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."

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.

Pages

Law
2:58 am
Tue June 30, 2015

Supreme Court Concludes Term With Death Penalty Ruling, Looks Ahead

The gurney in the the execution chamber at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, Okla. On Monday the Supreme Court voted 5-4 in a case from Oklahoma that the sedative midazolam can be used in executions without violating the prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.
Sue Ogrocki AP

Originally published on Tue June 30, 2015 11:52 am

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday issued the last of its opinions for this term — on the death penalty, anti-pollution regulations and the power of independent commissions to draw congressional and state legislative districts. In addition, the court issued a set of orders that set up cases to be heard next term on affirmative action and abortion.

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It's All Politics
4:27 pm
Mon June 29, 2015

Lethal Injection Ruling Draws Out Justices' Passionate Opinions

In dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that under the majority's reasoning it would not matter if the prisoner was being "drawn and quartered, slowly tortured to death, or actually burned at the stake," as long as there was no more humane method of execution available. Justice Antonin Scalia orally rebutted Justice Stephen Breyer's dissent, calling it "gobbledygook."
Carolyn Kaster AP

Originally published on Mon June 29, 2015 5:02 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday dealt a major blow to death penalty opponents, upholding the use of a controversial drug as part of a three-drug execution cocktail. The vote was 5-4, with unusually passionate and sometimes bitter opinions from the majority and dissenting justices.

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Law
5:00 pm
Fri June 26, 2015

Supreme Court Changes Face Of Marriage In Historic Ruling

Gay rights advocates John Lewis (left), and his spouse Stuart Gaffney kiss across the street from City Hall in San Francisco, on Friday following a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that same-sex couples have the right to marry nationwide.
Jeff Chiu AP

Originally published on Sat June 27, 2015 7:32 am

In a historic ruling Friday, the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court declared marriage a fundamental constitutional right not just for opposite-sex couples, but for same-sex couples too.

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Law
9:55 am
Fri June 26, 2015

Supreme Court's Same-Sex Marriage Ruling: A Reaction

Originally published on Fri June 26, 2015 5:06 pm

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Law
3:04 am
Fri June 26, 2015

Supreme Court Vindicates President; Upholds Obamacare Subsidies

Originally published on Fri June 26, 2015 5:35 am

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

It's All Politics
5:17 pm
Thu June 25, 2015

Supreme Court Thwarts Efforts To Put Obamacare On Life Support

At the heart of the case ruled on by the Supreme Court Thursday are the exchanges where people go online to shop for individual insurance.
Jacquelyn Martin AP

Originally published on Fri June 26, 2015 3:09 am

The U.S. Supreme Court handed the Obama administration a sweeping victory on Thursday, upholding the nationwide subsidies that are crucial to the president's health care law. By a 6-3 vote, the high court ruled that Congress meant all three major provisions of the law to apply to all states and to work in tandem.

The ruling was the court's second decision upholding the Affordable Care Act — three years ago, it upheld the law as constitutional.

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Law
2:39 pm
Mon June 22, 2015

This California Raisin Grower Just Got His Day In The Sun

Raisin farmer Marvin Horne stands in a field of grapevines planted in 1918 next to his home in Kerman, Calif. Horne was elated by Monday's Supreme Court decision. "It's just an affirmation in our Constitution and the American way of life," he said.
Gary Kazanjian AP

Originally published on Wed June 24, 2015 2:13 pm

The Supreme Court on Monday struck down a Depression-era federal program aimed at stabilizing raisin and other commodity prices.

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Law
6:58 pm
Thu June 18, 2015

Justices Give Officials More Say On Cars' Plates, Less On Roadside Signs

People gather at a church in Gilbert, Ariz., for an Easter sunrise service in 2010. The town passed a law to regulate signs a church in town was temporarily posting to provide event directions, but the Supreme Court on Thursday declared those rules unconstitutional.
Matt York AP

Originally published on Fri June 19, 2015 11:51 am

In two major free speech cases, the U.S. Supreme Court cast a pall of doubt over nearly all sign regulations across the country, and upheld a decision by the state of Texas to refuse to issue specialty license plates featuring the Confederate flag.

The sign case is likely to have the most profound effect: Lawyers for local governments said the decision would "wreak havoc" with signage laws across the country.

