Top 5 podcasts of 2020: ‘Unprecedential’ with Adam White

This blog post is part of AEI’s Best Podcasts of 2020 series. Click here to see other AEI podcast hosts’ favorite episodes of the year.

In “Unprecedential,” we discuss American Constitutionalism in its broadest, best sense: not just the latest Supreme Court precedents, but the work of all parts of government, and of the people themselves, in keeping the republic. This year — the podcast’s inaugural year — we had wide-ranging discussions with a variety of scholars, practitioners, and even a few federal judges. Here are five of my favorite episodes:

1. Judge Raymond Kethledge on Solitude and Self-Government — Ep. #14, May 7

By the end of April, Americans were coming to grips with the hard reality of our socially distanced COVID-19 year. Our sudden solitude was a burden in so many ways. But in normal times, when we are surrounded by constant communications and interruptions, occasional solitude is invaluable for self-improvement — as Judge Ray Kethledge and Michael Irwin explained in their 2017 book, Lead Yourself First. Judge Kethledge, of the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, visited our show to discuss solitude and “self-government” … in both senses of the term.

2. Judge Andy Oldham on the Anti-Federalists as Co-Founders — Ep. #17, June 4

When we talk about our
constitutional government’s founding fathers, we tend to think primarily of the
Constitution’s famous advocates: Madison, Hamilton, Washington, and their
fellow Federalists. But when the Constitution was submitted for ratification,
it spurred significant and eloquent criticism. These “Anti-Federalists” raised
arguments that often seem familiar in our own time, and by helping to shape the
arguments of the Federalists they shaped our understanding of the Constitution
itself. Judge Andy Oldham, of the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit,
visited the show to discuss the Anti-Federalists.

3. Judge Jeffrey Sutton and Ed Whelan on The Essential Scalia— Ep. #25, October 1

Antonin Scalia was one of the most significant Supreme Court justices the nation ever has known. By explaining and arguing for constitutional originalism and judicial textualism, he profoundly changed the trajectory of American law. (And, I might add, before he joined the Court, he wrote about constitutional law and regulatory policy here at AEI.) Since his passing in 2016, his former clerk, Ed Whelan, has co-edited three collections of Scalia’s writings and speeches. The first two, Scalia Speaks and On Faith, were co-edited with AEI’s Christopher Scalia. The most recent, released this year, is The Essential Scalia, a collection of his most significant judicial opinions and other key writings. Whelan and his co-editor (and fellow Scalia clerk), Judge Jeffrey Sutton of the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, joined us to discuss this invaluable new book.

4. Dahlia Lithwick on the Court and the Press — Ep. #27, October 15

Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick has been
covering the Supreme Court for two decades. In September, as the
justices were preparing for the start of their annual term, Adam and Dahlia
discussed her career, and the state of the Roberts Court in our incredibly
heated partisan era. When we sat down for this conversation, we had no idea
that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg would pass away just days later, before the
episode would be released. Her passing, and the appointment of Justice Amy
Coney Barrett to succeed her, only amplified and exacerbated the trends that
Dahlia and I discussed.

5. Gary Schmitt and Jeffrey Tulis on Presidential Inaugurations — Ep. #32, December 22

Governor Mario Cuomo famously said that politicians campaign in poetry but govern in prose. If so, then a presidential inauguration is the moment when poetry and prose meet, as a new or newly re-elected president stands at the Capitol to swear his constitutional oath and delivers an inaugural address. The oath is required by the Constitution, but the address is required only by constitutional tradition — a tradition started by our first president. Since Washington, the inaugural address has evolved, just as presidential rhetoric itself has evolved. To discuss this, I was joined by AEI’s Gary Schmitt and the University of Texas’s Jeffrey Tulis, author of The Rhetorical Presidency.

As it happens, Unprecedential returns to the subject of presidential inaugurations in our first episode of next year: a conversation with Penn State’s Stephen Howard Browne, author of The First Inauguration: George Washington and the Invention of the Republic. I hope you’ll tune in.

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