiting Scholar at Minnesota Law School.

Apr 03, 2018
The Department of Justice

The Justice Department seems to always be in the news - from the White House's public criticism of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, to the President's firing of James Comey - but what's behind the headlines? What exactly does the DOJ do from day-to-day? And what's the agency's relationship between other branches of government? NPR Justice Correspondent Carrie Johnson joins us to help us learn more.  

Mar 30, 2018
The Hatch Act

Every now and again, reports come out that a public official has violated The Hatch Act - a 1939 law that prevents federal employees from engaging in certain types of political activity and speech.  Today, we'll find out what exactly is and is not allowed under the Hatch Act; who decides when the line has been crossed; and what the penalties are for violations. Our guest is Liz Hempowicz, Director of Public Policy for the Project On Government Oversight. 

Mar 27, 2018

The FBI is our federal law enforcement agency. And, to enforce the law, it plays the role of secret intelligence agency as well. So how does the FBI protect us against domestic threats? And how far has it been willing to go to uphold the law? Journalist and author Tim Weiner joins us to reveal the inner workings of an agency shrouded in secret.

Mar 20, 2018

On today's episode: What does the United States do when it captures prisoners of war? What are the Geneva Conventions? How did 9/11 change our commitment to treating prisoners humanely, and what mark has it left on public opinion about torture? 

Mar 16, 2018
Democratic Norms

On today's episode: What are the norms of democratic government, and where do they come from? Which norms are essential to U.S. democracy, and how are they changing today? We put these questions to the authors of How Democracies Die, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, and get some concerning answers. 

Mar 09, 2018
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

What exactly is DACA, or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals? Is it the same as the Dream Act? What will happen if it expires?  How do DACA recipients effect the economy?  Today, an explainer and brief history of DACA. Our guest is Sarah Gonzalez, who covers youth and families for WNYC.   

Feb 16, 2018
First Ladies

The role of the First Lady carries a lot of responsibility, but it's really more custom than law. How has is changed over time, and who are the women who have defined the role?

Susan Swain is co-CEO of C-SPAN. She was the host of their year-long series "First Ladies: Influence and Image" and editor of the accompanying book. She's also behind the @firstladies Twitter feed.

Feb 13, 2018
Nuclear Weapons

On this episode: How does the United States use, or more precisely avoid using, its fearsome arsenal of nuclear weapons? How did we arrive at a world in which so many countries are armed to the teeth with nukes? What can we expect from North Korea as negotiations continue? We revisit the Cold War this week with Joe Cirincione, author of Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons, and president of Ploughshares Fund. 

Feb 09, 2018
Inspectors General

If you watch a lot of police procedurals, you’ll recognize this setup: beat cops get a visit from Internal Affairs and drama ensues.  As it turns out, government agencies also have their own internal watchdogs: investigators that make sure  federal policymakers are following the law. In this episode, we learn about the role and origin of inspectors general.  How do they launch investigations? To whom do they report? And is the position influenced by politics?  Our guest is Elizabeth Hempowicz, Director of Public Policy for the Project on Government Oversight. 

Feb 06, 2018
The Federal Election Commission

On today's episode: How does the government make sure elections are conducted fairly? Who's keeping track of all the money donated to candidates? Is the Federal Election Commission still relevant in the era of dark money and Super PACs? Joining us on the show is Bob Biersack, senior fellow at the Center for Responsive Politics. 

Feb 02, 2018
Super PACs

On this episode: What is a super PAC, and for that matter, what's a PAC? What are the rules they have to follow? Does spending money in an election count as free speech? We address campaign finance and the murky world of dark money with Dante Scala, political science professor at the University of New Hampshire. 

Jan 26, 2018

Welfare is one of the nation's most contentious and least understood social programs. What began as support for single mothers and their children has throughout history been a target for stigmatization and budget cuts. Premilla Nadasen is author ofWelfare in The United States and she joined us to better understand the history and potential future of the program. 

