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Civics 101

198 EpisodesProduced by New Hampshire Public RadioWebsite

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.

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Civic Action: Voting, Part 1

July 2nd, 2020


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). …

Civics Shorts: The Electoral College

June 24th, 2020


The Electoral College has been called “complicated and confusing.” But our Civics 101 Shorts series eat “complicated and confusing” for breakfast! …

Posse Comitatus

June 16th, 2020


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 …

Civic Action: Protest

June 9th, 2020


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 …

Civics Shorts: The Three Branches

June 3rd, 2020


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 …

Civics Shorts: The Census

May 26th, 2020


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 …

The United States Postal Service

May 19th, 2020


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 …

AP US Government Prepisode

May 8th, 2020


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 …

Emergency Powers of the Governor

April 14th, 2020


All fifty states and many tribes in the nation have issued emergency or major disaster declarations in the past weeks. State governors have been …

Civics Shorts: The CDC

April 9th, 2020


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, …

19th Amendment: Part 2

April 7th, 2020


The Nineteenth Amendment was first introduced to Congress in 1878. It took over four decades of pleas, protests, petitions and speeches to finally …

Introducing Civics Shorts: Running for President

March 27th, 2020


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 …

19th Amendment: Part 1

March 24th, 2020


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 …

Special Announcement for Educators

March 24th, 2020


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 …


March 10th, 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 …


February 26th, 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 …

The Stump Speech: Student Contest Winners

February 11th, 2020


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 …

The Republican Party

January 28th, 2020


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 …

The Democratic Party

January 14th, 2020


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 …

Third Parties

December 18th, 2019


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. …

Becoming a U.S. Citizen

December 3rd, 2019


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 -- …


November 19th, 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 …

Student Contest Announcement: Stump Speech

November 12th, 2019


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 …

Electoral College

November 5th, 2019


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 …

Introducing: Stranglehold

October 25th, 2019


Want to dig deeper into the world of presidential primaries? No better place to start than New Hampshire. Our colleagues Lauren Chooljian and Jack …


October 22nd, 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 …


October 8th, 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 …

Primaries and Caucuses

September 24th, 2019


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 …

How to Run for President

September 10th, 2019


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 …

Student Contest Winner: On the Bench

August 13th, 2019


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 …

Starter Kit: How A Bill (really) Becomes a Law

August 6th, 2019


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, …

Starter Kit: Federalism

July 30th, 2019


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 …

Starter Kit: Judicial Branch

July 23rd, 2019


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 …

Starter Kit: Legislative Branch

July 16th, 2019


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 …

Starter Kit: Executive Branch

July 9th, 2019


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 …

Starter Kit: Checks and Balances

July 2nd, 2019


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 …

Upcoming Series: Civics Starter Kit

June 25th, 2019


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

Life Stages: Death

May 14th, 2019


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 …

Life Stages: Retirement

May 7th, 2019


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 …

Life Stages: Marriage

April 30th, 2019


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 …

Life Stages: Work

April 23rd, 2019


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 …

Life Stages: School

April 16th, 2019


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 …

Life Stages: Birth

April 9th, 2019


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 …

Founding Documents: Bill of Rights

February 26th, 2019


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 …

Special Announcement: Student Contest

February 22nd, 2019


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

We want to hear about …

Founding Documents: The Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers

February 19th, 2019


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 …

Founding Documents: The Constitution

February 12th, 2019


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 …

Founding Documents: Articles of Confederation

February 5th, 2019


While a famous committee of five drafted the Declaration of Independence, a far more unsung committee of thirteen wrote America's first rulebook. The …

Founding Documents: Declaration of Independence

January 29th, 2019


America declared independence on July 2, 1776. But two days later it adopted this radical, revolutionary, inclusive, exclusive, secessionist, …

Founding Documents: Magna Carta

January 22nd, 2019


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 …

Special Announcement: Upcoming Season

November 20th, 2018


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. …

Midterm Edition: Why Vote?

