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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4:58am

Tue June 30, 2015
Law

Supreme Court Concludes Term With Death Penalty Ruling, Looks Ahead

Originally published on Tue June 30, 2015 1:52 pm

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

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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6:32pm

Mon June 29, 2015
It's All Politics

Lethal Injection Ruling Draws Out Justices' Passionate Opinions

Originally published on Mon June 29, 2015 7:02 pm

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

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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7:00pm

Fri June 26, 2015
Law

Supreme Court Changes Face Of Marriage In Historic Ruling

Originally published on Sat June 27, 2015 9:32 am

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

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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11:55am

Fri June 26, 2015
Law

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

Originally published on Fri June 26, 2015 7:06 pm

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

7:17pm

Thu June 25, 2015
It's All Politics

Supreme Court Thwarts Efforts To Put Obamacare On Life Support

Originally published on Fri June 26, 2015 5:09 am

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

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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4:26pm

Thu June 18, 2015
Law

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

Originally published on Fri June 19, 2015 1:51 pm

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

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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6:17pm

Mon June 15, 2015
It's All Politics

High Court Sides With Government On Spousal Visa Denial

Originally published on Mon June 15, 2015 7:21 pm

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

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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6:44pm

Mon June 8, 2015
It's All Politics

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

Originally published on Mon June 8, 2015 7:23 pm

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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10:47pm

Mon June 1, 2015
It's All Politics

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

Originally published on Tue June 2, 2015 1:31 pm

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

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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7:13pm

Wed April 29, 2015
It's All Politics

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

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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5:03am

Wed April 29, 2015
It's All Politics

After Botched Executions, Supreme Court Weighs Lethal Drug Cocktail

Originally published on Wed April 29, 2015 6:39 pm

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

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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7:16pm

Tue April 28, 2015
It's All Politics

Justices Deeply Divided Over Same-Sex-Marriage Arguments

Originally published on Wed April 29, 2015 1:41 pm

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

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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5:01am

Tue April 28, 2015
It's All Politics

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

Originally published on Tue April 28, 2015 9:25 am

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

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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5:03am

Mon April 27, 2015
It's All Politics

Legal Battle Over Gay Marriage Hits The Supreme Court Tuesday

Originally published on Tue April 28, 2015 5:50 pm

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

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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4:34am

Mon April 27, 2015
It's All Politics

Same-Sex Marriage, In The Justices' Words

Originally published on Fri May 1, 2015 12:19 pm

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

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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3:39pm

Tue April 21, 2015
NPR Story

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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5:06pm

Mon April 20, 2015
Law

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

Originally published on Mon April 20, 2015 6:23 pm

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

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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4:04am

Thu April 2, 2015
Arts & Life

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

Originally published on Fri April 3, 2015 4:52 pm

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

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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5:50pm

Tue March 31, 2015
It's All Politics

Supreme Court Deals Medicaid Blow To Doctors And Health Companies

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

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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4:11am

Wed March 25, 2015
It's All Politics

Obama Administration Emissions Rules Face Supreme Court Test

Originally published on Wed March 25, 2015 7:20 pm

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

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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5:58pm

Mon March 23, 2015
It's All Politics

Justices Debate Place Of Offensive Language On License Plates

Originally published on Mon March 23, 2015 6:58 pm

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

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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4:08am

Mon March 23, 2015
Law

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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4:03am

Mon March 23, 2015
It's All Politics

Meet The Attorney Defending Confederate Flag License Plates

Originally published on Mon March 23, 2015 8:14 pm

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

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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2:29pm

Fri March 20, 2015
The Two-Way

#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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3:34pm

Mon March 9, 2015
Shots - Health News

Supreme Court Sends Birth Control Case Back To Appeals Court

Originally published on Mon March 9, 2015 5:48 pm

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

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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7:47pm

Wed March 4, 2015
Shots - Health News

Justices Roberts And Kennedy Hold Key Votes In Health Law Case

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

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

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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6:30pm

Tue March 3, 2015
Law

Round 2: Health Care Law Faces The Supreme Court Again

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

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

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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5:26pm

Tue March 3, 2015
The Two-Way

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

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

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

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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4:58pm

Mon March 2, 2015
Law

Supreme Court Seems Divided Over Independent Redistricting Commissions

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

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

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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4:03am

Mon March 2, 2015
Law

Supreme Court To Weigh Power Of Redistricting Commissions

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

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

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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