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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2:21pm

Wed February 26, 2014
Law

Supreme Court Allows Stanford Ponzi Scheme Suits To Go Forward

Originally published on Wed February 26, 2014 3:16 pm

Texas tycoon R. Allen Stanford, who conned investors in a $7 billion Ponzi scheme, arrives in custody at the federal courthouse for an Aug. 2010 hearing in Houston.
David J. Phillip AP

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that investor lawsuits may go forward against investment advisors and others for allegedly helping Texas tycoon Allen Stanford in a massive fraud.

Stanford was sentenced to 110 years in prison for bilking investors in a $7 billion Ponzi scheme. The investors who lost money are suing others involved in the scheme, contending that they also engaged in misleading conduct.

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4:05pm

Tue February 25, 2014
Law

Supreme Court Opens Door To Easier Police Searches

Originally published on Tue February 25, 2014 9:15 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that police may search a home without a warrant if one person who lives there consents, even if another occupant has previously objected. The 6-3 decision would seem to seriously undercut a 2006 high court ruling that barred warrantless searches of a home where the occupants disagreed on giving consent.

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6:14pm

Tue February 18, 2014
The Salt

Justice Scalia And Jon Stewart Concur Chicago Pizza Isn't Pizza

Comedy Central's Jon Stewart has called Chicago-style pizza "tomato soup in a bread bowl."
iStockphoto

Justice Antonin Scalia and Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show With Jon Stewart on Comedy Central, are, gasp, in agreement!

Both have rendered scorching opinions on a major national controversy — pizza. Specifically, Chicago-style, deep-dish pizza.

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3:18am

Tue January 21, 2014
Law

A Union For Home Health Aides Brings New Questions To Supreme Court

Originally published on Tue January 21, 2014 12:40 pm

One of the questions before the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday is whether non-union members must pay for negotiating a contract they benefit from.
Jonathan Ernst Reuters/Landov

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Tuesday in an Illinois case that could drive a stake through the heart of public employee unions.

At issue are two questions: whether states may recognize a union to represent health care workers who care for disabled adults in their homes instead of in state institutions; and whether non-union members must pay for negotiating a contract they benefit from.

To understand why a growing number of states actually want to recognize unions to represent home health care workers, listen to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan:

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5:31pm

Wed January 15, 2014
Law

Justices Appear Divided On Abortion Clinic Buffer Zones

Originally published on Wed January 15, 2014 7:44 pm

Pro-life demonstrators stand outside the U.S. Supreme Court following oral arguments in the case dealing with a Massachusetts law imposing a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics for demonstrations and protests.
Saul Loeb AFP/Getty Images

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on Wednesday in a case testing laws that establish buffer zones to protect patients and staff going into abortion clinics. In 2000, the court upheld 8-foot buffer zones that move with individuals as they walk into clinics. But now the issue is back before a more conservative court, and the conservative chief justice appears to hold the outcome in his hands.

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3:02am

Wed January 15, 2014
Law

Supreme Court Considers Legality Of Abortion Clinic Buffer Zones

Originally published on Wed January 15, 2014 10:28 am

Eleanor McCullen, lead plaintiff in the case before the Supreme Court, outside the Planned Parenthood clinic in Boston.
Nick Fountain NPR

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Wednesday in a case testing the constitutionality of buffer zones at abortion clinics.

Fourteen years ago, the court upheld Colorado's 8-foot "floating" buffer zones around individuals to protect patients and staff entering and exiting these clinics. Since then, buffer zones have prevented demonstrators from closely approaching patients and staff without permission.

But the issue is back before a different and more conservative Supreme Court.

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3:08am

Mon January 13, 2014
Politics

Balance Of Power At Stake In High Court Case

Originally published on Mon January 13, 2014 12:18 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Monday in a big constitutional fight over the balance of power between the president and the Senate. President Obama has said he supports the move by Senate Democrats to make it harder for Republicans to block his nominees.
Evan Vucci AP

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Monday in a big constitutional fight over the balance of power between the president and the Senate.