Jan 23, 2018
The Surgeon General

On today's episode: Who is the Surgeon General and what powers do they have? When a public health crisis strikes, what can the Surgeon General do? What influence did Surgeons General have on issues like smoking and HIV/AIDS? We sit down with Fitzhugh Mullan, professor of Health Policy and Management at George Washington University. 

Jan 12, 2018
Department of Homeland Security

On this week's show: What does the Department of Homeland Security do? How has it evolved in the past decade and a half? Can it keep up with the changing nature of terrorism? Our guide today is Ron Nixon, the New York Times homeland security correspondent. 

Jan 05, 2018
The National Anthem

On this week's episode: Who composed our national anthem? Why do we play it so often? And what's the significance of protesting during the anthem? Our guest is Marc Leepson, author of Flag: An American Biography. 

Jan 02, 2018
Camp David

Every president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt has spent time at Camp David. But why was the presidential retreat built in the first place, and what happens there? To find out, we spoke to Retired Rear Admiral Michael Giorgione, former commanding officer of Camp David and author of Inside Camp David: The Private World of the Presidential Retreat.

Dec 29, 2017

The Federal Emergency Management Agency was established in order to plan and respond to nuclear war.  These days, they're tasked with showing up after all sorts of disasters strike. But what kind of resources does FEMA have to respond to storms, earthquakes, fires and floods? And where is the organization when we feel we need them most... in the hours and days after disaster strikes? Our guest today is Garrett Graff, a journalist and historian who wrote The Secret History of FEMA for Wired Magazine. 

Dec 22, 2017
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

What do alcohol, tobacco, firearms, and explosives all have in common? They fall under the umbrella of a single federal bureau - commonly referred to as the ATF.  On this episode, what led to the creation of the ATF?  What kind of power do ATF agents have? What exactly is a legal explosive?  Our guest is Katie Tinto, assistant professor at the University of California, Irvine School of Law. 

Dec 19, 2017
U.S. Allies

On today's episode: What does it mean to be an ally of the United States, who decides which countries we should be allies with, and how do our alliances influence the role of the United States around the world? To clear up these questions, we spoke with Melissa Waters, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis. 

Dec 15, 2017

In the 1960’s there was a growing awareness of urban plight and poverty, which was generally referred to as the "Urban Crisis" - the economic abandonment of large U.S. cities.  As part of President Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society" push came a cabinet department designed in part to stabilize housing and urban areas: the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD. How has HUD evolved since those early days? What programs does the department oversee? And what's its future today? Guiding us through the young history of HUD is Alec MacGillis, politics and government reporter with ProPublica

Dec 12, 2017
The National Archives

The National Archives and Records Administration is the forever home of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution,  but what else do they keep in their vaults? Can just anybody do research at the Archives? And what role does NARA play in the national election?  To find out, we spoke to Jessie Kratz, the historian at the National Archives.

Dec 08, 2017
Congressional Committees

In a given week, Congress might vote on everything from international diplomacy to wildlife conservation to internet regulation. How do individual members of Congress become experts on each of these subjects? The answer is: they don't. Congress divides its work load among committees. This week, how does the committee system work, which committees wield the most influence, and how do members of Congress jockey for committee seats? We speak with Garrison Nelson, a professor of political science at the University of Vermont. 

Dec 01, 2017
U.S. Postal Service

One of the founding institutions of America's government is also one of the most overlooked and surprising ones: the Postal Service. What role did it play in shaping the early, disparate colonies into a unified nation? How has it survived the digital age? And what's its future going forward? Our guest is Winifred Gallagher, writer and author of How the Post Office Created America.   

Nov 28, 2017
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
Native American Reservations

On this episode:  What is a Native American reservation? What is a pueblo? What does it mean to be a sovereign nation? What is the relationship between reservations and the federal government? Can reservations pass laws that run up against state or federal statutes? How are, and were, reservations created? What does the Bureau of Indian Affairs actually do? Our guest is Maurice Crandall, assistant professor of Native American Studies at Dartmouth, and a citizen of the Yavapai-Apache Nation of Camp Verde. 