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Law
4:08 pm
Mon June 15, 2015

High Court Sides With Government On Spousal Visa Denial

Fauzia Din came to the United States as a refugee from Afghanistan in 2000, and later petitioned for an immigrant visa for her husband. The Supreme Court concluded a consular officer was justified in citing unspecified "terrorist activities" in denying that visa.
Mandel Ngan AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Mon June 15, 2015 5:21 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday upheld the government's broad discretion to give only a cursory explanation for refusing to grant a visa to the spouse of an American citizen. The justices divided 5-to-4, concluding that a consular officer's citation of unspecified "terrorist activities" was enough to justify barring a spouse without further explanation.

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It's All Politics
5:23 pm
Mon June 8, 2015

Court Sides With President Over Congress In 'Jerusalem' Passport Dispute

Ari Zivotofsky (right) with his son, Menachem, outside the Supreme Court in 2011. Menachem, now 12, was born in Jerusalem, but the court ruled Israel cannot be noted as the birthplace on his passport.
Evan Vucci AP

The U.S. Supreme Court Monday sided with the president in a long-running struggle with Congress over who controls recognition of foreign countries and what information about nationhood can be put on the passports of American citizens.

In a 6-to-3 decision, the high court struck down a law requiring the State Department to indicate on passports that the city of Jerusalem is part of Israel. The decision was a blow to the pro-Israel lobby and to congressional power over certain parts of foreign policy.

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Law
3:18 am
Tue June 2, 2015

Religious Groups, Businesses Review Supreme Court's Headscarf Ruling

Originally published on Tue June 2, 2015 6:05 am

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

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It's All Politics
9:44 pm
Mon June 1, 2015

Threatened Online? Supreme Court Says Prosecutors Must Prove Intent

Attorney John Elwood talks to reporters Dec. 1 outside the Supreme Court building in Washington after arguing on behalf of Anthony Elonis, who was convicted in 2010 on the grounds of threatening his wife via social media. On Monday, the court ruled in favor of Elonis, saying prosecutors must prove that a social media threat was intentional, not just perceived.
Jonathan Ernst Reuters/Landov

Originally published on Tue June 2, 2015 3:28 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court made it harder Monday to prosecute people for making threats on social media.

The case was brought by Anthony Elonis, who was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison for threatening his estranged wife and an FBI agent.

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It's All Politics
8:48 pm
Mon June 1, 2015

Justices: Retailer Can't Refuse To Hire Someone Because She Wears Hijab

Samantha Elauf outside the Supreme Court after the court in February 2015.
Chip Somodevilla Getty Images

Originally published on Tue June 2, 2015 11:31 am

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that Abercrombie & Fitch violated the nation's laws against religious discrimination when it refused to hire a Muslim teenager because she wore a headscarf.

Samantha Elauf, 17, applied for a job selling clothes at the Abercrombie Kids store in Tulsa. She long had worn a hijab — a headscarf — for religious reasons, and she wore the black scarf when she was interviewed by the store's assistant manager.

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It's All Politics
5:05 pm
Wed April 29, 2015

It's Sotomayor V. Roberts In Supreme Court Death Penalty Drama

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor grilled lawyers arguing the constitutionality of new lethal-injection cocktails.
Win McNamee Getty Images

Originally published on Wed April 29, 2015 5:13 pm

Lethal injection was the grim subject before the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday. Specifically at issue: whether the drug combinations currently used to execute convicted murderers in some states are unconstitutionally cruel.

The issue comes to the court after three botched executions over the past year.

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It's All Politics
3:03 am
Wed April 29, 2015

After Botched Executions, Supreme Court Weighs Lethal Drug Cocktail

Bottles of the sedative midazolam at a hospital pharmacy in Oklahoma City.
AP

Originally published on Wed April 29, 2015 4:39 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Wednesday in three death penalty cases testing which drug combinations constitute cruel and unusual punishment when used to execute a convicted murderer by lethal injection.

It is the second time in seven years that the justices have looked at the lethal injection question, and it comes after three botched executions over the past year.

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It's All Politics
5:53 pm
Tue April 28, 2015

Justices Deeply Divided Over Same-Sex-Marriage Arguments

Michelle McKelvey (left) and Meg McKelvey sit near demonstrators outside of the Supreme Court on Tuesday. They have been together for two years.
Emily Jan NPR

Originally published on Wed April 29, 2015 11:41 am

The justices of the U.S. Supreme Court seemed closely divided Tuesday over the question of gay marriage, with Justice Anthony Kennedy likely holding the deciding vote.

Kennedy, who over the past two decades has written the court's three decisions recognizing and expanding gay rights, seemed conflicted on the question of marriage.

