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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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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3:01am

Mon April 15, 2013
Shots - Health News

Supreme Court Asks: Can Human Genes Be Patented?

Originally published on Tue April 16, 2013 8:45 am

Artist's representation of DNA.
iStockphoto.com

Same-sex marriage got huge headlines at the Supreme Court last month, but in the world of science and medicine, the case being argued on Monday is far more important. The lawsuit deals with a truly 21st century issue — whether human genes may be patented.

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6:52pm

Thu March 28, 2013
The Two-Way

Supreme Court Notes: Bugs, Pumps And Stolen Credit Card Numbers

Same-sex marriage supporters demonstrate in front of the Supreme Court on Wednesday in Washington, D.C.
Jewel Samad AFP/Getty Images

NPR's Legal Affairs Correspondent Nina Totenberg sends us some odds and ends from a very momentous week in the Supreme Court.

Hear all that sneezing, wheezing, coughing, and nose blowing during this week's same-sex oral arguments at the U.S. Supreme Court?

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7:52pm

Wed March 27, 2013
Same-Sex Marriage And The Supreme Court

Justices Cast Doubt On Federal Defense Of Marriage Act

Originally published on Thu March 28, 2013 8:51 am

This artist rendering shows Paul Clement (second from left) with Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. (seated, right), addressing the Supreme Court on Wednesday. Justices pictured are (from left) Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer, Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, Chief Justice John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Samuel Alito and Elena Kagan.
Dana Verkouteren AP

In the wake of the Supreme Court arguments Wednesday on the Defense of Marriage Act, same-sex marriage supporters have reason to be optimistic. Known as DOMA, the law bars federal benefits for legally married same-sex couples, even though those same benefits are automatically given to heterosexual married couples.

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5:58pm

Wed March 27, 2013
Same-Sex Marriage And The Supreme Court

Justice Kennedy May Be Deciding Vote In Defense Of Marriage Act Case

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday in a case challenging whether the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) means the federal government can deny marriage benefits to same sex couples in states that allow gay marriage. Same-sex couples had reason to be optimistic afterward. Assuming the court can overcome procedural concerns, it looked as if a majority of justices was ready to strike down DOMA.

7:49pm

Tue March 26, 2013
Same-Sex Marriage And The Supreme Court

DOMA Challenge Tests Federal Definition Of Marriage

Originally published on Wed March 27, 2013 1:15 pm

A pro-gay-marriage protester stands in front of the Supreme Court on Tuesday, the first of two days of oral arguments on challenges to laws that limit the definition of marriage to unions of a man and a woman.
Karen Bleier AFP/Getty Images

After weeks and months of public debate and speculation about the legal fate of same-sex marriage, the second round of arguments takes place at the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday.

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7:33pm

Tue March 26, 2013
Same-Sex Marriage And The Supreme Court

At Arguments, Supreme Court Takes Halting Steps Into Gay Marriage Issue

Originally published on Wed March 27, 2013 5:58 pm

People file into the Supreme Court on Tuesday for the court's hearing on California's Proposition 8, a voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais AP

At the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday, the moment had finally arrived. After four years of litigation in the lower courts, the Supreme Court was hearing a challenge to California's ban on same-sex marriage. But minutes into oral arguments, it became clear that the justices may not give either side the clear-cut victory it wants.

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7:39pm

Mon March 25, 2013
Same-Sex Marriage And The Supreme Court

In First Of 2 Gay-Marriage Cases, Court Turns To Proposition 8

Originally published on Tue March 26, 2013 9:57 am

Snow covers flowers in front of the Supreme Court building on Monday in Washington, D.C. On Tuesday, the justices hear oral arguments on the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage.
Jonathan Ernst Reuters /Landov

Outside the Supreme Court, lines began forming nearly a week ago. By Monday, the line had snaked down the court steps and to the corner, with people braving freezing temperatures and snow in anticipation of the historic arguments on same-sex marriage on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The justices are first hearing a constitutional challenge to California's ban on same-sex marriage. A second day is devoted to the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal benefits to same-sex couples married in the nine states where such unions are legal.

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5:12pm

Mon March 25, 2013
Law

Supreme Court To Examine State Ban On Affirmative Action

Originally published on Wed March 27, 2013 5:59 pm

A scene outside the Supreme Court on Monday, as the justices announced they would hear another case involving affirmative action in higher education. Many of those waiting in line at the court in a late-season snowfall were hoping to attend oral arguments on gay-marriage cases being heard Tuesday and Wednesday.
Jose Luis Magana AP

As the national spotlight turns to the U.S. Supreme Court this week with two historic arguments on same-sex marriage, the court on Monday made headlines on another high-profile issue: affirmative action.

Just 10 years ago a narrow court majority upheld affirmative action programs in higher education in an opinion written by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. But ever since O'Connor retired and was replaced by the more conservative Justice Samuel Alito, the court has been on a steady march to get rid of all race-conscious programs.