Nov 21, 2017
White House Staffers

In this episode: What do White House staffers actually do, what are the rules constraining them, and how have the day-to-day staffing demands of the White House changed over the years? Our guest is Karen Hult, Chair of the Department of Political Science at Virginia Tech. 

Nov 17, 2017

 In this episode: What is a union? How are unions formed? What are the benefits and costs of labor unions, for both workers and business? What is the history of unions in America, and what might unions look like in the future? Our guest is David Zonderman, author of Uneasy Allies: Working For Labor Reform in Nineteenth-Century Boston.

Nov 14, 2017
The Vice President

The vice president is said to be just a heartbeat away from Commander-in-Chief. But what does the VEEP actually do? How significant a role does the vice president play in the White House... and with the president? And what kind of effect can a running mate have on a presidential election? To find out, we talked to one of the foremost experts on the Vice Presidency, St. Louis University law professor Joel Goldstein. 

Nov 10, 2017
The 2nd Amendment

On today's episode: The Second Amendment. For ages, the right to bear arms was among the least controversial amendments in the U.S. Constitution. Today,  it's among the most divisive issues in American politics. What were the Founders hoping to achieve in ratifying The Second Amendment?  When did the U.S. start regulating guns? What qualifies as arms? We'll seek out constitutional consensus on a topic where common ground is hard to find. Our guest is Jeffrey Rosen, CEO and President of the National Constitution Center, and host of We the People.

Nov 07, 2017
The Secret Service

You've heard of the Secret Service and you've probably even seen them in action - observing stoically behind a dark suit and sunglasses. But what exactly do they do? How does someone become an agent? And how are they fairing with the demands of a Trump presidency? Today we get a behind-the-scenes breakdown of the agency from New York Times Reporter Nicholas Fandos who's been covering the service's inner-workings.

Nov 03, 2017
The 1st Amendment - Freedom of Assembly

On today's episode: a closer look at one of the freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment: the freedom of assembly.  What is it? Is our freedom of assembly tied to other First Amendment rights, or does it stand alone? Are there limits to where and when this freedom can be exercised? How are 'assemblies' defined in the digital age?  Our guest is John Inazu, author of Liberty's Refuge: The Forgotten Freedom of Assembly, 

Oct 20, 2017

In the 1960’s, the American public looked around at the environment—polluted rivers, smoggy skies—and decided something needed to be done. By 1970, the blooming environmental movement had an official voice in the government: the Environmental Protection Agency. But what can the agency actually do, and how has its job changed with our changing environmental challenges? Guiding us through the brief, eventful history of EPA is Stan Meiburg, former Acting Deputy Administrator of EPA under Obama. 

Oct 17, 2017
The Secretary of Education

Head of the Department of Education and a cabinet member with the ear of the President... but how much power does the Secretary of education really have? Can he or she influence policy? How much say does the Secretary have in the way we teach our kids? Our guest is Jessica Kendorski, Associate Professor and Director of Professional Education in School Psychology at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. 

Oct 13, 2017
The Debt Ceiling

Every so often, while our national debt ratchets upward, politicians threaten to refuse to raise the upper limit on that debt. But does the debt ceiling actually curb the government's borrowing, and what would happen if Congress didn't raise it? Our guide to these questions is Michael Dorf, law professor at Cornell University.

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Oct 03, 2017
The Attorney General

We're zooming in on the highest legal officer in the country and asking who, exactly, the Attorney General represents. If the AG is a member of the Executive Branch, does that make him the President's lawyer? And what happens when the U.S. government goes to court? Our guest is David Yalof, professor of Political Science at the University of Connecticut.

Sep 29, 2017
Government Shutdown

On this episode: What actually shuts down during a government shutdown?  Do federal workers still get paid? Who decides what government jobs are essential, and non-essential?  What can past government shutdowns tell us about the process? Our guest is Charles Tiefer, law professor at the University of Baltimore. 

