Nina Totenberg

Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.

Totenberg's coverage of the Supreme Court and legal affairs has won her widespread recognition. Newsweek says, "The mainstays [of NPR] are Morning Edition and All Things Considered. But the creme de la creme is Nina Totenberg." She is also a regular panelist on Inside Washington, a weekly syndicated public affairs television program produced in the nation's capital.

In 1991, her ground-breaking report about University of Oklahoma Law Professor Anita Hill's allegations of sexual harassment by Judge Clarence Thomas led the Senate Judiciary Committee to re-open Thomas's Supreme Court confirmation hearings to consider Hill's charges. NPR received the prestigious George Foster Peabody Award for its gavel-to-gavel coverage — anchored by Totenberg — of both the original hearings and the inquiry into Anita Hill's allegations, and for Totenberg's reports and exclusive interview with Hill.

That same coverage earned Totenberg additional awards, among them: the Long Island University George Polk Award for excellence in journalism; the Sigma Delta Chi Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for investigative reporting; the Carr Van Anda Award from the Scripps School of Journalism; and the prestigious Joan S. Barone Award for excellence in Washington-based national affairs/public policy reporting, which also acknowledged her coverage of Justice Thurgood Marshall's retirement.

Totenberg was named Broadcaster of the Year and honored with the 1998 Sol Taishoff Award for Excellence in Broadcasting from the National Press Foundation. She is the first radio journalist to receive the award. She is also the recipient of the American Judicature Society's first-ever award honoring a career body of work in the field of journalism and the law. In 1988, Totenberg won the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Silver Baton for her coverage of Supreme Court nominations. The jurors of the award stated, "Ms. Totenberg broke the story of Judge (Douglas) Ginsburg's use of marijuana, raising issues of changing social values and credibility with careful perspective under deadline pressure."

Totenberg has been honored seven times by the American Bar Association for continued excellence in legal reporting and has received a number of honorary degrees. On a lighter note, in 1992 and 1988 Esquire magazine named her one of the "Women We Love".

A frequent contributor to major newspapers and periodicals, she has published articles in The New York Times Magazine, The Harvard Law Review, The Christian Science Monitor, Parade Magazine, New York Magazine, and others.

Before joining NPR in 1975, Totenberg served as Washington editor of New Times Magazine, and before that she was the legal affairs correspondent for the National Observer.

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Law
9:28 pm
Mon December 15, 2014

Supreme Court Refuses To Limit Abortion Drug's Use

Bottles of the abortion-inducing drug RU-486 are shown in 2010 at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Des Moines, Iowa.
Charlie Neibergall AP

Originally published on Mon December 15, 2014 5:53 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court has blocked enforcement of an Arizona law aimed at limiting use of the increasingly popular abortion pill. In 2012 nearly half of the abortions in the state were via the pill, known as RU-486.

The pill was approved by the FDA in 2000 for the first seven weeks of pregnancy. Since then, scientists have developed safer and smaller doses that allow the drug to be used through the ninth week.

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Law
1:16 pm
Mon December 15, 2014

Supreme Court Upholds North Carolina Traffic Stop

In 2009, Nicholas Heien and a friend were traveling down a North Carolina highway when they were pulled over for having a broken tail light. A subsequent search of the car found a plastic bag containing cocaine.
iStockPhoto

Originally published on Mon December 15, 2014 3:20 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled that police officers don't necessarily violate a person's constitutional rights when they stop a car based on a mistaken understanding of the law. The ruling prompted a lone dissent from Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who warned that the court's decision could exacerbate public suspicion of police in some communities.

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Law
3:03 pm
Tue December 9, 2014

Supreme Court Rules Employers Are Not Required To Pay For Security Time

The court's ruling came Tuesday in a case involving Amazon warehouses and a temp agency, Integrity Staffing Solutions Inc. Hourly workers were required to wait in line for an average of 25 minutes after they clocked out.
Ross Franklin AP

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that companies do not have to pay workers for time spent in anti-theft security screening at the end of a shift.

The decision is a major victory for retail enterprises and manufacturing businesses that could have been on the hook for billions of dollars in back pay for time spent in security screenings.

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Law
4:17 pm
Wed December 3, 2014

Pregnancy Discrimination Act In The Spotlight At Supreme Court

Supporters of Peggy Young attend a rally outside the Supreme Court Wednesday.
Susan Walsh AP

Originally published on Thu December 4, 2014 8:34 am

The justices of the U.S. Supreme Court tussled over the meaning of the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act Wednesday. The issue is whether the law allows companies to suspend pregnant workers, while allowing other workers with temporary disabilities to remain on the job.

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Law
2:02 am
Wed December 3, 2014

Did UPS Discriminate Against A Pregnant Worker By Letting Her Go?