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3:15am

Mon March 25, 2013
Law

Supreme Court Hears 'Pay To Delay' Pharmaceutical Case

Originally published on Mon March 25, 2013 9:39 am

The Supreme Court takes up a case Monday about whether brand-name drug manufacturers can pay generic drug manufacturers to keep generics off the market.
iStockphoto.com

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Monday in a case worth billions of dollars to pharmaceutical companies and American consumers. The issue is whether brand-name drug manufacturers may pay generic drug manufacturers to keep generics off the market. These payments — a form of settlement in patent litigation — began to blossom about a decade ago when the courts, for the first time, appeared to bless them.

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5:33am

Sun March 24, 2013
Same-Sex Marriage And The Supreme Court

Former Bush Aide Pushes 'Conservative Case' For Gay Marriage

Originally published on Sun March 24, 2013 8:05 am

Ken Mehlman, then chairman of the Republican National Committee, speaks during a meeting at the Capitol Hilton in January 2006 in Washington, D.C.
Chip Somodevilla Getty Images

One hundred thirty-one prominent Republicans have signed a pro-same-sex marriage legal brief that is clearly at odds with the House GOP leadership and the party's platform in the most recent election. Because of the prominence of the signers, the brief stands out among the more than 150 friend-of-the-court briefs filed in two same-sex marriage cases to be argued at the U.S. Supreme Court this week.

The man who rounded up the group is Ken Mehlman, the former political director for the George W. Bush White House.

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4:37pm

Thu March 21, 2013
Same-Sex Marriage And The Supreme Court

Meet The 83-Year-Old Taking On The U.S. Over Same-Sex Marriage

Originally published on Thu March 21, 2013 8:34 pm

Edith Windsor in her New York City apartment in December 2012. Next week, the U.S. Supreme Court hears her challenge to the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act.
Richard Drew AP

The tiny dynamo asking the U.S. Supreme Court to turn the world upside down looks nothing like a fearless pioneer. At age 83, Edith Windsor dresses in classic, tailored clothes, usually with a long string of pearls, and she sports a well-coiffed, shoulder-length flip. She looks, for all the world, like a proper New York City lady.

Proper she may be, and a lady, but Windsor, who likes to be called Edie, is making history, challenging the federal Defense of Marriage Act, known as DOMA. The law bans federal recognition and benefits for legally married same-sex couples.

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3:46pm

Tue March 19, 2013
The Two-Way

Supreme Court OKs Discounted Resale Of 'Gray Market' Goods

Originally published on Tue March 19, 2013 7:51 pm

People stand in line outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday.
Chip Somodevilla Getty Images

The Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that U.S. companies that make and sell products abroad cannot prevent those items from being resold in the U.S.

The 6-3 decision — likely worth billions, even trillions of dollars — could have repercussions that extend from U.S. trade policy to local yard sales.

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3:19am

Mon March 18, 2013
Law

Can States Go Beyond Federal Law On Voter Registration?

Originally published on Mon March 18, 2013 12:38 pm

A voter fills out her ballot during early voting before the 2012 presidential election at the Gila County Recorder's Office in Globe, Ariz., on Oct. 26.
Joshua Lott Reuters/Landov

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Monday in a case that could upend the federal effort to spur and streamline voter registration.

At issue is an Arizona law that requires prospective voters to provide proof of citizenship when they register to vote. A federal appeals court ruled last year that the state law must fall because it conflicts with federal law.

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3:00am

Fri March 1, 2013
Law

Administration Asks Supreme Court To End Calif. Gay-Marriage Ban

Originally published on Fri March 1, 2013 8:47 am

The Obama administration has filed a friend of the court brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down California's ban on gay marriage as a denial of "equal protection under the law." But the brief does not call for the abolition of all state bans on same-sex marriage.

The case now before the high court tests the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8, a referendum narrowly passed by voters in 2008 that reinstituted a ban on gay marriage.

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7:29pm

Thu February 28, 2013
Law

Obama Administration Brief Doesn't Call For End To Bans On Gay Marriage

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish. This evening, the Obama administration filed a friend of the court brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down California's ban on gay marriage, but the brief does not call for abolition of bans on same-sex marriage across the country. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg joins us in the studio. And, Nina, just to start, remind us quickly how this case actually came to be.

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3:03am

Wed February 27, 2013
Law

Supreme Court Weighs Future Of Voting Rights Act

Originally published on Wed February 27, 2013 8:48 am

The Supreme Court on Wednesday weighs the future of a key provision of the landmark Voting Rights Act.
Carolyn Kaster AP

Once again, race is front and center at the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday. And once again, the bull's eye is the 1965 Voting Rights Act, widely viewed as the most effective and successful civil rights legislation in American history. Upheld five times by the court, the law now appears to be on life support.

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3:23am

Tue February 26, 2013
Law

Supreme Court Considers If Warrantless DNA Swab Violates Constitution

Originally published on Tue February 26, 2013 9:44 am

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments in a case about the collection of DNA evidence, and whether the Fourth Amendment prohibits police from obtaining DNA samples before conviction without a warrant.
Chip Somodevilla Getty Images

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments on Tuesday in a case that could throw a monkey wrench into the widespread use of DNA testing — a case that pits modern technology against notions of personal privacy.

