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.



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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Tue March 3, 2015

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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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!"

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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Mon March 2, 2015

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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Mon March 2, 2015

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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Wed February 25, 2015

High Court Leans Toward Religious Protection In Headscarf Case

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

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

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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Fri February 13, 2015

Justices Ginsburg And Scalia: A Perfect Match Except For Their Views On The Law

Originally published on Sat February 14, 2015 7:19 am

My assignment Thursday night was pretty clear. As the moderator of the sold-out event, let the audience get a good look at the jousting, good-humored friendship between Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia.

On the high court these two are the leading voices of conservatism and liberalism. In their written opinions, even the footnotes can be ferocious. But they are also true and longtime friends. As Scalia said of Ginsburg, "what's not to like — except her views on the law."

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Mon February 9, 2015
The Two-Way

Supreme Court Won't Stop Gay Marriages In Alabama

Originally published on Tue February 10, 2015 7:59 am

The Rev. Charles Perry of Unity Church, in Birmingham, Ala., marries Curtis Stephens, center, and his partner of 30 years, Pat Helms, Monday at the Jefferson County Courthouse. Alabama began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples Monday after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to block the marriages in the state.
Hal Yeager AP

The U.S. Supreme Court refused Monday to step in and stop gay marriages from taking place in Alabama. The move sent the strongest signal to date that the justices are on the verge of legalizing gay marriage nationwide. Within hours of the high-court ruling, same-sex marriages began taking place in Alabama, despite an eleventh-hour show of defiance by the state's chief justice.

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Fri January 23, 2015
The Two-Way

Supreme Court Agrees To Rule On Constitutionality Of Execution Drug Cocktail

Originally published on Fri January 23, 2015 6:23 pm

Bottles of the sedative midazolam, which is at issue in the Oklahoma death row prisoners' lawsuit. The Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether the drug is effective at preventing unconstitutional suffering.

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed today to review Oklahoma's method of execution by lethal injection. The justices agreed to hear the Oklahoma case a week after refusing to halt another execution that used the same drug formula.

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Wed January 21, 2015
The Two-Way

Shouts Of Protest At Supreme Court On 'Citizens United' Anniversary

Originally published on Thu January 22, 2015 4:26 am

A demonstrator rallies outside the U.S. Chamber of Commerce against the Supreme Court's decision in favor of Citizens United five years ago. Eight protesters at the Supreme Court were arrested and charged.
Nicholas Kamm AFP/Getty Images

Overturned chairs and shouts of protest briefly shattered the formality and calm of the U.S. Supreme Court this morning.

The session had just begun when protesters in the back of the chamber began yelling things like, "One person, one vote," "We are the 99 percent," "Money is not speech," and "Overturn Citizens United." This last was a reference to the Court's 2010 decision, issued on this day five years ago. That decision struck down limits on corporate and union campaign spending, uncorking a flood of campaign cash.

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Tue January 20, 2015

Supreme Court Examines Gray Area In Judicial Campaigning

Originally published on Wed January 21, 2015 11:25 am

Thirty-nine states elect some or all of their judges, and 30 of them bar personal solicitations in order to preserve judicial impartiality.
Keith Srakocic AP

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday in a case that tests whether states may ban judicial candidates from personally soliciting campaign contributions.

For most of the last decade, the Supreme Court's conservative majority has systematically dismantled federal and state campaign finance laws enacted to limit corruption and the appearance of corruption in the legislative and executive branches of government. Tuesday's case is the first challenge targeted specifically at the judicial branch.

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Tue January 20, 2015
The Two-Way

Supreme Court Rules For Muslim Inmate In Prison Beard Case

Originally published on Wed January 21, 2015 1:22 pm

This undated photo provided by the Arkansas Department of Correction shows prison inmate Gregory Holt.

In a closely watched religious rights case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously Tuesday that an Arkansas prisoner must be allowed to grow a half-inch beard in accordance with his religion.

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Tue January 20, 2015

Should Judicial Candidates Be Allowed To Solicit Campaign Money?