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It's All Politics
3:01 am
Tue April 28, 2015

Record Number Of Amicus Briefs Filed In Same-Sex-Marriage Cases

The stack of amicus briefs filed as of April 9 reached past the knee of NPR legal affairs intern Anthony Palmer. The briefs cost, on average, an estimated $25,000 to $50,000.
Emily Jan NPR

Originally published on Tue April 28, 2015 7:25 am

This week's same-sex-marriage cases at the Supreme Court brought in a record number of friend-of-the-court briefs — 148 of them, according to the court, beating the previous record of 136 in the 2013 Obamacare case.

These briefs, known formally by their Latin name, amicus briefs, are filed by groups, individuals, and governments that have an interest in the outcome.

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It's All Politics
3:03 am
Mon April 27, 2015

Legal Battle Over Gay Marriage Hits The Supreme Court Tuesday

Protesters hold a pro-gay-rights flag outside the US Supreme Court on Saturday, countering the demonstrators who attended the March For Marriage in Washington, D.C. The Supreme Court meets on Tuesday to hear arguments over whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed in the United States, with a final decision expected in June.
Paul J. Richards AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Tue April 28, 2015 3:50 pm

People have been lining up outside the U.S. Supreme Court for days hoping that they will be among the lucky ones to get a seat for Tuesday's historic arguments on gay marriage.

As of now, gay marriage is legal in 36 states. By the end of this Supreme Court term, either same-sex couples will be able to wed in all 50 states, or gay marriage bans may be reinstituted in many of the states where they've previously been struck down.

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It's All Politics
2:34 am
Mon April 27, 2015

Same-Sex Marriage, In The Justices' Words

Chief Justice John Roberts (from left) and Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor at the State of the Union address earlier this year.
Mandel Ngan AP

Originally published on Fri May 1, 2015 10:19 am

The U.S. Supreme Court directly confronts the question of gay marriage this week with a whopping 2 1/2 hours of oral argument, accompanied by plenty of prognostication afterward about the expected results. It won't be until June that we learn how the issue is settled nationally. In the meantime, though, we do know a good deal about the views of the justices already.

To say that there has been a revolution in the law when it comes to gay rights is an understatement.

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NPR Story
1:39 pm
Tue April 21, 2015

Supreme Court: Police May Not Detain Traffic Violators Longer Than Necessary

Dissenting, Justice Samuel Alito called the court's decision "unnecessary, impractical, and arbitrary."
Carolyn Kaster AP

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that police may not detain a traffic violator longer than needed so as to allow police time to conduct a dog sniff for drugs.

Just after midnight on March 27, 2012, Dennys Rodriguez was spotted on a Nebraska highway veering slowly onto the shoulder and then back onto the road. Police officer Morgan Struble questioned Rodriguez and checked his license, registration and whether he had any outstanding arrest warrants. Everything checked out. Struble also questioned the passenger traveling with Rodriguez and checked his documents as well.

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Law
2:39 pm
Mon April 20, 2015

Meet The 'Accidental Activists' Of The Supreme Court's Same-Sex-Marriage Case

Jayne Rowse (left) and April DeBoer with their four children, Jacob (from left), Rylee, Nolan and Ryanne at a news conference in March.
Valerie Macon Getty Images

Originally published on Mon April 20, 2015 4:23 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court hears legal arguments next week in the legal battle over same-sex marriage. It's an extraordinarily high-stakes clash, but the men and women at the center of it see themselves as incredibly ordinary. The 12 couples and two widowers include doctors, lawyers, an Army sergeant, nurses and teachers.

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Arts & Life
2:04 am
Thu April 2, 2015

After Nazi Plunder, A Quest To Bring Home The 'Woman In Gold'

Maria Altmann fought her way to the U.S. Supreme Court to force the Austrian government to give back this painting by Gustav Klimt of her aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer.
DeAgostini Getty Images

Originally published on Fri April 3, 2015 2:52 pm

Maria Altmann was 88 when I first met her by phone in 2004. "Would it be possible to call back in a few minutes?" she asked. "I'm feeling a little dizzy and would like a cup of coffee to revive myself."

"Of course," I said, imagining Mrs. Altmann as a somewhat frail grandmother. Old she was, but frail she was not.

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It's All Politics
3:59 pm
Tue March 31, 2015

Supreme Court Deals Medicaid Blow To Doctors And Health Companies

The 5-to-4 vote crossed the court's usual ideological lines.
Molly Riley AP

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that private Medicaid providers cannot sue to force states to raise reimbursement rates in the face of rising medical costs. The 5-to-4 decision is a blow to many doctors and health care companies and their complaint that state Medicaid reimbursement rates are so low that health care providers often lose money on Medicaid patients.