November 6th, 2018


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 …

Midterm Edition: Propositions

October 30th, 2018


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 …

Midterm Edition: Campaigning

October 23rd, 2018


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 …

Midterm Edition: House v Senate

October 16th, 2018


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 …

Midterm Edition: State and Local Elections

October 9th, 2018


Midterm elections don't have the glitz or drama of presidential campaigning. They're full of aldermen and comptrollers, state senators and governors. …

Midterm Edition: 5 Things to Know about the Midterms

October 2nd, 2018


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 …

Special Announcement and IRL2 rebroadcast

August 21st, 2018


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? …

IRL1: Free Speech in Schools [Rebroadcast]

August 7th, 2018


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 …

The Death Penalty

July 31st, 2018


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 …

The Equal Rights Amendment

July 24th, 2018


The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) is a proposed Constitutional amendment that would explicitly guarantee legal equality under U.S. law, regardless of …

The Affordable Care Act

July 17th, 2018


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 …


July 10th, 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?

Contest Winner: Unconventional

July 3rd, 2018


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."

The Draft

June 26th, 2018


Do you believe in the power of an informed citizenry? Click this link to support Civics 101 today.

When you hear 'the draft' you might think about …

The Federal Register

June 19th, 2018


Show your support for Civics 101. Click here to donate:

Today a listener opens up a rabbit hole, and we immediately jump down …

National Institutes of Health (NIH)

June 12th, 2018


Hey folks! We're raising money to support this podcast. Please click this link and donate today!

Remember the Human Genome …


June 5th, 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 …

Infrastructure – Water!

May 29th, 2018


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 …

Freedom of Information Act

May 22nd, 2018


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 …


May 15th, 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 White House Press Secretary

May 11th, 2018


Mara Liasson, National Political Correspondent for NPR, has reported on White House press briefings for 3 administrations. She tells us about the …


May 8th, 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 …

The National Guard

May 1st, 2018


Miranda Summers Lowe, Military Curator at the Smithsonian and active National Guard soldier, tells us the history of the Guard, the process for …

Episode 118: Presidential Transitions

April 24th, 2018


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, …

Episode 117: Hostages

April 20th, 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 …

Episode 116: Infrastructure - Roads!

April 17th, 2018


Dams, highways, telephone poles... all of these things fall under the huge umbrella we call INFRASTRUCTURE.  But what does all that concrete and …

Episode 115: Foreign Aid

April 13th, 2018


On today's episode: What is foreign aid, and how much money does the U.S. spend on it? Is it purely humanitarian, or is it strategic? And how do we know if foreign aid actually works? Addressing these issues with us is

Episode 114: The CIA

April 10th, 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 …

Episode 113: The Americans with Disabilities Act

April 6th, 2018


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 …

Episode 112: The Eighth Amendment

April 3rd, 2018


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 …

Special Announcement: Student Contest!

March 31st, 2018


Information at, open to all high school students/classes. 

Episode 111: The Department of Justice

March 30th, 2018


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 …

Episode 110: The Hatch Act

March 27th, 2018


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 …

Episode 109: The Fourth Amendment

March 23rd, 2018


When an ordinary citizen interacts with law enforcement, it can be unnerving to realize the amount of power an officer wields: they've got the guns, the handcuffs, and the authority. But the Fourth Amendment places …

Episode 108: The FBI

March 20th, 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 …

Episode 107: Torture

March 16th, 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 …

Episode 106: Department of State & Department of Defense [Rebroadcast]

March 13th, 2018


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 …

Episode 105: Democratic Norms

March 9th, 2018


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 …

IRL2: The Flag and the Pledge

March 6th, 2018


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 …

Episode 104: Voting Rights

March 2nd, 2018


The Constitution doesn't explicitly guarantee the right to vote, but it's widely considered to be a fundamental way for citizens to participate in American democracy. Who gets to vote and why?

