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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4:00pm

Mon April 28, 2014
Law

Justices Troubled By Their Earlier Ruling On Public Employee Speech Rights

Originally published on Mon April 28, 2014 9:18 pm

A majority of the justices on the U.S. Supreme Court seemed disconcerted Monday by the consequences of one of the court's own rulings on the free speech rights of public employees.

Eight years ago, the conservative court majority, by a 5-4 vote, said public employees have no First Amendment protection for speech "pursuant to his official responsibilities." But Monday, in a case involving subpoenaed testimony in a criminal case, the court seemed headed in a different direction.

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3:37am

Mon April 28, 2014
Law

How A Public Corruption Scandal Became A Fight Over Free Speech

Originally published on Mon April 28, 2014 1:31 pm

Monday the Supreme Court hears the case concerning what kind of speech is protected for public employees.
Saul Loeb AFP/Getty Images

The current conservative Supreme Court majority has a well-earned reputation for protecting the First Amendment right to free speech, whether in the form of campaign spending or protests at military funerals.

But in one area — the First Amendment rights of public employees — the conservative majority has been far less protective of the right to speak out. Now the court is revisiting the issue, and the result could have far-reaching consequences for public corruption investigations.

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7:27pm

Tue April 22, 2014
Law

Supreme Court Gives Police New Power To Rely On Anonymous Tips

Originally published on Tue April 22, 2014 7:40 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that police can stop and search a driver based solely on an anonymous 911 tip.

The 5-4 decision split the court's two most conservative justices, with Justice Clarence Thomas writing for the majority and Justice Antonin Scalia penning the dissent.

In August 2008, an anonymous 911 caller in California phoned in a report that a pickup truck had run her off the road. The caller gave the location of the incident, plus the make and model of the truck and the license plate number.

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4:16pm

Tue April 22, 2014
Law

High Court Upholds Michigan's Affirmative Action Ban

Originally published on Tue April 22, 2014 6:38 pm

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette speaks to reporters after arguing the case before the U.S. Supreme Court in October. He's with XIV Foundation CEO Jennifer Gratz, who was a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the University of Michigan's affirmative action policy.
Susan Walsh AP

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld a Michigan ban on affirmative action in higher education. The 6-to-2 decision is likely to set the stage for further battles over affirmative action in the political arena, as well as the courts.

In 2006, Michigan voters, by a margin of 58 percent to 42 percent, passed a referendum to amend the state Constitution and ban any consideration of race in college and university admissions. A federal appeals court invalidated the ban, citing earlier Supreme Court decisions that prevented restructuring government to disadvantage minorities.

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6:51am

Tue April 22, 2014
Law

Supreme Court Case Could Change How You Watch TV

Originally published on Tue April 22, 2014 9:42 am

An economic model is being challenged in the Supreme Court on Tuesday in a battle between broadcast television networks and the startup Aereo Inc. The issues focus on copyright law, but the outcome could alter broadcasting in the U.S.
Saul Loeb AFP/Getty Images

Bruce Springsteen may have been ahead of his times with his song "57 Channels (And Nothin' On)," released in 1992. These days there are hundreds of channels, and whether you like it or not, you get most of them in your basic cable package. On Tuesday, that economic model is being challenged in the Supreme Court in a high-stakes legal battle between the broadcast television networks and a tiny startup, or at least tiny by broadcast standards.

The issues focus on copyright law, but the outcome could alter the face of broadcasting in the United States.

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5:16am

Tue April 22, 2014
Law

Supreme Court Will Hear Challenge To Ohio Ban On Campaign Lies

Originally published on Tue April 22, 2014 8:12 am

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Tuesday testing whether states can make it a crime to lie about candidates during an election campaign.

At issue is an Ohio law that imposes potential jail time or a fine for the first offense, and possibly loss of the right to vote for anyone convicted twice. The case before the court, however, involves not a person, but an organization.

During the 2010 midterm elections, the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List wanted to put up a billboard ad targeting then-Rep. Steven Driehaus, D-Ohio, for his vote on the Affordable Care Act.

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6:32pm

Mon April 7, 2014
Law

Group Goes Online To Find Affirmative Action Plaintiffs

Originally published on Mon April 7, 2014 8:18 pm

A group opposed to affirmative action in higher education is taking the unprecedented step of looking for plaintiffs online.

