‘Deadlocked’ Trailer: Dawn Porter’s Showtime Docuseries Explores What Led To The Tumult And Waning Trust In The Supreme Court
Showtime’s four-part docuseries on the Supreme Court, Deadlocked: How America Shaped the Supreme Court, will premiere its first episode on September 22, amid a period of intense concern over the impact and integrity of the high court.
From director Dawn Porter, the project delves into the modern era of the court, going back to the Earl Warren court of the 1950s and 1960s, when the justices established a series of landmark progressive precedents, to today, with the conservative majority upending abortion rights and affirmative action. With it has come increasing distrust of the court itself, as well as the internal intrigue given the unprecedented leak last year of the Dobbs abortion decision.
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“I wanted to give people an understanding of how the court works,” Porter told Deadline. “…You don’t pay attention until something you love is gone, until a right you cherish has been overturned. So I felt like it would be good to add to this conversation. The news reports are important, but they’re reporting on cases, but not necessarily the long road to this Supreme Court and how we got here. And I wanted to focus on how we got here, not only where we are.”
Porter reached out to the justices to comment for the series but, to little surprise, they did not participate. “The closest we could really get were some clerks. The clerks abide very strictly by ethical rules, so the clerks will not discuss individual deliberations. They are bound by secrecy. And I feel like a lot of the clerks take their ethical obligations maybe more seriously than some of the justices. But they would tell you, anything that’s been published. Anything that’s in court papers, we could report on.”
Some of the recent stories that have raised ethical concerns about the justices, including Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Sonia Sotomayor, were published after the documentary series was finished.
But Porter said “whether or not anything improper is happening, appearances matter, and they matter because ultimately what we are talking about now is the American public’s confidence in the court, and that is at an all time low, and that is one of the reasons I wanted to do this series now, is people … are starting to question the validity of decisions. And if we lose that, we’re literally losing the rule of law. That is what America is founded on. That’s where we are today. That’s how serious it is.”
Porter said that the leak of the Dobbs decision last year was the most significant in the history of the court.
“Not only is it significant that the decision itself was leaked, it’s significant the impact that it has had on the court clearly,” she said. “The justices need to get along. Those nine people work with each other for life. And when you see the amount of mistrust that they now have, that damages how the court works and how the court behaves. So I think we are going to see the impacts of that leak for a really long time.”
The project was produced for Showtime by Trilogy Films. Porter also is executive producer along with Eli Holzman, Vinnie Malhotra and Aaron Saidman. Porter’s latest film, The Lady Bird Diaries, about Lady Bird Johnson, won the Lone Star Award at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival. She won an Emmy for Un(re)solved, about civil rights era cold cases. Her other films include 37 Words, The Me You Can’t See, The Way I See It, John Lewis: Good Trouble and Gideon’s Army.
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