Webby Award-Winning #SistersInLaw Podcast Moves from the Ether to the Theater

Four seasoned legal minds – all MSNBC commentators—have joined forces, like a Justice League of all Wonder Women, to discuss America’s pressing legal issues with plenty of fodder in this bumper crop season of political criminality. Their Webby Award-winning podcast #SistersInLaw has moved from the ether to theaters for three dates in May to interact with their fans during this critical election year. 

The energetic quartet on the Athenaeum Center stage included Chicago’s Jill Wine-Banks, who was part of the Watergate prosecution team and wrote The Watergate Girl about her experiences with the last law-breaking commander-in-chief. Kimberly Atkins Stohr is a former attorney, a senior opinion writer for the Boston Globe and guest host of WBUR’s “On Point.” Barb McQuade (Michigan) and Joyce Vance (Alabama) are both former US Attorneys and current law professors.

Wine-Banks is known for wearing topic-appropriate lapel pins and was sporting a Wiener’s Circle one after treating her compatriots to some of those famous Windy City dogs. McQuade loves visiting ballparks so was sporting a Cubs cap. Vance’s mom was raised in Chicago and now her daughter raises chickens in Alabama. Vance and Stohr were pleased to find and take selfies in front of the nearby Hush Money Bar. But they were quick to remind the packed and enthusiastic audience that Trump’s current trial is NOT about paying off porn stars but actually about election interference. The fact that this lifelong con man is finally in front of a jury is “great for the rule of law,” they noted, although the recent overturning of the Harvey Weinstein rape conviction is worrisome. 

Clockwise from upper left: Joyce Vance, Barb McQuade, Jill Wine-Banks, Kimberly Atkins Stohr.

With humor and layperson-friendly styles, they took turns moderating questions among the other three. First was an agreement that, during his current New York trial, Trump looks diminished and defenseless, the reality versus his omnipresent fake bravado. His new false business records scandal adds to the list of his lifelong commission of criminal acts, yet they warned that the courts probably aren’t the best way to prevent a second Trump “presidency.”

Using Home Alone film references, the coterie explained 404(b) evidence, aka “wet bandits evidence,” which implements prior bad acts to show a pattern of illegal behavior. They also discussed how prosecutors might “pre-bunk” (rather than debunk) witnesses with troubled credibility like Trump’s former fixer Michael Cohen. The group lamented that the power of impeachment has been broken by disuse. 

Wine-Banks clarified Trump’s gag order, which covers all jurists and court personnel from plaintiff attacks, with exceptions for Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and Judge Juan Merchan, whom the panel commended as even-handed. McQuade feels that the penalties for violating the gag order to not talk about the case in the public are either too lenient—only $1000 per violation, hardly a deterrent for white collar criminals—or a bit extreme—up to 30 days in jail. She suggested a more consistent punishment that actually produces results. 

From an avalanche of current legal topics, the women chose to also focus on prominent wedge issues like the nationwide attack on abortion access. They universally decried the Supreme Court making law, rather than its job of interpreting the law, saying “SCOTUS is not consistent and has killed precedent.” Since McQuade literally wrote the book on gaslighting—Attack from Within: How Disinformation is Sabotaging America—she posited how propaganda is making these legal issues even worse.  

The hosts then invited the audience to ask questions at microphones stage left and right, reminding that “we’re here for your questions but not your comments.” (There were lots of comments.) One asked “why can’t we go after SCOTUS” or impeach corrupt justices? Because it takes large majorities of the House and Senate to proceed or to create new rules, which is unlikely. They also wondered why, in the rare case of a recusal, a justice doesn’t have to say why. 

Each panelist was asked what they would change if they could only fix one legal issue. Stohr wants to regulate facial recognition software and work to stop gerrymandering. Vance said there is too much incarceration in America. The ACLU confirms that, noting that the US has more than 20% of the world’s prison population despite only having 5% of the global population. Jailed Americans have increased 500% since 1970. McQuade wants to eliminate mandatory minimum sentencing, and Wine-Banks wants to stop cash bail nationwide. In 2023, Illinois became the first state to abolish it. 

When asked what Illinoisans can do to push Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin into doing something about runaway and blatant Court deceit, Wine-Banks referenced Michelle Obama’s “when they go low, we go high.” But, in the Chicago way, constituents should contact Durbin early and often to get him to follow up on subpoenas to Court corrupters like Leonard Leo, as well as requiring an enforceable code of ethics (almost impossible as the Court is the arbiter of itself), term limits (lifetime appointments are a bad idea), and expanding the Court to 13 members to match the number on the circuit court of appeals (check with justice correspondent and fellow MSNBC commentator Elie Mystal for more actions).  

The #SistersInLaw live podcast show will stop at the Royal Oak Music Theatre in Detroit on Thursday, May 9, and at Boston’s Shubert Theatre on Thursday, May 30. 

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Karin McKie

Karin McKie is a Chicago freelance writer, cultural factotum and activism concierge. She jams econo.