Supreme Stories: Radiolab’s ‘More Perfect’ Podcast (Review)

July 22, 2016, 6:02 PM

In law school we got the facts of the case, not much more. Occasionally a bit of the backstory if our professors mentioned it, but even with the most famous cases our knowledge of whatreally happenedis limited, and there are so many ways that the story of a case can go.

There are choices to make when telling the story of a case. There’s the easy route: going straight to the plaintiff or the defendant. But maybe the best understanding of a case comes by looking deeply at the attorneys involved, or perhaps the story of a judge who decided the case. It might even be by taking a closer look at the person behind the financing of the litigation.

[caption id="attachment_22771" align="alignright” width="198"][Image “Charles Whittaker was an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court from 1957 to 1962.” (src=https://bol.bna.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Charles_Whittaker.jpg)]Charles Whittaker was an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court from 1957 to 1962.[/caption]

More Perfect, a new podcast mini series, produced by WNYC Studios and presented by Radiolab goes deep on the stories behind Supreme Court cases. An episode called “The Political Thicket,” is ostensibly about the landmark caseBaker v. Carr.The holding was that federal courts can decide cases about the redistricting of state legislative districts. On the face of it sounds pretty boring, right? But More Perfect’s way in — their way of making a redistricting case more interesting than anyone should ordinarily expect — is by focusing on the drama of deciding the case. In particular, the behind-the-scenes maneuvering of Justices William O. Douglas and Felix Frankfurter, and the emotional toll the case took on a lesser known justice, Charles Whittaker. Whittaker suffered a nervous breakdown while deliberating over the case and retired from the Court. Of note to the Big Law Business audience, he eventually became Chief Legal Counsel of General Motors.

Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl is such an intriguing and seemingly bizarre name for a case that the producers chose it as the episode title as well (though the segment also appeared in a Radiolab episode called “Love Supreme”). The case made headlines three years ago when it was argued, and made for great dinner party conversation. The unmarried biological father of a baby girl renounces his parental rights. A family adopts the baby and begins to raise her. The father changes his mind and because he is a member of the Cherokee Nation and there is a federal law meant to keep American Indian families together, the adoptive family is forced to turn the girl, at 27 months old, over to the father she had never met. The hot take: Dad should be out of luck, right? More Perfect dutifully recounts the history of the law, and it works on an intellectual level, but they’ll get your heart too. The producer visits the father to get his side of the story, then talks to the titular Baby Girl and, well, make sure you’ve got a tissue box nearby while you listen. Suddenly, a problem that had an easy solution doesn’t seem so simple anymore. While the case is decided on narrow lines, and hardly a landmark decision, the story is both moving and thought provoking.

[caption id="attachment_22781" align="alignright” width="325"][Image “What does Obi-Wan Kenobi have to do with Marbury v. Madison? " (src=https://bol.bna.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Ben_Kenobi-e1469134535462.png)]What does Obi-Wan Kenobi have to do with Marbury v. Madison?[/caption]

An episode called “Kittens Kick The Giggly Blue Robot All Summer” (a mnemonic device for the names of the eight sitting justices) begins and ends by reminding listeners just how important the Supreme Court is to our system of government. The episode’s focus however, is the howandwhy the institution became so important. It’s a look at the most landmarky of landmark cases, the first semester Con Law classic, Marbury v. Madison, made more entertaining than you remember it. If you would have preferred that law school had more Star Wars analogies — this is the podcast for you.

More Perfect, if I haven’t made it clear, is not some wonky ‘inside baseball’ account of Supreme Court litigation. The producers take great pains to make sure that their stories are accessible (see the video below about their storytelling process) and the series gets the full Radiolab treatment with a score, music, and sound effects all used to maximum effect.

[Image “Radiolab presents More Perfect” (src=https://bol.bna.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Screen-Shot-2016-07-20-at-4.25.24-PM-e1469046854762.png)] More Perfect

Produced by WNYC Studios; Presented by Radiolab

Host: Jad Abumrad; Executive Producer: Suzie Lechtenberg

Seven-week series started June 2, 2016.

You can listen to the More Perfect episodes mentioned above here:

The Political Thicket

[sc name="Josh Embed” url="https://www.wnyc.org/widgets/ondemand_player/radiolab/#file=%2Faudio%2Fxspf%2F627326%2F” width="600" height="130" ]

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Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl

[sc name="Josh Embed” url="https://www.wnyc.org/widgets/ondemand_player/radiolabmoreperfect/#file=/audio/json/632186/&share=1" width="600" height="130" ]

• • • • •

Kittens Kick The Giggly Blue Robot All Summer

[sc name="Josh Embed” url="https://www.wnyc.org/widgets/ondemand_player/radiolabmoreperfect/#file=/audio/json/636582/&share=1" width="600" height="130" ]

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Two-thirds of all Americans can’t name a single Supreme Court Justice, so the More Perfect & Radiolab podcast teams wanted to come up with a song to help out. The mnemonic is also the title of the More Perfect episode about the landmark Supreme Court case,Marbury v. Madison.


Producer Kelsey Padgett gives a presentation on the process of making theMarbury v. Madisonepisode of More Perfect.


[Image “BLB Newsletter image (LARGE)” (src=https://bol.bna.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/BLB-Newsletter-image.png)]

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