Sep 19, 2017
Commander in Chief

On this episode: What does it mean that the President is 'Commander-in-Chief'? What powers does the Constitution grant him? What is the difference between the President's power to conduct war, versus the power of Congress to declare it? Practically speaking, can the President order specific combat missions? How have the President's war powers changed since Vietnam and 9/11? Our guest is Michael Paulsen, constitutional scholar and professor of law at the University of St. Thomas. 

Sep 15, 2017
The 1st Amendment - Freedom of Speech

On today's lesson: We take a broader look at the First Amendment, and then zero in on one of the freedoms it covers: the freedom of speech.  We'll cover the text of the First Amendment in the U.S. Constitution, and why the framers chose to include so many important freedoms in one sentence.  Also, what constitutes 'speech', and how landmark court cases have outlined the importance of context when determining the meaning of our first amendment rights. Our guest is Lata Nott, Executive Director of the Newseum Institute's First Amendment Center. 

Sep 12, 2017
The Federal Reserve

On today's lesson: What is the Federal Reserve? How important is it? What tools does the Fed use to manage the U.S economy, and why is it organized differently than other government agencies? Our guest isLouise Sheiner, policy director at the Brookings Institution's Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy. 

Sep 08, 2017
Security Clearance

On today's lesson: How do people receive security clearance to see secret, or top secret government material? Who grants it, and how is that clearance revoked in cases of misuse?  Do people with security clearance have unfettered access to secret material, or is classified information compartmentalized? Also, does the President have any restrictions to his security clearance? Today's guest is Juliette Kayyem, national security analyst for CNN and Boston Public Radio, and host of the podcast The Scif

Sep 05, 2017
State of Emergency

Natural disasters, civil unrest, widespread epidemics - these are just some of the unpredictable events that can  trigger a President or Governor to declare a special "state of emergency". But what exactly does that mean? Is it symbolic, or logistical?  What emergency powers does this special designation authorize?  Our guide this week is Kim Lane Scheppele, author of Law in a Time of Emergency. 

Aug 29, 2017

For a serious crime, accusations of treason get thrown around a lot - which is why the framers  were very specific about what does and doesn't make you an actual traitor. In fact, treason is the only crime explicitly defined in the U.S. Constitution.  In this episode, University of California Davis law professor Carlton Larson explains the difference between treason and espionage, and why most of those guilty of treason will never be convicted. 

Aug 25, 2017

From full trade embargoes to targeted sanctions and frozen assets, sanctions are an increasingly commonplace tool used in U.S. foreign policy.  Today, a primer on the purpose and design of economic sanctions, from one of the people who helped develop Obama-era sanctions against Russia: Sean Kane, Counsel at Hughes Hubbard and Reed's International Trade Practice. 

Aug 18, 2017
Who Gets To Run For President

Forty-four people have become President of The United States - all men, and with one exception, all white. Despite that historic profile, and a clause in the constitution, the qualification about who can become President remain fuzzy. Here to explain the formal and informal rules that govern who is allowed to become Commander-in-Chief is Brady Carlson , author of Dead Presidents.

Aug 15, 2017
Federal Grand Juries

The right to a Federal grand jury comes from the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, but what exactly are they, how are jurors chosen and how do they work? We asked Erin Corcoran to join us again to explain this judicial tool. Erin is a former Senate Committee staffer, law professor, and legal consultant.

Read the transcript at this link.

Aug 11, 2017

What happens at a U.S. Embassy?  What does it take to become a diplomat?  And how do you celebrate the 4th of July in Africa? In this episode, we get a taste of how ambassadors represent U.S. interests in foreign countries.  Our guest is Johnnie Carson, a former U.S. Ambassador to Uganda, Zimbabwe, and Kenya.

Aug 08, 2017
Speaker of the House

The Speaker of the House is second in the presidential line of succession, after the Vice President and ahead of the President pro tempore of the Senate. The person elected to the Speakership wields a fair amount of power not only in the House of Representatives, but also within their party, but what exactly does a Speaker do? And how does someone end up in that position? 53 men and one woman have held the Speaker’s gavel, and each individual has put their unique mark on Congressional history. We chatted with Matt Wasniewski, Historian of the United States House of Representatives to learn more.