When Peggy Young, a UPS truck driver, told the company she was pregnant, she lost her job. The Supreme Court will hear her case Wednesday, putting pregnancy discrimination in the national spotlight.
Jacquelyn Martin AP

Originally published on Wed December 3, 2014 12:00 pm

Women's reproductive rights are once again before the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday. Only this time, pregnancy discrimination is the issue and pro-life and pro-choice groups are on the same side, opposed by business groups.

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Law
2:35 pm
Mon December 1, 2014

Justices Struggle To Find Line Between Threats, Free Speech Online

John P. Elwood, attorney for Anthony D. Elonis, speaks to reporters outside the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on Monday. Elonis says he was just kidding when he posted a series of graphically violent rap lyrics on Facebook about killing his estranged wife, shooting up a kindergarten class and attacking an FBI agent.
Susan Walsh AP

Originally published on Mon December 1, 2014 5:37 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court struggled Monday with conflicting notions of where to draw the line between free speech and criminal threats in the Internet age. At issue was the conviction of a Pennsylvania man for making threats against his estranged wife and an FBI agent.

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Law
2:01 am
Mon December 1, 2014

Is A Threat Posted On Facebook Really A Threat?

At his trial, Elonis argued that he was only exercising his First Amendment free speech rights, which he also says he wrote on his Facebook page.
iStockphoto

Originally published on Mon December 1, 2014 6:17 am

The U.S. Supreme Court is tackling a question of increasing importance in the age of social media and the Internet: What constitutes a threat on Facebook?

Anthony Elonis was convicted of making threats against his estranged wife, and an FBI agent. After his wife left him, taking the couple's two children with her, Elonis began posting about her on his Facebook page.

There's one way to love ya, but a thousand ways to kill ya,

And I'm not going to rest until your body is a mess,

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It's All Politics
12:05 pm
Wed November 26, 2014

Justice Ginsburg Recovering After Heart Stent Implant

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her court chamber, in July.
Cliff Owen AP

Originally published on Wed November 26, 2014 12:55 pm

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had a heart stent implanted Wednesday to clear a blocked right coronary artery, but she was expected to be back on the bench when the court reconvenes on Monday.

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The Two-Way
3:56 pm
Fri November 14, 2014

Court Rejects Challenge To Obamacare Rules On Contraceptives

Originally published on Sat November 15, 2014 8:49 am

A federal appeals court in Washington has rejected a challenge to Obamacare regulations that allow religious nonprofits to opt out of providing birth control coverage.

The Catholic Archbishop of Washington and nonprofits affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church challenged the regulations, contending they do not go far enough.

The regulations at issue were adopted by the Obama administration to accommodate religious nonprofits that object to including birth control in their health insurance plans.

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Law
10:03 pm
Tue November 11, 2014

Supreme Court Case Seeks Source Of Alabama Gerrymandering

The question before the Supreme Court Wednesday is: Did Alabama's Republican-dominated Legislature rely predominantly on race or on partisanship when it was redrawing its districts?
Carolyn Kaster AP

Originally published on Wed November 12, 2014 7:10 am

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday takes up the thorny question of what kind of gerrymandering is acceptable, and what kind is not. The court is being asked to decide whether a 2010 state legislative redistricting in Alabama overloaded some districts with black Democrats on the basis of race or party.

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Law
2:54 pm
Fri November 7, 2014

Supreme Court Agrees To Hear New Health Law Challenge

A counselor for the health care law speaks with taxi driver David Bilewu, a 39-year-old Nigerian immigrant in Chicago. Illinois set up its exchange through a federal partnership.
M. Spencer Green AP

Originally published on Fri November 7, 2014 6:11 pm

In a rare and unexpected move, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a new challenge to the Obama health care overhaul, dealing the White House yet another blow this week. Health care experts say an adverse ruling would be catastrophic for the health insurance program that the president has fought to enact and preserve.

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Law
3:44 pm
Thu November 6, 2014

Federal Appeals Court Upholds State Gay Marriage Bans

Originally published on Thu November 6, 2014 4:33 pm

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

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Law
6:32 pm
Wed November 5, 2014

How Does Destroying Fish Compare To Shredding Documents, Legally?

Originally published on Thu November 6, 2014 12:50 pm

Fish and crime were the subjects of the day at the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday. The case involved a commercial fisherman convicted of obstructing justice by deep-sixing a crate of undersized fish to avoid a federal fine.

The reaction from the justices? They seemed to think the law used in the prosecution stinks from the head.

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Law
1:34 am
Wed November 5, 2014

The Supreme Court Takes Up The Case Of The Missing Fish

Robel Phillipos, center, departs federal court Oct. 28 in Boston with defense attorney Derege Demissie, right, after he was convicted on two counts of lying about being in the dorm room of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev three days after the bombing in 2013, while two other friends removed a backpack containing fireworks and other potential evidence.
Stephan Savoia AP

Originally published on Wed November 5, 2014 10:18 am

Usually when a fisherman tells a fish story, he makes the fish as big as he can carry. But on Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court hears a case about a fisherman convicted of deep-sixing some fish altogether so no one could accurately check their size.

