Why does the U.S. have an Electoral College? How do congressional investigations work? What does the minority whip actually do? Civics 101 is the podcast refresher course on the basics of how our democracy works.
The shortest document with the biggest possible job.
Founding Documents: Magna Carta
The obscure English parchment that has nothing -- and everything -- to do with our idea of freedom.
Special Announcement: Upcoming Season
Our nation was built on paper and ink. So for our next series, we’re tackling the documents that serve as the foundation of our country.
Midterm Edition: Why Vote?
Because Election Day is just the beginning.
Midterm Edition: Propositions
A stark look at the pros and cons of direct democracy.
Midterm Edition: Campaigning
Shaking Hands, Kissing Babies and Capitalizing on Disillusionment
Midterm Edition: House v Senate
What's the difference?
Midterm Edition: State and Local Elections
The down-ballot offices that hold the reigns of your day-to-day life.
Midterm Edition: 5 Things to Know about the Mid...
A primer on the most important exercise in democracy that you never cared about.
Special Announcement and IRL2 rebroadcast
A word on what we're working on, plus the history of protesting our flag and pledge.
IRL1: Free Speech in Schools [Rebroadcast]
Four Supreme Court cases that changed it all for students
The Death Penalty
The history, and possible future, of government-sanctioned killings
The Equal Rights Amendment
Almost 100 years after it was first proposed, the Equal Rights Amendment has not been ratified.
The Affordable Care Act
Obama's signature healthcare law tried to overhaul American health care. Did it work?
The history of and rationale for (or for not) taxing goods that enter our country.
Contest Winner: Unconventional
A radio drama about the constitutional convention, by Adia Samba-Quee
Selective service, conscientious objection, and our American history of military conscription.
The Federal Register
The most important government document you've never heard of.
National Institutes of Health (NIH)
From fighting cancer to exploring the human genome, here's how your taxpayer dollars fund medical science.
What's the role of Police in our government?
Infrastructure – Water!
What is the story of public water in the United States?
Freedom of Information Act
If you want to get your hands on government documents, there's a law for that.
Space! The final frontier... for civics?
The White House Press Secretary
The tricky middle ground between press and president.
What role does ICE play in immigration policy?
The National Guard
What does the National Guard do? Who "calls it in?"
Episode 118: Presidential Transitions
What happens when one president leaves office and another one enters?
Episode 117: Hostages
How does the U.S. handle hostage situations?
Episode 116: Infrastructure - Roads!
Highways, bridges, culverts, and more... Who pays for infrastructure, and who benefits?
Episode 115: Foreign Aid
Where do the billions of dollars spent on U.S. foreign aid go?
Episode 114: The CIA
What is the role of a foreign intelligence service in a democracy?
Episode 113: The Americans with Disabilities Act
One of our broadest, and least appreciated, civil rights laws.
Episode 112: The Eighth Amendment
What does it mean to be protected from cruel and unusual punishment?
Special Announcement: Student Contest!
High School students and classes apply to host and co-produce a full Civics 101 episode
Episode 111: The Department of Justice
What exactly does the Department of Justice do?
Episode 110: The Hatch Act
It's official title is an "Act To Prevent Pernicious Political Activities."
Episode 109: The Fourth Amendment
It protects against searches and seizures... but only those that are unreasonable.
Episode 108: The FBI
What goes on inside the Federal Bureau of Investigation?
Episode 107: Torture
How we treat prisoners of war, and what it says about us.
Episode 106: Department of State & Department o...
The two most powerful positions in the cabinet.
Episode 105: Democratic Norms
The unwritten rules that make or break democracy.
IRL2: The Flag and the Pledge
The history of the American flag and the Pledge of Allegiance. Also, four Supreme Court cases about the flag and free speech.
Episode 104: Voting Rights
The Constitution doesn't explicitly guarantee the right to vote. So, who gets to vote and how did it get that way?
Episode 103: The Fifteenth Amendment
A look into the history and effects of the last reconstruction amendment
Episode 102: The Fourteenth Amendment
The source of due process, equal protection, and citizenship, all in one place.