Originally published on Tue January 20, 2015 8:56 am

Judge Adrian Adams is helped with his robe by his daughters during a robing ceremony Friday in Gretna, La. Adams won a race for 24th Judicial District Court in November behind a campaign that raised a modest $22,350, including several four-figure donations from attorneys and law firms. Louisiana law, like Florida law, bars judicial candidates from personally soliciting campaign contributions.
Brett Duke The Times-Picayune/Landov

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Tuesday in a case testing whether states, in the name of preserving judicial impartiality, may bar judicial candidates from personally soliciting campaign contributions.

There was a time when judicial elections were a pretty tame affair, with relatively little money spent, and candidates in most states limited in how they could campaign. Not anymore.

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Fri January 16, 2015

Supreme Court To Decide Whether States Can Ban Same-Sex Marriage

Originally published on Fri January 16, 2015 6:32 pm

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Tue January 13, 2015
The Two-Way

Rough Morning Commute? Justice Scalia Was Right There With You

Originally published on Tue January 13, 2015 1:40 pm

The morning after an incident shut down a major subway line in Washington, D.C., traffic snafus made lots of drivers late, including Justice Antonin Scalia, pictured in 2013.
Josh Reynolds AP

A Washington, D.C., suburbanite had trouble getting to work Tuesday, leaving a key task to the boss.

At the U.S. Supreme Court, two unanimous opinions, both written by Justice Antonin Scalia, were handed down, but Scalia was missing in action. Chief Justice John Roberts summarized the opinions from the bench because Scalia was ... stuck in traffic.

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Mon January 12, 2015

In Battle Over Church Signs, Is Ariz. Town Being 'A Little Unreasonable'?

Originally published on Mon January 12, 2015 6:21 pm

Political signs in Gilbert, Ariz. are permitted to be larger and stay up longer than "directional" signs like those pointing residents to local church services.
Bruce Ellefson ADF

The U.S. Supreme Court Monday wrestled with what the constitutional rules should be for local governments seeking to limit sign clutter on public property.

Sign regulation is a thorn in the side of local governments. Too little regulation and they get sued for traffic safety problems, sign clutter, and degraded property values. Too much regulation and they get sued for First Amendment violations. So like Goldilocks, local governments, work hard to get it "just right."

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Mon January 12, 2015

Supreme Court Sees The Signs — But Can They Stay?

Originally published on Mon January 12, 2015 1:00 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Monday in a case that looks at how municipal governments may regulate where and when signs are posted.
Rick Bowmer AP

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Monday in a case of enormous importance to the nation's sign-lovers and to cities and towns all over the country.

The case pits a small religious group against the suburban town of Gilbert, Ariz. At issue is how municipal governments may regulate where and when signs are posted.

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Mon December 15, 2014

Supreme Court Upholds North Carolina Traffic Stop

Originally published on Mon December 15, 2014 5:20 pm

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.

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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Tue December 9, 2014

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

Originally published on Tue December 9, 2014 5:03 pm

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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Wed December 3, 2014

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

Originally published on Wed December 3, 2014 2:00 pm

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

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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Mon December 1, 2014

Is A Threat Posted On Facebook Really A Threat?

Originally published on Mon December 1, 2014 8:17 am

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.

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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Wed November 26, 2014
It's All Politics

Justice Ginsburg Recovering After Heart Stent Implant

Originally published on Wed November 26, 2014 2:55 pm

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

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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Fri November 14, 2014
The Two-Way

Court Rejects Challenge To Obamacare Rules On Contraceptives

Originally published on Sat November 15, 2014 10:49 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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Wed November 12, 2014

Supreme Court Case Seeks Source Of Alabama Gerrymandering

Originally published on Wed November 12, 2014 9:10 am

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

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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Fri November 7, 2014

Supreme Court Agrees To Hear New Health Law Challenge

Originally published on Fri November 7, 2014 8:11 pm

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

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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Thu November 6, 2014

Federal Appeals Court Upholds State Gay Marriage Bans

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

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit



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Wed November 5, 2014

The Supreme Court Takes Up The Case Of The Missing Fish

Originally published on Wed November 5, 2014 12:18 pm

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

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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Mon November 3, 2014

Supreme Court Case Tests Status Of Jerusalem

Originally published on Mon November 3, 2014 6:23 pm

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

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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Mon November 3, 2014

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

Originally published on Mon February 23, 2015 11:49 am

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

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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Wed October 29, 2014

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

Originally published on Wed October 29, 2014 8:50 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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