Victoria Bassetti is the …

Episode 103: The Fifteenth Amendment

February 27th, 2018


After the Civil War, Congress passed a bundle of Amendments which came to be known as the Reconstruction Amendments. Their purpose was to address the mass racial inequality that plagued the still forming nation. But did …

Episode 102: The Fourteenth Amendment

February 23rd, 2018


Today, we continue our series on the Reconstruction amendments, the series of Constitutional amendments passed in the aftermath of the Civil War. Congress outlawed slavery with the Thirteenth Amendment, but freed slaves …

Episode 101: The Thirteenth Amendment

February 20th, 2018


After the Civil War, Congress passed a bundle of Amendments which came to be known as the Reconstruction Amendments. Their purpose was to address the mass racial inequality that plagued the still forming nation. But did …

Episode 100: DACA

February 16th, 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 …

Episode 99: First Ladies

February 13th, 2018


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 …

Episode 98: Nuclear Weapons

February 9th, 2018


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 …

Episode 97: Inspectors General

February 6th, 2018


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 …

Episode 96: The Federal Election Commission

February 2nd, 2018


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 …

Episode 95: How We Vote

January 30th, 2018


The secret ballot... the decorum of the polling place... the sanctity of the voting booth... these are the trappings of Election Day in the U.S., and …

Episode 94: Super PACs

January 26th, 2018


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 …

Episode 93: Welfare

January 23rd, 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.

BONUS: Government Shutdown (Rebroadcast)

January 20th, 2018


It happened. The government shutdown. But what does that mean? Civics 101 revisits an episode from September, 2017.  

On this episode: What actually shuts down during a government shutdown?  Do federal workers still …

Episode 92: Lightning Round

January 19th, 2018


Today, we celebrate our one-year anniversary with the first annual Civics 101 lightning round, in which we answer all the little questions you sent …

Episode 91: The Two-Party System

January 16th, 2018


There are lots of political parties in the United States - so how come we pretty much only hear about two? What is the 'two-party system' and why …

Episode 90: The Surgeon General

January 12th, 2018


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 …

Episode 89: Post-Presidency

January 9th, 2018


The President of the United States is considered one of the most powerful people in the world. So what happens after the Commander-in-Chief becomes a …

Episode 88: Department of Homeland Security

January 5th, 2018


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 …

Episode 87: The National Anthem

January 2nd, 2018


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. 

Episode 86: Camp David

December 29th, 2017


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 …

Episode 85: Lobbying [Rebroadcast]

December 26th, 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 …

Episode 84: FEMA

December 22nd, 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 …

Episode 83: The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

December 19th, 2017


What do alcohol, tobacco, firearms, and explosives all have in common? They fall under the umbrella of a single federal bureau - commonly referred to …

Episode 82: U.S. Allies

December 15th, 2017


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 …

Episode 81: HUD

December 12th, 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 …

Episode 80: The National Archives

December 8th, 2017


The National Archives and Records Administration is the forever home of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution,  but what else do …

Episode 79: The U.S. Flag Code

December 5th, 2017


In this episode: What is the U.S. Flag Code? Who created it, and why? Is it enforceable? When did the American flag start getting used in advertising? What are the differences between the U.S. Flag Code and flag …

Episode 78: Congressional Committees

December 1st, 2017


In a given week, Congress might vote on everything from international diplomacy to wildlife conservation to internet regulation. How do individual …

Episode 77: U.S. Postal Service

November 28th, 2017


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 …

IRL 1 - Free Speech in Schools

November 24th, 2017


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.  …

Episode 76: Native American Reservations

November 21st, 2017


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 …

Episode 75: White House Staffers

November 17th, 2017


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 …

Episode 74: Unions

November 14th, 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 …

Episode 73: The Vice President

November 10th, 2017


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 …

Episode 72: The 2nd Amendment

November 7th, 2017


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. …

Episode 71: The Secret Service

November 3rd, 2017


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 …

Episode 70: The 1st Amendment - Freedom of the Press

October 31st, 2017


On today's episode: We continue our investigation of the First Amendment with a conversation about the freedom of the press. What does this freedom guarantee publishers and journalists? Why did the Framers include it in …