Aug 04, 2017
Intelligence Agencies

You've heard of the CIA and NSA... how about the NGA?  That's the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency by the way (formerly known as the National Imagery and Mapping Agency) which is just one of the more than a dozen intelligence agencies operating in the United States. So how do all these agencies coordinate? Who is in charge? Today, an intelligent lesson guided by Amy Zegart, author and co-director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University.

Aug 01, 2017
Presidential Pardons

Article II of the U.S. Constitution gives the President the power to grant pardons. Does this power have limits? Or did the founders give the the President an untouchable "get-out-of-jail-free" card? Does Congress get a say? And what purpose to pardons serve anyway? Today's guest lecturer is Andrew Rudalevige, Thomas Brackett Reed Professor of Goverment at Bowdoin College. 

Jul 28, 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.  

Email us your U.S. territories mnemonic device!

Jul 25, 2017
Obstruction of Justice

“Obstruction of Justice” has been a term swirling around in the headlines lately, but what does the charge actually mean? And how do you prove it? We’re speaking with Brianne Gorod, Chief Counsel for the Constitutional Accountability Center to learn about the many different ways one can be accused of obstructing justice – from witness tampering and retaliation to simple contempt and the many options in-between. 

Jul 21, 2017
Church and State

The separation of church and state is widely considered to be a building block of American democracy,  but what did the founders really have in mind when they wrote "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” into the first amendment? And what's the deal with "one nation under God," and the whole swearing on the bible thing? Backstory's Ed Ayers and Brian Balogh lead today's civics lesson.


Jul 18, 2017

When discussing the political power of special interest groups, you can't help but talk about lobbying.  But what does a lobbyist actually do?  We know they hand over checks (lots of them) but how do they spend the rest of their time? What separates legal lobbying from bribery? And how is the food at all those Washington D.C. fundraising breakfasts anyway? Jimmy Williams, former lobbyist and current host of Decode D.C. spills the beans. 

Jul 14, 2017
Autocracies and Oligarchies and Democracies, Oh My!

The United States is described as a republic, a federation, and a constitutional democracy. So, what is it? Are those terms interchangeable? And, while we're at it, what's the difference between totalitarianism, despotism, and dictatorship? Political science professor Seth Masket digs into the 'isms, 'cracies, and 'archies for a brief primer on different forms of government. 

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Jul 07, 2017
Approval Ratings

Presidential job approval. It seems we get a weekly report from news organizations on how citizen’s think the President is doing, so we're digging into how it gets calculated and how much that number really matters with Dan Cassino, Associate Professor of Political Science at Fairleigh Dickinson University. #civics101pod

Jun 28, 2017
Party Whips

With more than 500 members of Congress, parties have to coordinate members and keep them on the same page. Enter: party whips. But what do they actually do? Several of you asked us to find out. We asked Larry Evans, the Newton Family Professor of Government at the College of William and Mary to help us out. #civics101pod

Jun 21, 2017
Declaring War

War, what is it good for? For a country that’s spent a significant amount of its history engaged in conflict, the United States has only officially declared war 11 times – most recently in WWII. So what about all the other conflicts we’ve entered into as a nation? And how do we decide to set off into battle anyway? To learn more about how the US declares war, we’re speaking with Albin Kowalewski, Historical Publications Specialist for the US House of Representatives.

