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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Politics
1:02 am
Tue October 8, 2013

Supreme Court Hears Another Challenge To Campaign Finance Law

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

Originally published on Tue October 8, 2013 11:17 am

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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Law
1:06 am
Mon October 7, 2013

Despite Shutdown, Supreme Court Opens Its Doors For New Term

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

Originally published on Mon October 7, 2013 9:09 am

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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Law
3:35 pm
Tue July 30, 2013

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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Law
3:30 pm
Wed July 24, 2013

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

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

Originally published on Wed July 24, 2013 4:51 pm

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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Law
2:33 pm
Wed July 10, 2013

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

iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Thu July 11, 2013 10:39 am

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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The Two-Way
11:53 am
Mon July 8, 2013

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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Law
1:35 am
Fri July 5, 2013

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

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

Originally published on Mon July 8, 2013 11:03 am

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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Same-Sex Marriage And The Supreme Court
10:08 pm
Fri June 28, 2013

Judge Who Struck Down Proposition 8 Knew Case Would Go Far

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

Originally published on Sat June 29, 2013 7:25 pm

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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Law
1:07 am
Tue June 18, 2013

Why The FISA Court Is Not What It Used To Be

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

Originally published on Tue June 18, 2013 11:52 am

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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Law
1:25 am
Fri June 7, 2013

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

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

Originally published on Fri June 7, 2013 11:56 am

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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Law
3:43 am
Tue June 4, 2013

Law Enforcement Celebrates Supreme Court's DNA Ruling

Originally published on Tue June 4, 2013 6:10 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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Law
4:53 pm
Mon June 3, 2013

Supreme Court Rules DNA Can Be Taken After Arrest

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday in a case that looked at whether police could take DNA samples from people who had been arrested but not yet convicted of a crime.
Alex Brandon AP

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that police can routinely take DNA samples from people who are arrested but not yet convicted of a crime, and see if the DNA matches any samples from unsolved crimes in a national database.

The 5-to-4 decision split the court's conservative and liberal blocs, with conservative Justice Antonin Scalia authoring a fiery dissent. Twenty-eight states and the federal government have enacted laws that provide for automatic DNA testing of arrestees.

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The Two-Way
1:11 pm
Tue May 28, 2013

Supreme Court Declines Review Of Planned Parenthood Case

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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It's All Politics
4:40 pm
Thu May 23, 2013

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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Law
4:12 pm
Thu May 23, 2013

Justice Sotomayor Takes Swing At Famed Baseball Case

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

Originally published on Thu May 23, 2013 4:39 pm

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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Law
4:16 pm
Mon May 13, 2013

Supreme Court Sides With Monsanto In Seed Patent Case

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

Originally published on Wed May 15, 2013 9:59 am

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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Theater
3:37 pm
Tue May 7, 2013

'Show Boat' Steams On, Eternally American

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

Originally published on Wed May 8, 2013 12:50 pm

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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Law
3:27 pm
Tue April 23, 2013

Justices Say U.S. Improperly Deported Man Over Marijuana

Originally published on Tue April 23, 2013 6:04 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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The Two-Way
5:10 pm
Wed April 17, 2013

Supreme Court Backs Warrants For Blood Tests In DUI Cases

Originally published on Wed April 17, 2013 6:10 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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Law
1:52 am
Tue April 16, 2013

Adoption Case Brings Rare Family Law Dispute To High Court

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

Originally published on Tue April 16, 2013 12:04 pm

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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Shots - Health News
1:01 am
Mon April 15, 2013

Supreme Court Asks: Can Human Genes Be Patented?

Artist's representation of DNA.
iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Tue April 16, 2013 6:45 am

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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The Two-Way
4:52 pm
Thu March 28, 2013

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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Same-Sex Marriage And The Supreme Court
5:52 pm
Wed March 27, 2013

Justices Cast Doubt On Federal Defense Of Marriage Act

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

Originally published on Thu March 28, 2013 6:51 am

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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Same-Sex Marriage And The Supreme Court
5:49 pm
Tue March 26, 2013

DOMA Challenge Tests Federal Definition Of Marriage

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

Originally published on Wed March 27, 2013 11:15 am

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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Same-Sex Marriage And The Supreme Court
5:33 pm
Tue March 26, 2013

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

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

Originally published on Wed March 27, 2013 3:58 pm

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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Same-Sex Marriage And The Supreme Court
5:39 pm
Mon March 25, 2013

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

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

Originally published on Tue March 26, 2013 7:57 am

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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Law
3:12 pm
Mon March 25, 2013

Supreme Court To Examine State Ban On Affirmative Action

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

Originally published on Wed March 27, 2013 3:59 pm

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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Law
1:15 am
Mon March 25, 2013

Supreme Court Hears 'Pay To Delay' Pharmaceutical Case

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

Originally published on Mon March 25, 2013 7:39 am

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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Same-Sex Marriage And The Supreme Court
3:33 am
Sun March 24, 2013

Former Bush Aide Pushes 'Conservative Case' For Gay Marriage

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

Originally published on Sun March 24, 2013 6:05 am

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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Same-Sex Marriage And The Supreme Court
2:37 pm
Thu March 21, 2013

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

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

Originally published on Thu March 21, 2013 6:34 pm

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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