The question before the justices is whether his conviction, based on a law passed after a scandal that destroyed energy firm Enron and resulted in criminal convictions for accounting firm Arthur Andersen, should get the hook.

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Law
2:59 pm
Mon November 3, 2014

Supreme Court Case Tests Status Of Jerusalem

Menachem Zivotofsky and his father, Ari Zivotofsky, gather to speak to media outside the Supreme Court in Washington on Monday. The court is taking its second look at a dispute over the wording of U.S. passports for Americans born in Jerusalem, a case with potential foreign policy implications.
Carolyn Kaster AP

Originally published on Mon November 3, 2014 4:23 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on Monday in a case testing whether American citizens born in Jerusalem can list Israel as their place of birth on their passports. It might sound like an academic question, but the status of Jerusalem is at the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict in the Middle East.

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Law
1:21 am
Mon November 3, 2014

Supreme Court To Consider Case On Passports Of Jerusalem-Born Citizens

Ari Zivotofsky (center) walks with then 9-year-old son Menachem, outside the Supreme Court in Washington on Nov. 7, 2011. Their case, regarding the desire to have their son's U.S. passport list his place of birth as Israel, returns to the Supreme Court this Monday.
Evan Vucci AP

Originally published on Mon November 3, 2014 6:00 am

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Monday for a second time in a case that combines Middle East policy with the dueling foreign policy roles of the president and Congress. It's a political hot potato that asks what U.S. passports should say about the birthplace of American citizens born in Jerusalem.

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Law
1:58 am
Wed October 29, 2014

Can Authorities Cut Off Utilities And Pose As Repairmen To Search A Home?

Originally published on Wed October 29, 2014 6:50 am

Some legal cases do more than raise eyebrows — they push the legal envelope to change the law. Such is a federal case in Las Vegas now working its way through the courts. The question is whether federal agents can disrupt service to a house and then, masquerading as helpful technicians, gain entry to covertly search the premises in hopes of finding evidence that might later justify a search warrant.

The defendants in this case are not your everyday Americans. They are, in fact, Chinese gamblers who were staying in Las Vegas at Caesar's Palace earlier this year.

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Law
2:22 pm
Tue October 7, 2014

Justices Skeptical Of Beard Rule In Inmate Religious Rights Case

Attorney Douglas Laycock leaves the Supreme Court Tuesday after arguing before the court on behalf of Arkansas prison inmate Gregory Holt.
J. Scott Applewhite AP

Originally published on Wed October 8, 2014 12:24 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday in a case that pits the authority of prison officials against the religious rights of prison inmates. Specifically, the question is whether a federal law aimed at shoring up those religious rights requires the state of Arkansas to allow a Muslim prisoner to wear a half-inch beard.

Gregory Holt, convicted of stabbing his ex-girlfriend, argues that the tenets of his Muslim faith require him not to cut his beard. As a compromise, he asked Arkansas prison authorities for permission to at least wear a half-inch beard.

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Law
3:06 am
Tue October 7, 2014

How Justice Sotomayor Is 'Busting' The Supreme Court's Steady Rhythms

Joan Biskupic, author of a new book about Justice Sonia Sotomayor, says she was "intrigued by the fact that ... the arc of her life was actually the same trajectory of the rise of Latinos in America."
Patrick Semansky AP

Originally published on Tue October 7, 2014 9:07 am

What do salsa dancing and the Supreme Court have to do with each other? A lot, according to author Joan Biskupic, whose new book about Justice Sonia Sotomayor is now out in bookstores.

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The Two-Way
4:28 pm
Mon October 6, 2014

5 Questions About The Supreme Court And Gay Marriage In The U.S.

Jennifer Hasler (left) and Karina Tittjung smile after picking up their marriage license at the Oklahoma County courthouse in Oklahoma City Monday. When the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up the issue of gay marriage, it opened the door for gay men and women to marry in 11 states, including Virginia, Oklahoma, Utah, Wisconsin and Indiana.
Nick Oxford Reuters/Landov

Originally published on Mon October 6, 2014 5:22 pm

On Monday, the Supreme Court surprised many when it refused to enter the contentious debate over gay marriage.

The court left intact decisions by three federal appeals courts that had struck down bans on gay marriage in parts of the South, West and Midwest. Attorneys general in five states asked the court to review those decisions and overrule them. But the court instead stepped back, leaving the lower court rulings intact.

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Law
3:15 pm
Mon October 6, 2014

Should Short Beards Be Allowed Behind Bars?