Jun 07, 2017
National Debt & The Deficit

The National Debt and The Deficit: two terms that are often used interchangeably, but take on different meanings when it comes to the government. Louise Sheiner is a Policy Director for The Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy at the Brookings Institution and she's here to help guide us through the differences between the debt and the deficit, and what the implications of carrying debt are. #civics101pod

May 17, 2017
Political Speechwriting

We do our best to answer your questions about how American democracy works, but many of you have also told us you like to get the insider's view from people who work, or have worked in government. We asked Sarada Peri, former senior presidential speech writer for Barack Obama, about the art of political speech writing. #civics101pod

May 10, 2017
Congressional Caucuses

We've received multiple questions about Congressional Caucuses, what are they, how are they formed, and what is their purpose? We asked Colleen Shogun, Deputy Director of Outreach at the Library of Congress to help us understand the approximately 800 Congressional Caucuses, from the Authors Caucus to the Civility Caucus. #civics101pod

May 05, 2017
The Cabinet

Kristen in California asked: "How exactly does the cabinet work? How much control do the secretaries have? And are they loyal to the president or the department." We asked Dean Spiliotes, Civics Scholar at Southern New Hampshire University to help guide us through the history and inner workings of a president's cabinet. #civics101pod

Apr 21, 2017
Term Limits

Why are there no term limits on Congress, how long has it been that way, and what would it take to actually change how long someone can serve? In this episode we look into the long history of term limits for government officials from the President to the Vice President to Congress. #civics101pod

Apr 18, 2017

When Congress imposed the first personal income tax on Americans in 1861, nothing happened – because there was no agency to collect it! The following year saw the creation of the Bureau of Internal Revenue, or as you know it today, the Internal Revenue Service. Today, the IRS is a massive federal bureaucracy charged with collecting taxes, doling out credits, and capturing and jailing tax cheats.  On this episode, Joe Thorndike, Director of the Tax History Project, walks us through the history and role of the IRS.  Submit your questions: or call the Civics 101 hotline: 202-798-6865

Apr 14, 2017

One of our listeners sent in a question asking about “the ethics clause”, which forbids presidents from receiving foreign gifts. As it turns out, there isn’t something in the constitution with exactly that title – but there is something called the “Emoluments Clause”, where the founders laid out some rules aimed at combating corruption. In this episode, we look at the language of the Emoluments Clause, and how the founders might have envisioned it working today.   Submit your questions: or call the Civics 101 hotline: 202-798-6865

Apr 11, 2017
Congressional Investigations

The Army-McCarthy hearings, Watergate, the Iran-Contra affair, the Select Committee on Benghazi, the Russian hacking probe. Congressional investigations are a staple of American politics, but how do they work? When is it Congress' job to investigate an issue? And what the heck is the difference between a probe and an investigation, anyway? Professor of Government and Policy Linda Fowler guides us through the complicated world of congressional investigations. #civics101pod Submit your questions: or call the Civics 101 hotline: 202-798-6865

Apr 07, 2017
The Congressional Budget Office

When Republicans first submitted their alternative to the Affordable Care Act, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle anxiously awaited the release of the Congressional Budget Office's analysis—or "score"—for the bill. Determining the long and short-term cost for a specific piece of legislation is a complicated task, so we asked the founding director of the CBO, Alice Rivlin, to help explain the history of the office and how it manages to predict the financial outcome of a bill when there are so many moving parts. #civics101podcast Submit your questions: or call the Civics 101 hotline: 202-798-6865

Apr 04, 2017
Electoral College

We've received a lot of questions about The Electoral College from listeners, from how it works, to why it was set up, and whether or not it can it be changed or removed. So we asked Ron Elving from NPR to explain the basics of The Electoral College, from its formation to its current state. #civics101pod Submit your questions: or call the Civics 101 hotline: 202-798-6865

Mar 31, 2017
Senate Rules

When Senator Mitch McConnell barred Senator Elizabeth Warren from speaking during the debate over Jeff Session’s nomination for Attorney General, he invoked Rule XIX. It's safe to say many people suddenly realized how little they knew about the rules of the Senate. There are in fact 44 standing rules of the US Senate, but what are they? Where do they come from? And who can Presiding Officers turn to when they have a question? Alan Frumin spent 35 years in the Office of the Senate Parliamentarian and he gave us a primer. #civics101pod Submit your questions: or call the Civics 101 hotline: 202-798-6865

Mar 28, 2017

The presidential veto is one of the cornerstones of the system of constitutional checks and balances the framers used to prevent the misuse or abuse of power within any branch of government. How has the veto been used historically and more recently? In this episode we cover the basics of the veto.

