What's "The Mother Court" In 'For The People'? It's Seen Some Historic Cases Throughout Time
The goal of any lawyer is always to win their case, but in one courtroom, the stakes are even higher than usual. With ABC's For The People, premiering March 13 at 10 p.m., young legal professionals are put to the test in one of the most grueling situations any recent law school grad could imagine — so what exactly is the Mother Court?
According to Deadline, "The Mother Court" is a nickname for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) Federal Court, the court system in which For The People is set. According to the court's website, its territory includes counties like New York, the Bronx, Westchester, and much more — and cases are heard in Manhattan, White Plains, and Poughkeepsie. It has a pretty sprawling jurisdiction, and likely means that there's no shortage of work for lawyers who decide to stretch their legs in this region.
The website also states that the SDNY Federal Court has, in some form, been hearing cases since 1789. That's right, we're in year 229 of this court's operation, making it the perfect backdrop for these Shondaland lawyers who are trying to prove their mettle. And, as you might guess given this long history, some pretty high profile cases have been heard within the walls of the Mother Court throughout the years, lending itself effortlessly to a setup for Shonda Rhimes' famously dramatic plotlines.
According to documents from the National Archive featured in an article from Slate, some of the claims from passengers of the Titanic against the White Star cruise line were even heard in the SDNY Federal Court way, way back in the day. That was just the beginning of the Mother Court's iconic cases throughout modern history. Perhaps one of the most famous financial fraud cases of our time — the scheming of Bernie Madoff — was famously handled in the Mother Court in 2009. Also making its rounds in this system was the notorious "deflategate" case in 2016, according to USA Today, and the New York Times reports that Martha Stewart was prosecuted by the same system in the early 2000s. And that's just to name a few — whatever For The People cooks up will be right on par for what this real-life court is familiar with.
For The People star Britt Robertson appears ready to take on this historic court system, and she said looking up to Rhimes' past creations has been a big inspiration as she prepares. "The big lessons for me that a lot of actors have been able to embody as different characters on Shonda Rhimes’ shows are that there’s no one particular person that you have to conform to," the actor told Entertainment Weekly. "You’re not the b*tchy one, or the good girl, or the love interest, or the worker. It doesn’t have to be one little box that you have to fill."
It also seems like Robertson's character, Sandra, will be feeling the weight of not only the Mother Court's history, but also of her allegiances to her clients. "Her big drive is with the human aspect of her job. She feels highly responsible for these people that she’s representing and their livelihood, because that’s what her job is," Robertson said in the same interview. "So I think she wears that. It’s a big part of her life and her existence, and it’s hard for her to get home and have a glass of wine and not think about the guy or the girl that she’s representing who could then go to jail for 40 years."
It definitely reads like a conscious decision for For The People showrunners to use such a high profile court system as the drama's setting, and that history only adds to the high pressure situation in which these lawyers find themselves. Hopefully they're up for the challenge.