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
5:01 pm
Wed November 6, 2013

Supreme Court Examines Anew Prayer At Government Functions

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday heard oral arguments in a case exploring prayer at government functions.
Saul Loeb AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Tue November 12, 2013 4:06 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court delved into a subject Wednesday that has bedeviled it for decades: how to reconcile a tradition of public prayers with the Constitution's ban on establishment of religion. At issue were almost exclusively Christian prayers that took place at town board meetings in Greece, N.Y.

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Law
3:01 am
Wed November 6, 2013

Supreme Court Case Puts Public Prayer Back In The Spotlight

The Supreme Court invokes "God" before every public session. Now the justices will weigh whether it is different, as a legal matter, for government meetings to include more explicitly sectarian prayers.
Evan Vucci AP

Originally published on Wed November 6, 2013 10:00 am

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Wednesday in a case questioning the use of prayer at government meetings. But first, the marshal will ask "God" to "save the United States and this honorable court."

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NPR Story
4:56 pm
Tue November 5, 2013

Love Triangle Case Puts Chemical Weapons Treaty To The Test

Originally published on Tue November 5, 2013 6:43 pm

At the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday, the subject for debate was the reach of the Constitution's treaty power. But the justices' questions covered subjects from sarin gas to Halloween trick-or-treating. And the facts of the case sounded more like a soap opera.

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Law
2:57 am
Tue November 5, 2013

A Toxic Love Triangle Heads To The Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in a case that challenges the court's most famous treaty decision, written in 1920 by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.
Mandel Ngan AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Tue November 5, 2013 12:01 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday hears about a love triangle, complete with attempted poisonings and 24-hour surveillance by postal inspectors. Although it sounds like an episode of Law & Order (with a dash of Days of Our Lives), the case has global implications.

In 2005, Carol Anne Bond was a 34-year-old Philadelphia suburbanite living with her husband of 14 years. But when she found out that her best friend was pregnant and that her own husband was the father, she became enraged and began threatening her friend, by phone and in writing.

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The Two-Way
6:03 am
Wed October 16, 2013

Justices To Hear Cases On Self-Incrimination, Freezing Assets

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in two cases on Wednesday: Kansas v. Cheever and Kaley v. United States.
Mandel Ngan AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Wed October 16, 2013 9:14 am

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in two cases on Wednesday — one that focuses on the right against self-incrimination and another that looks at when prosecutors can seize defendants' assets.

What Counts As Self-Incrimination?

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Law
2:48 am
Tue October 15, 2013

Supreme Court Returns To Affirmative Action In Michigan Case

People wait in line for the beginning of the Supreme Court's new term on Oct. 7.
Evan Vucci AP

Originally published on Mon October 28, 2013 10:12 am

The U.S. Supreme Court takes up the issue of affirmative action again Tuesday, but this time the question is not whether race may be considered as a factor in college admissions. Instead, this case tests whether voters can ban affirmative action programs through a referendum.

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Law
5:45 pm
Tue October 8, 2013

Supreme Court Weighs Easing Limits On Campaign Contributions

This artist rendering shows Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., seated (center) as attorney Bobby Burchfield argues during the Supreme Court's hearing on campaign finance Tuesday.
Dana Verkouteren AP

Originally published on Tue October 8, 2013 8:18 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court re-entered the debate over money and politics on Tuesday, hearing arguments in a case that could further erode limits on campaign cash.

Just three years ago, a narrow 5-to-4 conservative majority ruled that corporations are people, entitled to spend unlimited amounts on candidate elections as long as they do it separately from candidates' campaigns. On Tuesday, the court moved on to grapple with direct contributions to campaigns — in particular the aggregate limits on contributions by wealthy donors.

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Politics
3:02 am
Tue October 8, 2013

Supreme Court Hears Another Challenge To Campaign Finance Law

Shaun McCutcheon is challenging the aggregate limits on contributions to political candidates and parties.
Susan Walsh AP

Originally published on Tue October 8, 2013 1:17 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court returns to the campaign finance fray on Tuesday, hearing arguments in a case that could undercut most of the remaining rules that limit big money in politics.

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Law
3:06 am
Mon October 7, 2013

Despite Shutdown, Supreme Court Opens Its Doors For New Term

The Supreme Court opens its new term this week.
Mark Wilson Getty Images

Originally published on Mon October 7, 2013 11:09 am

When the rest of the government shuts down for a blizzard, the U.S. Supreme Court soldiers on. And so it is that this week, with the rest of the government shut down in a political deep freeze, the high court, being deemed essential, is open for business.

It is, after all, not just any week for the justices. It is the opening of a new term.

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Law
5:35 pm
Tue July 30, 2013

Citing Supreme Court, Judge Awards Benefits To Same-Sex Widow

Another barrier to recognition of same-sex marriage appears to have fallen. On Monday a federal judge ordered a law firm to pay survivor's benefits to the widow in a same-sex marriage, and on Tuesday the law firm said it was happy to comply and would not appeal.