Mar 21, 2017

Over the years, gerrymandering has become synonymous with weirdly-shaped maps of electoral districts, nefarious political maneuvering, and partisanship. But when did gerrymandering become the norm? Is it always used for political gain? And is there any way to stop it from happening? Our latest episode dives into the complicated history of the gerrymander. #civics101pod Submit your questions through our website:

Mar 17, 2017
Department of State & Department of Defense

They are two of the most powerful positions in a president’s cabinet: the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense. One has been around since the American Revolution, the other is relatively new. So what exactly do these two departments and their heads do? And are diplomatic efforts and military strategy natural opposites? In this episode, the history and interaction between two of the most powerful US agencies. #civics101pod Submit your questions through our website:

Mar 14, 2017

From Jimmy Stewart's unyielding speech in "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington" to today's threats of using the nuclear option for approving Supreme Court nominees, the term "filibuster" gets thrown around a lot, but what is it? What are the rules governing this sanctioned form of unruliness? And is it effective? #civics101pod Submit your questions through our website: 

Mar 06, 2017
The Nuclear Codes

What exactly does it mean when we say a president “has the nuclear codes”? Is it really as simple as pressing a button? And what happens after a president does order a nuclear strike? Retired Marine lieutenant colonel James W. Weirick explains. #civics101pod Submit your questions through our website: 

Mar 02, 2017
The State of the Union Address

The State of the Union address is a longstanding tradition that involves bizarre, unexplained protocol and more applause than a high school graduation. It’s also mandated by the constitution. In this episode, we learn how the SOTU has changed since George Washington delivered the very first one to a joint session of Congress way back in 1790. #civics101pod 

Mar 01, 2017
Overturning a Supreme Court Ruling

We're staying on the federal court system beat with a deeper look into the Supreme Court. The word "supreme" is defined as: “an authority or office superior to all others.” So when the Supreme Court decides on a case, it’s final, right? Not exactly. In Episode 9, we cover the handful of ways a Supreme Court ruling can be overturned. #civics101pod Submit your questions: or call the Civics 101 hotline: 202-798-6865

Feb 21, 2017
Federal Courts

When a trio of judges on a federal appeals court in Washington state upheld a freeze on president Trump's Executive Order on immigration, some people celebrated, the administration protested - and at least a few people said: “Wait a minute... How *do* the federal courts work? Episode 8 looks into the structure and power of the federal courts - what they can do, how they do it, and why it matters. #civics101pod Submit your questions: or call the Civics 101 hotline: 202-798-6865

Feb 16, 2017
The National Security Council

What's the purpose of the National Security Council? When was it created? Who serves on it? And why is Steve Bannon's appointment to its principals committee such a big deal? Former NSC member Stephen Sestanovich helps answer those questions. Submit your questions: or call the Civics 101 hotline 202-798-6865

Feb 09, 2017
Calling Your Congressperson

We're often urged to call our elected representatives to voice opinions on the issues, but what happens after that call is made? Where does the message go? And do those calls ever sway decisions? In this episode of Civics 101, we go into a congressional representative's office to find out. Send us your questions!

Feb 07, 2017
How to Amend the Constitution

It’s been 25 years since the last constitutional amendment was ratified. How hard is it to change our most sacred document? We discover that there are not one, but two ways to amend the constitution – and one of them has never been used. Walter Olson, senior fellow of the Cato Institute explains that the founders didn’t exactly spell the process out clearly. #civics101pod

Feb 02, 2017
The Comment Period

You've probably heard the term "comment period", but do you know what it means? What exactly happens when a government agency opens a proposed rule to public comment? And do these comments ever sway decision making? Today, a look into the notice and comment rule making procedure. Submit your questions at: #civics101pod

Jan 31, 2017