Episode 69: The Federalist Papers

October 27th, 2017


On this episode: What are the Federalist Papers? Who wrote them? Who uses them? And why should you read them? Michael Gerhardt, professor from UNC …

Episode 68: Populism

October 24th, 2017


On this episode: what is Populism? How can you identify a Populist candidate? What's its role inside of a democracy and what are some historical …

Episode 67: The 1st Amendment - Freedom of Assembly

October 20th, 2017


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? …

Episode 66: The EPA

October 17th, 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, …

Episode 65: The Secretary of Education

October 13th, 2017


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 …

Episode 64: The Nuclear Codes [Rebroadcast]

October 10th, 2017


In this episode: What exactly does it mean when we say the 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 …

Episode 63: The CDC

October 6th, 2017


In this episode: What exactly does the CDC - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - actually do? Could it really stave off a zombie …

Episode 62: The Debt Ceiling

October 3rd, 2017


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 …

Episode 61: The Attorney General

September 29th, 2017


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 …

Episode 60: Federalism

September 26th, 2017


On this episode: what is Federalism? Who uses it? Why do we separate our powers between the states and the national government, and what are the …

Episode 59: The Census

September 22nd, 2017


In this episode: What is the census, and why does it matter? How is it conducted? How are difficult to reach populations counted? What kind of …

Episode 58: Government Shutdown

September 19th, 2017


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 …

Episode 57: Commander in Chief

September 15th, 2017


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 …

Episode 56: The 1st Amendment - Freedom of Speech

September 12th, 2017


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 …

Episode 55: The Federal Reserve

September 8th, 2017


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 …

Episode 54: Security Clearance

September 5th, 2017


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 …

Episode 53: Judges

September 1st, 2017


On today's lesson: What does it take to become a judge? What does the job entail? Also, what are the schools of thought we hear about so much about …

Episode 52: State of Emergency

August 29th, 2017


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 …

Episode 51: Treason

August 25th, 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 …

Episode 50: Voting Systems

August 22nd, 2017


When you cast your ballot in a national election, you’re participating in a specific kind of voting system. But what about the other methods of choosing your candidate and counting your vote? There are systems that …

Episode 49: Sanctions

August 18th, 2017


From full trade embargoes to targeted sanctions and frozen assets, sanctions are an increasingly commonplace tool used in U.S. foreign policy.  …

Episode 48: Who Gets To Run For President

August 15th, 2017


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 …

Episode 47: Federal Grand Juries

August 11th, 2017


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 …

Episode 46: Ambassadors

August 8th, 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 …

Episode 45: Speaker of the House

August 4th, 2017


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 …

Episode 44: Intelligence Agencies

August 1st, 2017


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 …

Episode 43: Presidential Pardons

July 28th, 2017


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 …

Episode 42: U.S. Territories

July 25th, 2017


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 …

Episode 41: Obstruction of Justice

July 21st, 2017


“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 …

Episode 40: Church and State

July 18th, 2017


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 …

Episode 39: Lobbying

July 14th, 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 …

Episode 38: The 25th Amendment

July 11th, 2017


When a monarch dies, power stays in the family. But what about a president? It was a tricky question that the founders left mostly to Congress to figure out later. In this episode, the National Constitution Center's …

Episode 37: Autocracies and Oligarchies and Democracies, Oh My!

July 7th, 2017


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, …

Episode 36: Approval Ratings

June 28th, 2017


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 …

Episode 35: Party Whips

June 21st, 2017


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 …

Episode 34: Separation of Powers

June 14th, 2017


In this episode we untangle two terms that are closely related, but not the same: Separation of Powers and Checks and Balances. The framers …

Episode 33: Declaring War

June 7th, 2017


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 …

Episode 32: Budget Basics

June 1st, 2017


We've received a LOT of questions about how the budget process works and honestly, we had a lot of our own! It should come as no surprise that the …

Episode 31: How a Bill Becomes a Law

May 24th, 2017


Even if you slept through most of your Government classes in High School, there's a good chance you have a vague recollection of how a bill becomes a …

