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The Hosts of ‘5-4’ Never Trusted the Supreme Court


For Rhiannon Hamam, it was a tossup between Bush v. Gore and Castle Rock v. Gonzales.

When it got here to what she considered the worst Supreme Court decision of the fashionable era, Bush epitomized to her the court’s opposition to democracy — reversing a Florida Supreme Court order for a manual recount and effectively deciding the 2000 presidential election. Castle Rock, then again, spoke to its inhumanity, denying a mother whose three children were killed by her husband the correct to sue the police who did not implement a restraining order against him.

Then, last month, got here the choice in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, barging to the highest — or bottom — of her list by overturning Roe v. Wade and revoking the constitutional right to an abortion.

“It was absolutely awful,” Hamam said. “It’s hard to avoid the sense that something has gone very incorrect.”

Like hundreds of thousands of Americans, Hamam, a public defender and one among three hosts of the favored podcast “5-4,” has spent much of this spring and summer fixated on the court and the upcoming consequences of its 6-3 conservative supermajority. In response to an annual Gallup poll released in late June — following the leak of an early draft of the Dobbs ruling — public confidence within the Supreme Court is plummeting. Only 25 percent of respondents said that they had “an incredible deal” or “quite so much” of confidence within the institution, the bottom level within the survey’s near 50-year history.

But for Hamam and her fellow podcast hosts — Michael Liroff and Peter, who asked to be identified only by his first name because his employer is unaware of the podcast — hating the high court is nothing latest. In actual fact, it’s something of a calling. On “5-4,” a show “about how much the Supreme Court sucks,” as announced in its tagline, they’ve spent greater than two years and nearly 150 episodes mordantly enumerating what they argue are its many sins and weaknesses.

The approach, each profane and meticulous, has attracted a fast-growing audience of like-minded listeners.

Because the starting of the yr, subscriptions to the “5-4” Patreon account have grown by over 30 percent, now bringing in greater than $35,000 every month. First-day downloads of the podcast, which is produced and distributed by Prologue Projects, have greater than doubled over the past two years, the corporate said, propelled by a series of court-related headlines, including the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the Dobbs leak. In June, the month of the Dobbs decision, there have been greater than 400,000 downloads across the podcast’s catalog, up greater than 90 percent from the identical time last yr.

The hosts themselves, “three nobodies” as Hamam put it, have been embraced by the left-wing cognoscenti. Hamam, 33, has been featured on MSNBC and The Cut, and the web site of The Latest Yorker published a profile of her, Liroff (a former associate on the law firm Sullivan and Cromwell) and Peter (an in-house counsel) last fall.

Elizabeth Warren, the progressive and professorial senator from Massachusetts and a self-described “5-4” fan, recorded an interview last week for an upcoming episode.

“She took us to high school,” said Liroff, 40.

Peter, 36, said the surge of attention has been “vindicating in a dark type of way.”

For Liroff, the growing popularity has made the podcast feel worthwhile. “I believe for a very long time much of the legal establishment and the Democratic Party have been tied to this mythical idea of the Supreme Court that has denied them the vocabulary and the framework to actually understand what has been happening,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ve played a small part in starting to alter that.”

In conversation, as on the show, the hosts are a bottomless well of sardonic judicial evaluation. In a video interview last Wednesday, they debated which of the nine justices is most worthy of contempt (unanimous: Clarence Thomas), whose opinions are probably the most painful to read (Liroff: Brett Kavanaugh “writes like when you gave a talented law student a concussion”) and pet ideas for reform (all need to expand the court by a minimum of 4 justices; Liroff suggested the regular appointment of a further justice every two years).

Their core grievance is the court’s holier-than-thou posture, exemplified by the black robes the justices wear in public. (The “5-4” merch store offers T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan “No Robes No Masters.”) The hosts imagine the institution’s mystique allows fundamentally political actors to masquerade as enlightened and neutral arbiters.

“It’s a systemic problem baked into the structure of our democracy,” said Hamam, who has noted that the present conservative majority was largely appointed by presidents who originally took office without winning the favored vote.

Similar criticisms of the court have been made almost since its founding. Thomas Jefferson, a frequent antagonist of the federal judiciary, maligned its unelected judges as “a subtle corps of sappers and miners always working underground to undermine the foundations of our confederated fabric.” And complaints of judicial overreach were once mostly related to conservatives, lots of whom objected to a series of rulings within the Nineteen Fifties and ’60s that ended segregation and expanded civil rights.

For Peter and Hamam, the conversion moment occurred in law school nearly a decade ago, once they realized, as Peter put it, that the justices were “just winging it like everyone else.” Liroff’s awakening got here earlier. He was an 18-year-old highschool student in Florida when the court issued its ruling in Bush v. Gore.

“They only busted in just like the Kool-Aid man and said that it was over,” Liroff said. “I never knew if my vote even counted.”

Having found themselves with the cultural wind at their backs, the hosts say they need to help construct a community of young, left-leaning lawyers and law students who take a more pragmatic view of the court and the law. A Slack group for “5-4” Patreon subscribers is crammed with fans who seek the advice of the trio for advice, moral support and the dark humor of the commonly aggrieved. (A chatbot’s response to any mention of the name “Scalia” begins with a four-letter word.)

The show’s expanding reach has also brought a newfound sense of responsibility. Though they originally recorded roughly off the cuff, the hosts estimate that they now spend greater than 20 hours per week preparing for every episode. The additional prep time allows for more research and the clarification of arguments. However the hosts say they haven’t any plans to melt or moderate their core message, irrespective of who’s hearing it.

“What made us successful is our unique perspective,” Hamam said. “I’m not dumbing that down because I do know someone from Senator Warren’s office is listening.”

Although they hope the podcast continues to grow, not one of the three has plans to quit his or her day job. Ultimately, the hosts say, the show — just like the law — is just a way to an end.

“I hope the Democrats are sufficiently radicalized that they reform the court, expand it and make our podcast obsolete,” Liroff said. “But I’m not very optimistic.”

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