At issue is whether the president's power to make temporary appointments during the Senate recess can be curtailed by the use of pro forma Senate sessions during which no business is conducted.

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3:18am

Tue December 3, 2013
Law

A Supreme Court Fight For The Rights Of (Frequent) Fliers

Originally published on Tue December 3, 2013 6:02 pm

Rabbi S. Binyomin Ginsberg sued Northwest Airlines for what he says was unfair termination from its frequent-flier program. His case goes goes before the Supreme Court on Tuesday.
Paul Sancya AP

Do airline frequent fliers have any legal rights when they get into disputes over their club memberships?

That's the question before the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday, when the justices examine whether, and under what circumstances, frequent fliers can sue in these disputes.

Frequent-flier programs — famous for their free trips, upgrades and goodies — are also infamous for what some members view as arbitrary airline behavior.

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6:11pm

Tue November 26, 2013
Law

Supreme Court Takes Challenge To Obamacare Contraceptive Rule

Originally published on Tue November 26, 2013 6:55 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to take another case involving the Affordable Care Act, this time a challenge to the provision that for-profit companies that provide health insurance must include contraceptive coverage in their plans offered to employees.
Saul Loeb AFP/Getty Images

President Obama's Affordable Care Act will be back before the Supreme Court this spring. This time, the issue is whether for-profit corporations citing religious objections may refuse to provide contraceptive services in health insurance plans offered to employees.

In enacting the ACA, Congress required large employers who offer health care services to provide a range of preventive care, including no-copay contraceptive services. Religious nonprofits were exempted from this requirement, but not for-profit corporations.

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2:48am

Tue October 15, 2013
Law

Supreme Court Returns To Affirmative Action In Michigan Case

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

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

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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3:02am

Tue October 8, 2013
Politics

Supreme Court Hears Another Challenge To Campaign Finance Law

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

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

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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3:06am

Mon October 7, 2013
Law

Despite Shutdown, Supreme Court Opens Its Doors For New Term

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

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

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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5:35pm

Tue July 30, 2013
Law

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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5:30pm

Wed July 24, 2013
Law

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

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

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

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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4:33pm

Wed July 10, 2013
Law

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

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

iStockphoto.com

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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1:53pm

Mon July 8, 2013
The Two-Way

A 'Mea Culpa'

Nina Totenberg
Steve Barrett NPR

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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3:35am

Fri July 5, 2013
Law

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

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

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

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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12:08am

Sat June 29, 2013
Same-Sex Marriage And The Supreme Court

Judge Who Struck Down Proposition 8 Knew Case Would Go Far

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

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

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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4:51am

Wed June 26, 2013
Law

Supreme Court Frees 9 States From Oversight Of Voting Law Changes

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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3:07am

Tue June 18, 2013
Law

Why The FISA Court Is Not What It Used To Be

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

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

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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3:25am

Fri June 7, 2013
Law

Former Mass. Chief Justice On Life, Liberty And Gay Marriage

Originally published on Fri June 7, 2013 1:56 pm

Chief Justice Margaret Marshall asks petitioner to explain a point during arguments before the Supreme Judicial Court in Boston in 2005.
George Rizer AP

The U.S. Supreme Court, on the brink of issuing two same-sex-marriage decisions, is facing a question that Margaret Marshall had to resolve for her state a decade ago, as chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. Her decision became the first to legalize same-sex marriage in the United States.

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5:43am

Tue June 4, 2013
Law

Law Enforcement Celebrates Supreme Court's DNA Ruling

Originally published on Tue June 4, 2013 8:10 am

Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

The law enforcement community is celebrating a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allows police to automatically take DNA samples from people they've arrested. The 5-to-4 decision allows police to send those samples to a national crime scene database, to see if they match DNA from unsolved crimes.

NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg reports.

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3:02pm

Tue May 28, 2013
The Two-Way

Supreme Court Declines Review Of Planned Parenthood Case

Originally published on Tue May 28, 2013 3:11 pm

The Supreme Court declined to intervene in a case involving Medicaid payments to Planned Parenthood.
J. Scott Applewhite AP

In the first Planned Parenthood defunding case to reach the U.S. Supreme Court, the justices have refused to disturb a lower court decision that barred Indiana from stripping Medicaid payments to the organization.