Episode 30: National Debt & The Deficit

May 17th, 2017


The National Debt and The Deficit: two terms that are often used interchangeably, but take on different meanings when it comes to the government. …

Episode 29: Political Speechwriting

May 10th, 2017


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 …

Episode 28: Congressional Caucuses

May 5th, 2017


We've received multiple questions about Congressional Caucuses, what are they, how are they formed, and what is their purpose? We asked Colleen …

Episode 27: How a Case Gets to the Supreme Court

April 26th, 2017


The Supreme Court of the United States hear about 80 cases each year, but how do lower court cases make their way to the highest court in the land, and how do they decide which ones to hear? We asked Behzad Mirhashem, …

Episode 26: The Cabinet

April 21st, 2017


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 …

Episode 25: Term Limits

April 18th, 2017


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 …

Episode 24: The IRS

April 14th, 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 …

Episode 23: Emoluments

April 11th, 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 …

Episode 22: Congressional Investigations

April 7th, 2017


The Army-McCarthy hearings, Watergate, the Iran-Contra affair, the Select Committee on Benghazi, the Russian hacking probe. Congressional …

Episode 21: The Congressional Budget Office

April 4th, 2017


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. …

Episode 20: Electoral College

March 31st, 2017


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 …

Episode 19: Senate Rules

March 28th, 2017


When Senator Mitch McConnell barred Senator Elizabeth Warren from speaking during the debate over Jeff Session’s nomination for Attorney General, he …

Episode 18: The Office of Scheduling & Advance

March 24th, 2017


If managing your personal appointment calendar is a struggle, imagine what it must be like for the President of the United States? From daily …

Episode 17: Veto

March 21st, 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 …

Episode 16: Gerrymandering

March 17th, 2017


Over the years, gerrymandering has become synonymous with weirdly-shaped maps of electoral districts, nefarious political maneuvering, and …

Episode 15: Department of State & Department of Defense

March 14th, 2017


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 …

Episode 14: The Office of Presidential Correspondence

March 10th, 2017


George Washington received five letters a day, Theodore Roosevelt received so many letters it became a fire hazard at the White House, and Ronald Reagan loved reading mail from the country’s youngest citizens. In …

Episode 13: Filibuster

March 6th, 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 …

Episode 12: The Nuclear Codes

March 2nd, 2017


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 …

Episode 11: The State of the Union Address

March 1st, 2017


The State of the Union address is a longstanding tradition that involves bizarre, unexplained protocol and more applause than a high school …

Episode 10: Impeachment

February 24th, 2017


A number of listeners have asked about a consequential government procedure: How is a president impeached? And why is it that the presidents that have been impeached haven’t been removed from office? Our guide today is …

Episode 9: Overturning a Supreme Court Ruling

February 21st, 2017


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, …

Episode 8: Federal Courts

February 16th, 2017


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 …

Episode 7: Executive Orders

February 13th, 2017


You may have heard of executive orders… but how about executive memoranda? Today, we talk about the different tools of executive action that the …

Episode 6: The National Security Council

February 9th, 2017


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 …

Episode 5: Calling Your Congressperson

February 7th, 2017


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 …

Episode 4: How to Amend the Constitution

February 2nd, 2017


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 …

Episode 3: The Comment Period

January 31st, 2017


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 …

Episode 2: White House Press Corps

January 25th, 2017


What's it really like for a journalist stationed at the White House? We go inside the press briefing room with NPR's Senior White House Correspondent, Scott Horsley. Civics 101 is a production of NHPR

Episode 1: Chief of Staff

January 19th, 2017


We're all familiar with the title, but what does a White House Chief of Staff actually do? What does the daily routine entail? And how much power …

Trailer: Class Is In Session

January 13th, 2017


Ever wonder what a White House Chief of Staff actually does? How about a Press Secretary? When did gerrymandering become a thing? The first 100 days of the Trump administration is the perfect time to bone up on civics …

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