Episode 101: The Thirteenth Amendment
A look into the history and effects of the first of the reconstruction amendments
Episode 100: DACA
A primer on DACA - the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
Episode 99: First Ladies
What is expected of the First Lady, and who defined the role?
Episode 98: Nuclear Weapons
We have the firepower to end it all. How do we wield it?
Episode 97: Inspectors General
A closer look at the internal watchdogs that oversee various government agencies.
Episode 96: The Federal Election Commission
Who plays referee in U.S. elections?
Episode 95: How We Vote
How our voting method came out of voting madness.
Episode 94: Super PACs
Have super PACs changed the way American elections work?
Episode 93: Welfare
The [contentious] history of welfare and its role today
BONUS: Government Shutdown (Rebroadcast)
What happens when the government shuts down?
Episode 92: Lightning Round
We tear through a whole lot of little questions.
Episode 91: The Two-Party System
A principle called Duverger's law explains why two major political parties dominate American politics.
Episode 90: The Surgeon General
Who's behind those cigarette package warning labels?
Episode 89: Post-Presidency
What happens after the leader of the free world leaves office?
Episode 88: Department of Homeland Security
How the Federal Government reorganized itself in the wake of September 11th.
Episode 87: The National Anthem
Where does our national anthem come from?
Episode 86: Camp David
What is Camp David and what do presidents use it for?
Episode 85: Lobbying [Rebroadcast]
What do lobbyists do day-to-day, and how much power do they have?
Episode 84: FEMA
Earthquakes, hurricanes and nuclear war... how well is FEMA prepared to handle out nation's disasters?
Episode 83: The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Fir...
What led to the creation of America's vice squad? Liquor taxes.
Episode 82: U.S. Allies
What does it mean to be an ally of the United States?
Episode 81: HUD
Learn about the past, present, and future of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
Episode 80: The National Archives
Where America's important documents are stored forever.
Episode 79: The U.S. Flag Code
The document that outlines how American flags should and shouldn't be handled.
Episode 78: Congressional Committees
When the cameras are off, Congress gets down to work.
Episode 77: U.S. Postal Service
A look into the background of one of the nation's oldest and most formative institutions
IRL 1 - Free Speech in Schools
From Tinker to Frederick : Four Supreme Court cases on free speech in public schools.
Episode 76: Native American Reservations
What does it mean to be a sovereign nation operating within the continental United States?
Episode 75: White House Staffers
Who keeps the White House running?
Episode 74: Unions
How labor unions are created, and why workers choose to band together.
Episode 73: The Vice President
What role does the Vice President play in running the country?
Episode 72: The 2nd Amendment
One of the most divisive issues in American politics: the right to keep and bear arms.
Episode 71: The Secret Service
Beyond the suits, sunglasses and ear pieces, what does the Secret Service really do?
Episode 70: The 1st Amendment - Freedom of the ...
The long history of what the press can and cannot publish.
Episode 69: The Federalist Papers
What are the Federalist Papers, and summaries of the important ones.
Episode 68: Populism
What exactly is Populism and how can you identify a Populist candidate?
Episode 67: The 1st Amendment - Freedom of Asse...
A closer look at our constitutional right to "peaceably" assemble.
Episode 66: The EPA
We take a tour through the multi-faceted Environmental Protection Agency.
Episode 65: The Secretary of Education
What role does the Secretary of Education play in U.S. schools?
Episode 64: The Nuclear Codes [Rebroadcast]
A primer on footballs, biscuits, and the truth behind "the nuclear codes".
Episode 63: The CDC
The agency that protects people from health, safety, and security threats
Episode 62: The Debt Ceiling
Demystifying the debt ceiling.
Episode 61: The Attorney General
What does it mean to be the lawyer for the U.S. government?
Episode 60: Federalism
How do we manage power between the national government and the states?
Episode 59: The Census
How and why we count every person living in the United States of America.
Episode 58: Government Shutdown
What happens when the government shuts down.
Episode 57: Commander in Chief
We investigate one of the President's most important roles: as head of our armed forces.