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It's All Politics
2:22 am
Wed March 25, 2015

Obama Administration Emissions Rules Face Supreme Court Test

Steam from a coal-fired power plant is silhouetted against the sun near St. Marys, Kan. Industry groups say there should be a far more aggressive consideration of costs of regulation than the Obama administration took into account.
Charlie Riedel AP

Originally published on Wed March 25, 2015 5:20 pm

The Supreme Court hears a challenge Wednesday to Obama administration rules aimed at limiting the amount of mercury and other hazardous pollutants emitted from coal- and oil-fired utility plants. The regulations are being challenged by major industry groups like the National Mining Association and more than 20 states.

The regulations have been in the works for nearly two decades. Work on them began in the Clinton administration, got derailed in the George W. Bush administration, and then were revived and adopted in the Obama administration.

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It's All Politics
3:48 pm
Mon March 23, 2015

Justices Debate Place Of Offensive Language On License Plates

R. James George Jr., attorney for Sons of Confederate Veterans, meets with reporters outside the Supreme Court Monday.
Molly Riley AP

Originally published on Mon March 23, 2015 4:58 pm

Nazis, jihadis, racial slurs and even "Mighty Fine Burgers" all made cameo appearances at the U.S. Supreme Court Monday as the justices tackled a case of great interest to America's auto-loving public. The question before the court: When, if ever, can the state veto the message on a specialty license plate?

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Law
2:56 am
Mon March 23, 2015

Is A Confederate Flag License Plate Free Speech?

Originally published on Mon March 23, 2015 3:58 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court is tackling a question of great interest to America's auto-loving public: Whose speech is that on your specialty license plate? Specifically, when the government issues specialty tags at the behest of private groups or individuals, can it veto messages deemed offensive to others?

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It's All Politics
2:03 am
Mon March 23, 2015

Meet The Attorney Defending Confederate Flag License Plates

R. James George Jr.
Courtesy George Brothers Kincaid & Horton LLP

Originally published on Mon March 23, 2015 6:14 pm

Supreme Court advocates do not always play to type. To wit, R. James George Jr., arguing Monday for specialty license plates featuring the Confederate flag.

Not what you might expect from a man who started his legal career as a law clerk for Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.

When asked if he would have a license plate on his car honoring the Confederacy, George replies, "I would not generally do that."

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The Two-Way
12:20 pm
Fri March 20, 2015

#NPRreads: From Supreme Court Justice To The Notorious R.B.G.

U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Chip Somodevilla Getty Images

Originally published on Fri March 20, 2015 12:29 pm

#NPRreads is a new feature we're testing out on Twitter and on The Two-Way. The premise is simple: Correspondents, editors and producers throughout our newsroom will share pieces that have kept them reading. They'll share tidbits on Twitter using the #NPRreads hashtag, and on occasion we'll share a longer take here on the blog.

This week, we share with you four reads.

From Nina Totenberg, NPR's legal affairs correspondent:

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It's All Politics
6:11 pm
Thu March 19, 2015

Justice Ginsburg Turns Her Pen To Exodus' 'Women Of Action'

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg spoke at an annual Women's History Month reception on Capitol Hill Wednesday.
Allison Shelley Getty Images

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, famous for her legal pen, has now written a short essay for a different occasion: Passover.

The essay highlights the key roles played by five women in the Exodus story: Moses' mother and sister; the midwives who defied Pharaoh's decree to kill the Israelite baby boys; and Pharaoh's own daughter, who defied her father to pluck the baby Moses out of the Nile.

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Shots - Health News
1:34 pm
Mon March 9, 2015

Supreme Court Sends Birth Control Case Back To Appeals Court

University of Notre Dame contends that the act of signing a form opting out of the Affordable Care Act's birth control mandate makes the school complicit in providing coverage.
Getty Images

Originally published on Mon March 9, 2015 3:48 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court has ordered a federal appeals court to take a second look at the University of Notre Dame's challenge to the birth control mandate in Obamacare, and the rules for opting out of the required coverage.

The law allows religious charities and educational institutions to opt out of providing employee and student birth control coverage by signing a one-page form.

But Notre Dame contends that the act of signing that opt-out form makes it complicit in providing coverage that the Catholic university objects to on religious grounds.

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