The Project on Fair Representation is advertising for college applicants willing to challenge Harvard University, the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

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4:16pm

Wed April 2, 2014
News

Supreme Court Strikes Down Pillar Of Campaign Finance Limits

Originally published on Wed April 2, 2014 10:16 pm

The Supreme Court
Evan Vucci AP

The U.S. Supreme Court has once again erased from the books a major provision of the nation's campaign finance law. By a 5-to-4 vote, the justices removed the cap on the total amount of money that donors can contribute to candidates and parties in each election. Prior to Wednesday's ruling, the aggregate limit was $123,000. Now there is no limit.

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4:56pm

Wed March 26, 2014
U.S.

Protesters Want To Sue Secret Service: Do They Have The Right?

Originally published on Wed March 26, 2014 8:24 pm

A 2004 case involving the Secret Service made its way to the Supreme Court Wednesday. Demonstrators want to sue for being moved away from then-President George W. Bush.
Charles Dharapak AP

On a day when three of President Obama's Secret Service agents were put on leave for "disciplinary reasons," the agency came under scrutiny in the U.S. Supreme Court for a separate incident.

The court heard arguments in a case testing whether Secret Service agents can be sued for moving a group of protesters out of earshot of President George W. Bush in 2004.

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4:16pm

Tue March 25, 2014
News

Justices Divide By Gender In Hobby Lobby Contraception Case

Originally published on Tue March 25, 2014 9:12 pm

There was a clear difference of opinion between male and female justices at the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday. The issue was whether for-profit corporations, citing religious objections, may refuse to include contraception coverage in the basic health plan now mandated under the Affordable Care Act.

The female justices were clearly supportive of the contraception mandate, while a majority of the male justices were more skeptical.

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3:18am

Tue March 25, 2014
Health Care

Hobby Lobby Contraceptive Case Goes Before Supreme Court

Originally published on Wed March 26, 2014 10:23 am

Hobby Lobby President Steve Green says the company should not have to provide insurance coverage for IUDs and morning-after pills for its 13,000 employees.
Tony Gutierrez AP

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Tuesday in the latest challenge to the Obama health care overhaul.

This time the issue is whether for-profit corporations, citing religious objections, may refuse to provide some, or potentially all, contraceptive services in health plans offered to employees. It is a case that touches lots of hot-button issues.

In enacting the ACA, Congress required large employers to provide basic preventive care for employees. That turned out to include all 20 contraceptive methods approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

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6:07pm

Thu March 20, 2014
The Two-Way

Lawrence Walsh: His Judgment Came Not From Confidence But From Insecurity

Originally published on Fri March 21, 2014 7:36 am

Lawrence Walsh in 1988.
Bob Daugherty AP

In 2003 the American Bar Association published Lawrence Walsh's autobiography, The Gift of Insecurity; A Lawyer's Life. Walsh died Wednesday at age 102. The following is the foreword NPR's Legal Affairs Correspondent Nina Totenberg wrote for the book.

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5:29pm

Thu March 20, 2014
The Two-Way

Lawrence Walsh, Who Investigated Iran-Contra Scandal, Dies At 102

Originally published on Fri March 21, 2014 6:20 pm

Iran-Contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh speaks to reporters in 1989.
Rick Bowmer AP

Lawrence Walsh, the special prosecutor who investigated charges of wrongdoing and criminality by top Reagan administration officials in the Iran-Contra scandal, has died.

He was 102.

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4:52pm

Tue March 4, 2014
Law

High Court Extends Whistleblower Protections

Originally published on Wed March 5, 2014 8:33 am

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a federal whistleblower law, enacted after the collapse of Enron Corporation, protects not just the employees of a public company, but also company contractors like lawyers, accountants, and investment funds.

Writing for the six-justice majority, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that in enacting the Sarbanes-Oxley law in 2002, Congress provided protection from retaliation for employees and contractors alike to ensure that they would not be intimidated into silence when they knew of corporate wrongdoing.

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3:35am

Mon March 3, 2014
Law

With Death Penalty, How Should States Define Mental Disability?

Originally published on Mon March 3, 2014 11:11 am

Twelve years after banning the execution of the "mentally retarded," the U.S. Supreme Court is examining the question of who qualifies as having mental retardation, for purposes of capital cases, and who does not.

In 2002, the high court ruled in Atkins v. Virginia that executing "mentally retarded" people is unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment. But the justices left it to the states to define mental retardation.

Now the court is focusing on what limits, if any, there are to those definitions.

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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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