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6:40pm

Thu May 23, 2013
It's All Politics

Srinivasan's Confirmation First For D.C. Circuit In 7 Years

Deputy Solicitor General Sri Srinivasan testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill on April 10.
Chip Somodevilla Getty Images

For the first time in seven years, the U.S. Senate has confirmed a judge to sit on the important federal appeals court for the District of Columbia. The Senate unanimously confirmed Deputy Solicitor General Sri Srinivasan on Thursday for the seat previously held by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.

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5:23pm

Thu May 23, 2013
Law

Justice Sotomayor Takes Swing At Famed Baseball Case

Originally published on Thu May 23, 2013 6:39 pm

Sotomayor is escorted onto the field by New York Yankees catcher Jorge Posada to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before the New York Yankees game against the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 26, 2009.
Bill Kostroun AP

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor's wicked, waggish sense of humor — and knowledge of baseball — were on full display Wednesday, when she presided over a re-enactment of Flood v. Kuhn, the 1972 case that unsuccessfully challenged baseball's antitrust exemption.

The event, put on by the Supreme Court Historical Society, took place in the court chamber, and as Sotomayor took her place at the center of the bench, normally the chief justice's chair, she remarked puckishly, "This is the first time I've sat here. It feels pretty good."

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6:47pm

Mon May 13, 2013
Law

Supreme Court Sides With Monsanto In Seed Patent Case

Originally published on Wed May 15, 2013 11:59 am

A farmer holds Monsanto's "Roundup Ready" soybean seeds at his family farm in Bunceton, Mo.
Dan Gill AP

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday that when farmers use patented seed for more than one planting in violation of their licensing agreements, they are liable for damages.

Billed as David vs. Goliath, the case pitted an Indiana farmer against the agribusiness behemoth Monsanto.

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5:37pm

Tue May 7, 2013
Theater

'Show Boat' Steams On, Eternally American

Originally published on Wed May 8, 2013 2:50 pm

When she's discovered to be a multiracial woman "passing" as white, the Cotton Blossom's star performer, Julie (Alyson Cambridge), is forced to leave the company.
Scott Suchman Washington National Opera

It's been more than eight decades since Show Boat -- the seminal masterpiece of the American musical theater — premiered on a stage in Washington, D.C. Now the sprawling classic is back, in a lush production put on by the Washington National Opera.

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5:27pm

Tue April 23, 2013
Law

Justices Say U.S. Improperly Deported Man Over Marijuana

Originally published on Tue April 23, 2013 8:04 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a longtime legal resident of the United States was improperly deported for possession of a small amount of marijuana. By a 7-2 vote, the justices said that it defies common sense to treat an offense like this as an "aggravated felony" justifying mandatory deportation.

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7:10pm

Wed April 17, 2013
The Two-Way

Supreme Court Backs Warrants For Blood Tests In DUI Cases

Originally published on Wed April 17, 2013 8:10 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that police must generally obtain a warrant before subjecting a drunken-driving suspect to a blood test. The vote was 8-to-1, with Justice Clarence Thomas the lone dissenter.

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3:52am

Tue April 16, 2013
Law

Adoption Case Brings Rare Family Law Dispute To High Court

Originally published on Tue April 16, 2013 2:04 pm

This October 2011 photo provided by Melanie Capobianco shows her adoptive daughter, Veronica, trick-or-treating in Charleston, S.C. The child has been the focus of a custody battle between her adoptive parents and her birth father.
Courtesy of Melanie Capobianco AP

Take the usual agony of an adoption dispute. Add in the disgraceful U.S. history of ripping Indian children from their Native American families. Mix in a dose of initial fatherly abandonment. And there you have it — a poisonous and painful legal cocktail that goes before the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday.

At issue is the reach of the Indian Child Welfare Act, known as ICWA. The law was enacted in 1978 to protect Native American tribes from having their children almost literally stolen away and given to non-Indian adoptive or foster parents.

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