Thursday, October 06, 2016

Amicus Brief

Not long ago, I blogged about the podcast More Perfect, a great look at past cases that have gone before the U.S. Supreme Court. Now I want to talk about another podcast, more focused on the Court's present.

Amicus is hosted by Dahlia Lithwick, the main journalist for covering the Supreme Court. Just as the Court itself runs from October to June, so has this podcast (since 2014). For those disinclined to read long legal briefs and opinions, Amicus is the perfect way to keep abreast of what's going on at the nation's highest court.

Different episodes focus on different facets of the process. You'll get previews of big cases to come, analysis of oral arguments soon after they occur, and summaries of the final rulings once they're issued. Everything is broken down in clear language so you don't have to be a constitutional scholar to grasp the important points.

Each episode also features at least one interview, and here is where Amicus really shines. Lithwick is able to land a lot of great guests for the podcast. Arguments in a case are often explained by the very lawyers who presented them at the Supreme Court. She's interviewed lower court judges who have considered the same issues before they wound up in front of the Supreme Court, judges who articulately explain their rulings. She's interviewed other court reporters from other web sites, painting the picture of one tight-knit group of legal wonks who want nothing more than to inform the public.

The only down side of the podcast, which Lithwick herself has pointed out, is that right now, the Supreme Court isn't a particularly interesting beat to cover. Eager to avoid more 4-4 ties while they're missing a member, the Justices have avoided taking any huge, controversial cases going into this term. Where the first two years of this podcast had plenty of blockbuster cases to dig into, there's little going on at the moment that would excite the average listener not already invested in the Supreme Court. But I'm not yet so cynical to think that the stonewalling of a new Supreme Court appointee will last forever. At some point in the months to come, the Court will get a new ninth member, and will soon be ruling on important issues that everyone should be following.

Even covering a neutered Court, Amicus is a vital and informative podcast. I grade it an A. (And if you try it out and find it's not your thing, I suggest coming back down the road, when the Court is back up to full strength.)

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