Twenty-eight states and the federal government have enacted laws that provide for automatic DNA collection from people at the time of their arrest. The question is whether it is unconstitutional to do that without a warrant, for the sole purpose of checking the DNA against a national DNA crime scene database.

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5:13am

Sat February 23, 2013
It's All Politics

States Take Sides As Court Revisits Voting Rights Act

President Lyndon Johnson and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. discuss the Voting Rights Act in 1965. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court hears arguments on whether a key part of the law is still needed nearly a half century after its passage.
Hulton Archive Getty Images

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments next week in a case that tests the constitutionality of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the law considered the most effective civil rights statute in American history. At issue is whether a key provision of the statute has outlived its usefulness.

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3:17am

Tue February 19, 2013
Law

Prisoner's Handwritten Petition Prompts Justices To Weigh Government Immunity

Originally published on Tue February 19, 2013 12:33 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court
J. Scott Applewhite AP

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright, the Supreme Court's landmark decision requiring the states to provide lawyers for poor people accused of committing crimes. Clarence Gideon, the defendant in that case, wrote his own petition to the high court in longhand, and Tuesday, the Supreme Court is hearing the case of another defendant who, in the longest of long shots, filed a handwritten petition from prison asking the justices for their help.

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2:39pm

Fri February 8, 2013
Law

Obama Team To Make Important, If Symbolic, Choice On Gay Marriage

Originally published on Fri February 8, 2013 7:09 pm

People wait in line to enter the Supreme Court as the term began in October.
Carolyn Kaster AP

The Obama administration faces tricky political and legal questions on the subject of gay marriage. By the end of this month, the federal government is expected to file not just one but two briefs in a pair of same-sex marriage cases at the U.S. Supreme Court.

But it is the Proposition 8 case from California that poses the thornier questions for the administration — questions so difficult that the president himself is expected to make the final decision on what arguments the Justice Department will make in the Supreme Court.

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3:51pm

Wed January 30, 2013
Books

Sotomayor's Memoir Already A Best-Seller

Originally published on Thu January 31, 2013 3:27 pm

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor's memoir is riding high, topping the New York Times best-seller list in its first week of sales.

My Beloved World, Sotomayor's account of her path from the tenements of the Bronx to the U.S. Supreme Court, is on track to outdistance even the best-selling books of other justices.

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12:27am

Sun January 20, 2013
Inauguration 2013

The Presidential Oath: Not Always Perfect, But It Gets The Job Done

Originally published on Sun January 20, 2013 6:20 pm

Barack Obama takes the oath of office beside his wife Michelle and daughters Sasha, right, and Malia, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 20, 2009.
Chuck Kennedy AP

President Obama takes the oath of office for a second term on Sunday and Monday. By the time he is through Monday, he and President Franklin D. Roosevelt will be the only two presidents to have taken the presidential oath four times — Roosevelt because he was elected four times, and Obama because he will have taken the oath twice the first time and twice the second.

Obama took the oath twice in 2009 because he and Chief Justice John Roberts messed it up a bit the first time and redid it a second time in private to quell any questions about Obama being president.

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7:00am

Sat January 12, 2013
The Sotomayor Interview

A Justice Deliberates: Sotomayor On Love, Health And Family

Originally published on Mon January 14, 2013 3:27 pm

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor spoke with NPR in December at the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.
Kainaz Amaria NPR

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor readily concedes that she was the beneficiary of affirmative action in higher education, and she doesn't really know why her view is so different from that of her colleague, Justice Clarence Thomas.

"As much as I know Clarence, admire him and have grown to appreciate him," she says, "I have never ever focused on the negative of things. I always look at the positive. And I know one thing: If affirmative action opened the doors for me at Princeton, once I got in, I did the work. I proved myself worthy. So, I don't look at how the door opened."

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3:31am

Wed January 9, 2013
Law

Can Police Force Drunken Driving Suspects To Take Blood Tests?

Originally published on Wed January 9, 2013 1:32 pm

A photographic screen hangs in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, which is undergoing renovations. On Wednesday, the justices will hear arguments in a case that asks whether police without a warrant can administer a blood test to a suspected drunken driver.
Greg E. Mathieson MAI/Landov

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Wednesday in a case testing whether police must get a warrant before forcing a drunken driving suspect to have his blood drawn.

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4:36pm

Wed December 19, 2012
It's All Politics

Robert Bork's Supreme Court Nomination 'Changed Everything, Maybe Forever'

Originally published on Wed December 19, 2012 8:31 pm

Robert Bork, nominated by President Reagan to the Supreme Court, is sworn in before the Senate Judiciary Committee at his confirmation hearing, Sept. 15, 1987.
John Duricka AP

Robert Bork, whose failed Supreme Court nomination provoked a lasting partisan divide over judicial nominations, died Wednesday at age 85.

A former federal judge and conservative legal theorist, he subsequently became a hero to modern-day conservatives. And as solicitor general in the Nixon administration, he played a small but crucial role in the Watergate crisis. In what came to be known as the Saturday Night Massacre, he fired Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox after the attorney general and deputy attorney general refused President Nixon's firing order and quit.

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