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Civics 101


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.

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.


United States




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.






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?


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?


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.


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.


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...


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?


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?


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...


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...


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


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,


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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...


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.


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