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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.






The National Park Service

The National Park Service has changed immensely since its days of keeping poachers out of Yellowstone. So has its approach to telling the story of America. Kirsten Talken-Spaulding of the NPS and Will Shafroth of the National Parks Foundation help us understand how this colossal system actually works and what it's doing to tell the true story of the United States.


M, F & X: Gender Markers & Government Documents

The government issues IDs so we can prove who we say we are, and since the start, that’s included an expression of binary (male or female) gender. Now, some states - and even the federal government - are starting to change that. LGBTQ+ reporter Kate Sosin is our guide.


Update: Happy the Elephant is Not a Person

Civics 101 teamed up with the Outside/In podcast to bring you the story of Happy, an Asian elephant living in the Bronx Zoo. Lawyers had petitioned the New York State Court of Appeals for a writ of Habeas Corpus; a legal maneuver that could have freed Happy and set a new precedent for animal rights. But in a ruling out mid-June 2022, the court decided: Happy isn’t going anywhere. In this quick update to our previous episode (listen here if you haven’t already) Hannah debriefs with...


The 2nd Amendment

27 words which have been interpreted and reinterpreted by historians, activists, judges, and philosophers. What did the 2nd Amendment mean when it was written? What does it mean right now? And what happened in between? Today's episode features Saul Cornell, professor of history at Fordham University and author of A Well Regulated Militia, Alexandra Filindra, professor of political science at University of Illinois Chicago and author of the upcoming Race, Rights, and Rifles, and Jake...


Precedent and the Leaked Draft SCOTUS Opinion

A leaked draft opinion in a Supreme Court case about abortion reveals that a majority of the justices were, at the time of this draft's release, in favor of overturning the precedent set in Roe v Wade that protected abortion access. In our recent episode on judicial precedent, we talked about how the Supreme Court interprets the law, and how precedent gives that interpretation power, ensuring the law is applied equally to everyone. We also talked about how and why the Supreme Court might...


Precedent and the Supreme Court

When the Supreme Court decides how the law, and the Constitution, should be interpreted in a case, that interpretation becomes a precedent. Once that judicial precedent has been set, it's understood that the interpretation and its reasoning should be applied to similar cases in the future. So why might the Supreme Court reconsider its own precedent? And what happens when a precedent is modified, or overruled? We talk to Nina Varsava, a law professor at University of Wisconsin, Madison who...


Should Animals Have Human Rights?

DONATE TO OUR PODCAST IN JUNE AND YOU COULD WIN A $500 AIR BNB GIFT CARD - PLUS YOU'LL GET A SNAZZY NEW CIVICS 101 STICKER! CLICK HERE TO DONATE. Happy has lived in New York City’s Bronx Zoo for years. To visitors, she’s a lone Asian elephant. But to a team of animal rights lawyers, she’s a prisoner. They’ve petitioned state courts for a writ of Habeas Corpus; a legal maneuver that, if granted, would declare Happy a legal person who deserves to be freed. It’s the latest case in an ongoing...


Quick Update

Our episodes come out on Tuesday, but this week is different. Special crossover Civics 101 and Outside/In episode coming out on Thursday, take your trunk and mark your calendar! Support our mission to explain how the government works here.


District, Circuit, Supreme: How does the federal court system work?

The federal judiciary system has three steps: district court, circuit court, and the Supreme Court, and despite what you see on screen, many cases do not end with that first courtroom verdict. This is how the federal judiciary system works, what makes a case worthy of consideration by the Supreme Court, and what happens when case lands in front of SCOTUS. We talked with Erin Corcoran, Executive Director for the Kroc Institute of International Peace Studies, and Behzad Mirhashem, Assistant...


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 for part 2 are Melissa Wasser and Erin Coyle. This episode first aired in October of 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? Helping us report this one out are Melissa Wasser, Michael Luo and Erin Coyle. This episode...


The Shadow Docket

The blocking of a majority-Black congressional district in Alabama. OSHA regulations requiring vaccinations or a negative COVID test result. A law in Texas banning abortions after six weeks. All of these controversial issues were decided not through the tried-and-true method of a hearing in the Supreme Court, but rather through a system called "the shadow docket," orders from the court that are (often) unsigned, inscrutable, and handed down in the middle of the night. Professor Stephen...


Roe v Wade: Facts of the Case

On May 2nd, 2022, Politico published a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion. A leak of this kind is unprecedented, but it is the subject of the opinion that shook the nation. In it Justice Samuel Alito, speaking for the majority, writes that the landmark 1973 abortion rights case Roe v Wade must be overruled. So what exactly is at stake here? This is the story of Roe v Wade and the state of abortion rights in the United States. The state of federal abortions rights as of May 2022, that is. The...


The First National Park

The land had been cultivated and lived on for millennia when geologist Ferdinand Hayden came upon the astounding Yellowstone "wilderness." It wasn't long before the federal government declared it a national park, to be preserved in perpetuity for the enjoyment of all. Ostensibly. How did Yellowstone go from being an important home, hunting ground, thoroughfare and meeting place to being a park? Megan Kate Nelson, author of Saving Yellowstone, Mark David Spence, author of Dispossessing the...


What is NATO?

In the years after World War II, twelve countries in North America and Europe got together to form an alliance. This alliance, known as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, would build up the collective military and security strength of every country involved - so an attack on one country would mean an attack on them all. How does a security alliance between dozens of countries with different governments, interests, and military power, even work? What role does NATO play in international...


Citizens United v FEC

Today we explain one of the most controversial Supreme Court decisions in modern history; the case that defined campaign donations as speech and therefore protected under the First Amendment, regardless of who made them. This episode explains the history of the case, PACs, Super PACs, the ruling, the effect of the decision on our campaign system, as well as some common misconceptions. Our guides through the case are Professor Jeff Bone from Saint Joseph's University, Maggie Severns from...


US vs: Constitutions

The United States Constitution gets a lot of credit for being the first of its kind. The progenitor of democratic constitution making. The spark that started a global fire. Is that the long and short of it, or is there more to the story? Linda Colley, author of The Gun, The Ship and the Pen, weaves a longer, more complex narrative in this episode. We explore why constitutions (governmental limits, citizens rights and all) became necessary and who put pen to paper before 1787.


Why Is The Senate Parliamentarian So Powerful?

Since 1935, the Senate has had a parliamentarian. Their job is to decide, in a truly nonpartisan way, how things operate in the chamber. Their power to decide what can and cannot be done when it comes to legislation, filibustering, motions, and points of order has grown ever since. Today, learn about this complicated and often-unseen role from Sarah Binder, professor at George Washington University, and a person who spent over thirty years in the office, former Senate Parliamentarian Alan...


The Constitution and the Bill of Rights

Long before we could decide and insist upon what they mean to us, a handful of powerful men had to put pen to paper. We're revisiting two episodes from our Foundational Documents series: The Constitution and The Bill of Rights. This is the story of how these now-indispensable documents came to be during a time when independence and unity was new and highly vulnerable. Our understanding and interpretation of these documents has grown and changed in the hundreds of years since they were...


Election Security

Be it suspicion of voter fraud, fear of hackers or the general belief that something is amiss, legislators across the country have passed election laws designed to make our elections more secure. Those very same laws are widely criticized for making voting less accessible, especially to certain voting groups. So how insecure are our elections? What do election security laws really do? What is the best way to feel better about the state of elections in this country? Our guests are Jessica...