Episode 56: The 1st Amendment - Freedom of Speech
A broader look at the often-referenced First Amendment of the Constitution - and a deeper dive into what it means to have freedom of speech.
Episode 55: The Federal Reserve
A look at the central banking system of the United States.
Episode 54: Security Clearance
The process that aims to keep classified material out of the wrong hands.
Episode 53: Judges
The people at the heart of our judicial system: judges.
Episode 52: State of Emergency
What happens when a President, or a Governor, declares a State of Emergency?
Episode 51: Treason
'Treason' is a word that gets used a lot in political circles - but what does it actually mean?
Episode 50: Voting Systems
How many ways are there to cast your vote? And how do they all work?
Episode 49: Sanctions
A look at an increasingly commonplace tool of U.S. foreign policy.
Episode 48: Who Gets To Run For President
The formal and informal rules that govern who is allowed, and not allowed, to run for the President of the United States of America.
Episode 47: Federal Grand Juries
How do Federal grand juries work and how are they used?
Episode 46: Ambassadors
What does it mean to be the top U.S. representative in a foreign country?
Episode 45: Speaker of the House
The Speaker of the House has a lot of power, but what exactly do they do?
Episode 44: Intelligence Agencies
CIA? FBI? NSA? DIA? A primer on America's most intelligent acronyms.
Episode 43: Presidential Pardons
Who can the President pardon? And for what?
Episode 42: U.S. Territories
What is a U.S. territory? What is the status of its citizens with regard to the Constitution and U.S. law?
Episode 41: 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?
Episode 40: Church and State
Today's civics lesson looks into the separation of church and state.
Episode 39: Lobbying
Where we discover what a lobbyist actually does all day - besides hand over checks.
Episode 38: The 25th Amendment
A primer on what happens if a president dies, resigns, or is no longer able to carry out his duties.
Episode 37: Autocracies and Oligarchies and Dem...
A brief primer on different forms of government.
Episode 36: 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...
Episode 35: 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 Gover...
Episode 34: Separation of Powers
In this episode we untangle two terms that are closely related, but not the same: Separation of Powers and Checks and Balances. The framers envisioned a government structure that would consist of three separate branches, each with their own power, in o...
Episode 33: 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 ...
Episode 32: Budget Basics
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 budget process of the United States government is complex and difficult to explain in less than 15 minute...
Episode 31: How a Bill Becomes a Law
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 law thanks to Schoolhouse Rock! The series designed to teach kids about grammar, science, math, civics...
Episode 30: 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...
Episode 29: 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...
Episode 28: 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 C...
Episode 27: How a Case Gets to the Supreme Court
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, Assistant Professor of Law at Univ...
Episode 26: 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 guid...
Episode 25: 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 t...
Episode 24: The IRS
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...
Episode 23: Emoluments
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 “Emo...
Episode 22: 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 a...
Episode 21: 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-te...
Episode 20: 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, f...
Episode 19: 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 o...
Episode 18: The Office of Scheduling & Advance
If managing your personal appointment calendar is a struggle, imagine what it must be like for the President of the United States? From daily meetings, to promoting policies in speeches across the country, to elaborate trips abroad, the Office of Sched...
Episode 17: Veto
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? I...
Episode 16: Gerrymandering
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...
Episode 15: Department of State & Department of...
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 thei...
Episode 14: The Office of Presidential Correspo...
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 today’s super connected world, who’s in...
Episode 13: Filibuster
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 t...
Episode 12: 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. #civi...
Episode 11: 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 Geo...
Episode 10: Impeachment
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 Julia Azari, Associate Professor ...
Episode 9: 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. I...
Episode 8: 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* ...
Episode 7: Executive Orders
You may have heard of executive orders… but how about executive memoranda? Today, we talk about the different tools of executive action that the President uses to direct his administration, and enforce public policy. Are they laws? Can they be revoked...
Episode 6: 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 yo...
Episode 5: 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 congressio...
Episode 4: 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,...
Episode 3: 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 c...
Episode 2: White House Press Corps
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
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 does the position hold? Our inaugural episode covers the basics of the President's gatekeeper. #civics101pod
Trailer: Class Is In Session
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 you should have learned in school…...