The Supreme Court will take up the case of Gregory Holt, who argues that Arkansas prisoners like himself should be allowed to wear short beards.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais AP

Originally published on Mon October 6, 2014 4:30 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Tuesday in a major test of religious freedom. At issue is a law enacted by Congress in 2000 to shore up the religious rights of prisoners.

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Law
9:52 am
Mon October 6, 2014

Supreme Court Declines To Take Up Gay-Marriage Appeals

Originally published on Mon October 6, 2014 10:32 am

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

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Law
3:09 am
Mon October 6, 2014

Supreme Court To Weigh Facebook Threats, Religious Freedom, Discrimination

Originally published on Mon October 6, 2014 10:32 am

The U.S. Supreme Court opens a new term Monday, but so far the justices are keeping quiet about whether or when they will tackle the gay marriage question. Last week, the justices met behind closed doors to discuss pending cases, but when they released the list of new cases added to the calendar, same-sex marriage was nowhere to be seen.

But that really doesn't mean very much.

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The Two-Way
1:42 pm
Thu October 2, 2014

Supreme Court Declines To Hear Gay-Marriage Cases ... For Now

There was no word today from the U.S. Supreme Court on whether it would tackle the issue of gay marriage. The justices issued a list of cases they will hear in the new term, which begins on Monday, but same-sex marriage was notably absent.

The silence on the gay-marriage question was no surprise.

Although there are seven same-sex-marriage cases pending before the court, the justices like to thoroughly vet a big issue like this before they choose which cases to hear and when.

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It's All Politics
4:48 pm
Thu September 4, 2014

Appeals Court Strikes Wisconsin And Indiana Same-Sex-Marriage Bans

Supporters of gay marriage attend a rally at the federal plaza in Chicago on Aug. 25.
Charles Rex Arbogast AP

Originally published on Thu September 4, 2014 5:18 pm

The U.S. Court of Appeals covering much of the Midwest has become the third federal appeals court to strike down gay-marriage bans — this time in Wisconsin and Indiana.

Writing for a unanimous three-judge panel, Judge Richard Posner, a Reagan appointee, said that Wisconsin and Indiana had given the court "no reasonable basis" for forbidding same-sex marriage. Indeed, he said, "The only rationale that the states put forward with any conviction is ... so full of holes that it cannot be taken seriously."

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It's All Politics
3:03 pm
Wed September 3, 2014

Federal Judge Upholds Louisiana's Same-Sex-Marriage Ban

Originally published on Wed September 3, 2014 3:46 pm

A federal judge in New Orleans has upheld Louisiana's law banning same-sex marriage. The decision is the first break in a string of more than two dozen federal court rulings that have struck down same-sex-marriage bans in other states over the past year.

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The Two-Way
1:49 pm
Tue August 26, 2014

Former FBI Director Louis Freeh Returns To Surgery Following Crash

Former FBI Director Louis Freeh speaks during a news conference in 2012.
Matt Rourke AP

Originally published on Tue August 26, 2014 4:53 pm

Former FBI Director Louis Freeh was returned to surgery at a New Hampshire hospital on Tuesday, after suffering serious injuries in what police say was a one-car crash Monday, according to the Burlington Free Press. The newspaper also reports that Freeh is under armed guard.

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The Two-Way
2:10 pm
Wed August 20, 2014

Same-Sex Marriages On Hold In Virginia After Supreme Court Weighs In

Supporters and opponents of gay marriage demonstrate outside the federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., in May.
Steve Helber AP

Originally published on Thu August 21, 2014 11:40 am

The U.S. Supreme Court has stepped in to block a federal appeals court ruling that would have allowed gay marriages to begin in Virginia on Thursday.

The decision was widely expected and tells little about how the high court will ultimately rule on the issue. It merely preserves the status quo.

Indeed, while Virginia officials urged the Supreme Court to strike down the ban on gay marriage, they also urged the court to put a hold on the immediate issuing of marriage licenses.

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Law
3:00 am
Mon July 28, 2014

When Did Companies Become People? Excavating The Legal Evolution

Volunteers at the Lincoln Memorial help roll up a giant banner printed with the Preamble to the Constitution during an October 2010 demonstration against the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling.
Chip Somodevilla Getty Images

Originally published on Mon July 28, 2014 11:52 am

Are corporations people? The U.S. Supreme Court says they are, at least for some purposes. And in the past four years, the high court has dramatically expanded corporate rights.

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Law
2:15 pm
Thu July 24, 2014

The Death Clerk, And Other Details Of Last-Minute Execution Appeals

Originally published on Thu July 24, 2014 4:22 pm

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Arizona's execution is the third botched or problematic execution this year. And it poses lots of legal questions. So we have NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg now to answer them. Hi.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Hi.

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