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.

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It's All Politics
5:03 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 5:50 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
4:34 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 12:19 pm

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
3:39 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
4:39 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 6:23 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
4:04 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 4:52 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
5:38 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

Originally published on Tue March 31, 2015 5:59 pm

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
4:07 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 7:20 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
5:58 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 6:58 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
4:08 am
Mon March 23, 2015

Is A Confederate Flag License Plate Free Speech?

Originally published on Mon March 23, 2015 5:58 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
4:03 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 8:14 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
2:29 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

#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
8:11 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
3:34 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 5:48 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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Shots - Health News
7:47 pm
Wed March 4, 2015

Justices Roberts And Kennedy Hold Key Votes In Health Law Case

Fans and foes of Obamacare jockeyed for position outside the Supreme Court Wednesday. Inside, the justices weighed arguments in the case of King v. Burwell, which challenges a key part of the federal health law.
Pete Marovich UPI/Landov

Originally published on Thu March 5, 2015 9:28 am

With yet another do-or-die test of Obamacare before the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, the justices were sharply divided.

By the end of the argument, it was clear that the outcome will be determined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy. The chief justice said almost nothing during the argument, and Kennedy sent mixed signals, seeming to give a slight edge to the administration's interpretation of the law.

Judging by the comments from the remaining justices, the challengers would need the votes of both Roberts and Kennedy to win.

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Law
6:30 pm
Tue March 3, 2015

Round 2: Health Care Law Faces The Supreme Court Again

Supporters of the Affordable Care Act celebrate outside the Supreme Court in 2012, after a divided court upheld the law as constitutional by a 5-to-4 vote. The latest battle, which the Supreme Court hears Wednesday, is over whether people who buy insurance through federally run exchanges are eligible for subsidies.
David Goldman AP

Originally published on Wed March 4, 2015 7:52 am

Round 2 in the legal battle over Obamacare hits the Supreme Court's intellectual boxing ring Wednesday.

In one corner is the Obama administration, backed by the nation's hospitals, insurance companies, physician associations and other groups like Catholic Charities and the American Cancer Society.

In the other corner are conservative groups, backed by politicians who fought in Congress to prevent the bill from being adopted.

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The Two-Way
5:26 pm
Tue March 3, 2015

Should Hotel Owners Be Forced To Hand Over Guest Records To Police?

When lawyer Thomas Goldstein contended that innkeepers keep guest information anyway to stay in touch with their customers, Justice Scalia cut in: "Motel 6 does this? Jeez, I've never received anything from them!"
iStockPhoto

Originally published on Wed March 4, 2015 11:46 am

Hypotheticals about hunting lodges and Motel 6 saved the oral argument at the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday from being strangled by legal weeds.

At issue was a Los Angeles ordinance that requires hotel and motel owners to record various pieces of information about their guests — drivers license, credit card and automobile tags, for instance. The hotel owners don't dispute they have to do that; what they do dispute is the part of the law that requires proprietors to make this information available to any member of the Los Angeles Police Department upon demand.

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Law
4:58 pm
Mon March 2, 2015

Supreme Court Seems Divided Over Independent Redistricting Commissions

Arizona commission attorney Mary O'Grady (left) and Stephen Miller, a city council member, point to a possible redistricted map in 2011.
Ross D. Franklin AP

Originally published on Tue March 3, 2015 12:49 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court seemed closely divided Monday as it heard arguments testing how far states may go to prevent political parties from drawing congressional district lines to maximize partisan advantage.

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Law
4:03 am
Mon March 2, 2015

Supreme Court To Weigh Power Of Redistricting Commissions

Arizona state Sen. Andy Biggs flips through redistricting maps during a special legislative committee hearing to discuss the state commission's proposed maps in 2011.
Ross D. Franklin AP

Originally published on Mon March 2, 2015 5:06 pm

Take a look at a congressional district map, and it can look like a madman's jigsaw puzzle. The reason is, in part, that the district lines are drawn by state legislators seeking to maximize partisan advantage. It's a process that critics say is responsible for much that's wrong with Washington.

That's why some states have tried setting up independent commissions to draw the map. Arizona voters created such a commission in 2000. But when the commission chair displeased the governor and state Senate, they tried, unsuccessfully, to remove her.

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The Two-Way
10:41 pm
Wed February 25, 2015

Dentists Have No Right To Limit Who Can Whiten Your Teeth, Justices Say

Want to get your teeth whitened? You may soon have more options. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a state board of dentistry unfairly drove competitors out of business by trying to block non-dentists from providing whitening services.
Vince Bucci Getty Images

Originally published on Wed February 25, 2015 10:54 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the North Carolina dental board does not have the authority to regulate teeth-whitening services. By a 6-to-3 vote, the court said that the state board, composed mainly of dentists, violated the nation's antitrust laws by regulating the activity of competitors.

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Law
5:44 pm
Wed February 25, 2015

High Court Leans Toward Religious Protection In Headscarf Case

Samantha Elauf outside the Supreme Court Wednesday.
Chip Somodevilla Getty Images

Originally published on Wed February 25, 2015 8:46 pm

At the U.S. Supreme Court, you know that it's going to be a hot argument when the usually straight-faced Justice Samuel Alito begins a question this way: "Let's say four people show up for a job interview ... this is going to sound like a joke, but it's not."

The issue before the court on Wednesday was whether retailer Abercrombie & Fitch violated the federal law banning religious discrimination when it rejected a highly rated job applicant because she wore a Muslim headscarf.

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