The decision is the latest in a series of court rulings equalizing benefits for legally married same-sex couples in the aftermath of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

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Law
5:29 pm
Wed July 24, 2013

S.C. Court Orders 'Baby Veronica' Adoption Finalized

The South Carolina Supreme Court has ordered finalization of the adoption of "Baby Veronica" by a couple living near Charleston, S.C.
Melanie Capobianco AP

Originally published on Wed July 24, 2013 6:51 pm

Lawyers for the biological father of a Native American child are expected to make a last-ditch appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday, hoping to prevent the return of the child to her adoptive parents.

But the four-year legal saga is likely near an end.

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Law
4:33 pm
Wed July 10, 2013

Scalia V. Ginsburg: Supreme Court Sparring, Put To Music

iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Thu July 11, 2013 12:39 pm

On the day after the Supreme Court concluded its epic term in June, two of the supreme judicial antagonists, Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, met over a mutual love: opera.

When it comes to constitutional interpretation, the conservative Scalia and the liberal Ginsburg are leaders of the court's two opposing wings. To make matters yet more interesting, the two have been friends for decades, since long before Scalia was named to the court by President Reagan and Ginsburg by President Clinton.

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The Two-Way
1:50 pm
Mon July 8, 2013

A 'Mea Culpa'

Nina Totenberg
Steve Barrett NPR

Originally published on Mon July 8, 2013 1:53 pm

I have always believed in correcting mistakes, especially bad ones. In my wrap-up piece at the end of the Supreme Court term, I quoted Northwestern University law professor John McGinnis as one of several conservative scholars highly critical of the court's decision on the Voting Rights Act.

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Law
3:35 am
Fri July 5, 2013

Whose Term Was It? A Look Back At The Supreme Court

Chief Justice John G. Roberts (left) and Associate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais AP

Originally published on Mon July 8, 2013 1:03 pm

It would not be an exaggeration to call the recently completed Supreme Court term a lollapalooza. Day-by-day on the last week of the court term, the justices handed down one legal thunderbolt after another: same-sex marriage, voting rights, affirmative action. The end-of-term crush of opinions made so many headlines that other important decisions got little public notice.

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Same-Sex Marriage And The Supreme Court
12:08 am
Sat June 29, 2013

Judge Who Struck Down Proposition 8 Knew Case Would Go Far

Judge Vaughn Walker struck down California's proposition banning gay marriage in 2010. The Supreme Court kept that ruling intact on Wednesday.
Elaine Thompson AP

Originally published on Sat June 29, 2013 9:25 pm

When the Supreme Court issued its decision clearing the way for same-sex marriages to resume in California, former District Judge Vaughn Walker had worked up a sweat.

"I was at the gym on the treadmill, and the television was on. So I was working up a sweat for reasons other than Proposition 8," says Walker, who now has a private practice.

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Same-Sex Marriage And The Supreme Court
5:06 am
Thu June 27, 2013

Supreme Court Expands Gay Rights In 2 Major Rulings

In one case, a divided court struck down a key section of the Defense of Marriage Act, enabling same-sex couples in states that allow gay marriage to qualify for federal benefits. The court also ruled that plaintiffs in a gay marriage case from California lacked standing — it carved the way for gay marriages to resume in California.

Law
5:25 am
Wed June 26, 2013

Supreme Court Frees 9 States From Voting Laws Oversight

Originally published on Wed June 26, 2013 11:13 am

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene. Good morning.

The U.S. Supreme Court usually saves its biggest decisions for the last few days of a term, and this year is no different.

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Law
5:07 am
Tue June 25, 2013

Supreme Court Sends Affirmative Action Case To Lower Court

Originally published on Tue June 25, 2013 11:10 am

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

The U.S. Supreme Court surprised just about everyone yesterday with its decision on affirmative action in higher education. That surprise was an apparent compromise that leaves affirmative action programs intact for now but subjects them to a more rigorous review by the courts.

The vote was seven to one, as NPR's legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg reports.

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Law
3:07 am
Tue June 18, 2013

Why The FISA Court Is Not What It Used To Be

A copy of the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court order requiring Verizon to give the National Security Agency information about calls in its systems, both within the U.S. and between the U.S. and other countries.
AP

Originally published on Tue June 18, 2013 1:52 pm

The furor over recently exposed government surveillance programs has posed an abundance of political challenges for both President Obama and Congress. Relatively unmentioned in all of this, however, is the role of the courts — specifically, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, known as the FISA court, and how its role has changed since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

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Law
5:22 am
Fri June 14, 2013

Supreme Court: Human Genes Can't Be Patented

Originally published on Fri June 14, 2013 6:01 pm

Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, BYLINE: This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled human genes cannot be patented. The unanimous decision upends 30 years of gene patent awards granted by the U.S. Patent Office. It has enormous implications for the future of personalized medicine and in many ways, is likely to shape the future of science and technology. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg reports.

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