Julia Longoria: I'm Julia Longoria. This is More Perfect. The Supreme Court holds a special place in the American imagination. For a lot of us it starts ...
[BELL RINGS / SCHOOL SOUND]
Julia: ... in high school.
Cheer: If you feel alright yell: East, east, angels halo lo halo lo hey!
Julia: I visited East High in Denver, Colorado.
Juniper: Oh, we all have mini Constitutions.
Julia: To hang out with their Constitution team.
Nora: Yeah, all of them are named. Mine's Connie the Constitution.
Julia: These kids have named their pocket Constitutions.
Nora: Okay, her's is Connor the Constitution.
Julia: The team competes in the national We the People competition where they’re asked to argue about the Supreme Court in legalese.
Teacher: let's do it. 1, 2, 3. Stare decisis.
Julia: It’s like the nerd Super Bowl.
Judge: You may begin.
Student: In the 1803 case of Marbury v Madison, the Supreme Court proclaim is emphatically ...
Julia: I know this because ...
Student: The Supreme Court...
Julia: … I, too, was this cool in high school.
Student: The supreme law of land, but they are not higher law.
Judge: Okay, great.
Julia: My Constitution team, from an all-girls catholic school from Miami, Florida, we were good. We made it all the way to Nationals. And just like the Supreme Court, we had our minds focused on the 4,543 words of our pocket Constitutions. What is joy for the high school nerd, if not something to memorize? An ideal of justice to fall in love with!
Ms. Heffernan: Hello?
Julia: Hello, Mrs. Heffernan?
Julia: My very first tour guide to the Supreme Court was my high school government teacher, Ms. Heffernan.
Ms. Heffernan: The Supreme Court has always been my hero.
Julia: She’s a bit of a fan.
Ms. Heffernan: I was like a cheerleader for the Court. It protected you from discrimination.
Julia: In the Supreme Court according to Ms. Heffernan, if you have a problem that democracy can't solve, you can appeal to the Court to swoop in and serve justice.
Mrs Heffernan: The Supreme Court always represented the little guy.
Julia: At least, that was the hope. For me, the romance was about what happened in the Courtroom. Growing up in a pretty conservative bubble and going to college in a liberal bubble, the Supreme Court really did seem like it could be a place above politics. Where you could actually listen to two sides of an issue truly discussed and debated. Deeply and earnestly. That felt really hopeful.
Mrs. Heffernan: It was always the Court who ignored the majority view in the legislature and said, okay, you know, we're not elected, we're just going to interpret it based on the Constitution. But I think that, you know, that has changed.
Emilee: The Supreme Court has been pulling crazy [expletive] forever.
Julia: But one 11th grader I talked to had no such romance.
Emilee: And people like to say that it's so much worse now, but if you sit and like, maybe try and think, then you recognize that, oh my gosh, they have been cycling out crazy opinion after opinion since [expletive] forever.
Julia: Today it’s hard for the Supreme Court to maintain the air of grandeur and mystery they might’ve had in the past. There’s a bunch of things kids could point to. My favorite, is that one time early in the global pandemic, when the Supreme Court tried working from home.
Oral Argument Recording: What the FCC has said is that when the subject matter of the call ranges to the topic, [TOILET FLUSHES] then the call is transformed.
Julia: Someone — maybe a justice? — forgot to press mute while flushing the toilet during a live streamed oral argument.
Nora: Like, they're people too. And of course they can be swayed by different things.
Julia: And then, somebody leaked a draft of one of the most polarizing opinions in recent history.
News Clip: Abortion is a human right! Abortion is oppression!
Nick Olsen: I think the media coverage on Roe v Wade made me pay more attention to courts and their decisions on a bunch of different cases.
News Clip: Take a look for a moment at this eight foot security fencing gone up all around the Court. Same kind of fencing put up around the Capitol after January 6th. It's a sign, uh, of how deep and sharp the divisions in this country are.
Julia: While we grownups are compelled to make up our minds about the Supreme Court in this moment — they’re either restoring justice or destroying America. High schoolers — these rough drafts of human beings — are still just trying to figure out what they believe.
Julia: What do you think of the Supreme Court?
Camille: I,I think there's definitely flaws.
Nora: I do not think that people that are not elected by citizens should make decisions for citizens. Oh, but if they're elected, then that would make them pretty political I just, uh, realized that, yeah.
Catra: Today, it seems strange to me that like these nine people go up and decide what is and what isn't. Not just Constitutional, but like, right and just.
Julia: So this season of More Perfect, we’re taking a cue from the high schoolers, and we’re questioning everything.
Archival Clip, Supreme Court: The honorable, the Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States. Oyez, oyez, oyez.
Julia: What is the Supreme Court For? Who is it for? Is it a place above politics where you can get a fair hearing?
Archival Clip, Justice Clarence Thomas: The number one thing for me was just how warm and respectful the people were whether they agreed with you or didn't.
Julia: Or is it an anti-democratic branch of government that needs to be tamed?
Archival Clip, Justice Sonia Sotomayor: Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception ...
Julia: We’re going to try to make sense of this current moment on the Supreme Court. And ask, what is justice in America? Who gets to decide? And should it be this way? From WNYC Studios, this is More Perfect, Season 4.
Archival Clip, Supreme Court: God save the United States and this honorable Court.