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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Law
3:00 pm
Fri March 16, 2012

Supreme Court Allows Same-Day Audio In Healthcare Case

Originally published on Fri March 16, 2012 11:03 pm

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Here's one more piece of legal news. The U.S. Supreme Court will make same-day audio available of the upcoming arguments on the health care overhaul. The court says it's responding to extraordinary public interest in the case. Here's NPR's Nina Totenberg.

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Shots - Health Blog
2:51 pm
Fri March 16, 2012

Supreme Court Will Release Same-Day Audio Of Health Care Arguments

The U.S. Supreme Court has announced that it will make available same-day audio of upcoming oral arguments later this month, arguments that could determine the fate of the Obama health care overhaul.

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The Two-Way
6:04 pm
Mon March 5, 2012

High Court To Reconsider Major Human Rights Ruling

Originally published on Mon March 5, 2012 6:24 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court said Monday that it will hear reargument next term in a major human rights case, raising the specter that the justices might reverse a 2004 ruling that allowed some lawsuits in U.S. courts for human rights atrocities committed abroad.

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Law
12:01 am
Tue February 28, 2012

Human Rights Victims Seek Remedy At High Court

Charles Wiwa fled Nigeria in 1996 following a crackdown on protests against Shell's oil operations in the Niger Delta. Now a resident of Chicago, Wiwa and other natives of the oil-rich Ogoni region are suing Shell for human rights violations.
Charles Rex Arbogast AP

Human rights are front and center at the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday in two cases testing how American law intersects with international law. At issue in both cases is whether foreign nationals in the United States can sue corporations or other entities in U.S. courts for alleged violations of human rights.

The case that has corporate teeth chattering is a lawsuit against Royal Dutch Shell Oil, which is accused of aiding and abetting the Nigerian government in committing atrocities in the 1990s.

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Law
6:56 pm
Wed February 22, 2012

Is A Lie Just Free Speech, Or Is It A Crime?

The Supreme Court heard arguments over whether it should be a crime to lie about receiving military medals. Here large replicas of the Medals of Honor hang at the Medal of Honor Museum.
Bruce Smith ASSOCIATED PRESS

The U.S. Supreme Court took up the subject of lying on Wednesday.

Specifically at issue was the constitutionality of a 2006 law that makes it a crime to lie about having received a military medal. But the questions posed by the justices ranged far beyond that — from advertising puffery to dating lies.

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Law
6:19 pm
Wed February 22, 2012

Supreme Court Considers Case On Military Honors

The Supreme Court engaged in a lively debate Wednesday when it heard oral arguments in a case testing whether the 2006 Stolen Valor Act is constitutional. The law makes it a crime to lie about military honors.

Law
12:01 am
Wed February 22, 2012

Can 'I Won The Medal Of Honor' Get You Jailed?

The Medal of Honor is held by a military honor guard at the White House last September, when President Obama awarded the medal to Marine Cpl. Dakota Meyer, 23, from Greensburg, Ky., for his actions in Afghanistan. The Supreme Court is now deciding if those who falsely claim to have won such military awards can be prosecuted for lying.
Charles Dharapak AP

Originally published on Wed February 22, 2012 8:03 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Wednesday in a case about lies, big and small, and when those lies can be a crime under the Constitution's guarantee of free speech. At issue is the constitutionality of a law making it a crime to lie about being the recipient of military medals.

At the center of the case is Xavier Alvarez, a man nobody disputes is a liar. He lied about being an ex-professional hockey player. He lied about being an engineer. He lied about rescuing the American ambassador during the Iranian hostage crisis. He even lied about being a retired Marine.

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Law
4:14 pm
Tue February 21, 2012

Supreme Court Wades Into Affirmative Action Issue

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote the 2003 Supreme Court opinion on affirmative action in college admissions. The newly energized conservative majority on the court could now change course.
Kevin Lamarque Reuters/Landov

The U.S. Supreme Court said Tuesday that it will revisit the divisive issue of affirmative action in higher education. The court agreed to hear arguments next fall in a case that challenges the affirmative action program at the University of Texas. By re-entering the fray after more than 30 years of settled law on the issue, the newly energized conservative court majority has signaled that it may be willing to unsettle much of that law.

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The Two-Way
11:48 am
Tue February 21, 2012

High Court Will Weigh Discount Fees In Quicken Mortgage Case

Originally published on Tue February 21, 2012 12:35 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Tuesday in a case testing whether it is illegal for mortgage lenders to tack on fees to closing costs for services that were not provided. The case was brought by three Louisiana couples who claim their lender violated a 1974 federal law aimed at preventing abusive practices in real estate closings.

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The Two-Way
4:04 pm
Mon February 13, 2012

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer Robbed By Man Armed With Machete

Originally published on Mon February 13, 2012 7:14 pm

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer has been the victim of an armed robbery, but is unharmed.

Breyer, his wife, Joanna, and a friend were at the Breyer vacation home on the Caribbean island of Nevis when a man broke in with a machete and confronted them. The intruder fled with about $1,000 in cash. A Supreme Court spokeswoman said no one was hurt, and that the robbery was reported to local authorities. The FBI is said to be aiding in the investigation.

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Law
3:00 pm
Wed January 18, 2012

High Court Rules In Favor Of Death Row Inmate

Originally published on Wed January 18, 2012 8:00 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court has given an Alabama death row inmate another chance to fight his execution. By a 7-to-2 vote, the court ruled Wednesday that convicted murderer Cory Maples, "through no fault of his own," was denied the right to appeal because he was abandoned by his lawyers.

Maples was convicted in 1997 of murdering two friends and was sentenced to death. There is no doubt that he committed the crime; the doubt is whether he could have avoided the death penalty if he had been properly represented at trial.

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Law
3:02 pm
Tue January 17, 2012

High Court Lets Stand Trio Of First Amendment Cases

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to hear a trio of cases involving free speech and religion.

In the first set of cases, the court declined to address the burgeoning legal debate over what powers school officials have to censor students who are at home, working on their personal computers, when they create parodies or personal attacks involving school officials or fellow students.

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Law
3:00 pm
Tue January 10, 2012

High Court Hears Arguments In FCC Case

Singer Cher accepts a lifetime achievement award at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas during the Billboard Music Awards show in 2002. Her use of an obscenity in her acceptance speech led the FCC to fine broadcaster Fox.
Joe Cavaretta AP

Originally published on Tue January 10, 2012 11:01 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday testing the constitutionality of a Bush-era regulation that allows the Federal Communications Commission to punish broadcasters with stiff fines for the fleeting use of vulgar language or nude images. The FCC's rule applies only to radio and over-the-air TV networks — like Fox, ABC, NBC and PBS — but not to cable TV.

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Law
12:01 am
Tue January 10, 2012

Supreme Court To Consider FCC Indecency Case

Singer Cher accepts a lifetime achievement award at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas during the Billboard Music Awards show in 2002. Her use of an obscenity in her acceptance speech led the FCC to fine broadcaster Fox.
Joe Cavaretta AP

Originally published on Tue January 10, 2012 5:58 pm

Dirty words return to the usually staid Supreme Court Tuesday. For a second time in three years, the justices are hearing arguments about a Federal Communications Commission regulation adopted during the Bush administration that allows the agency to punish broadcasters with stiff fines for the fleeting use of vulgar language.

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Law
12:01 am
Mon January 9, 2012

Texas Redrawn: Voting Rights, States' Power In Court

The Texas State Capitol in Austin. The Lone Star State is gaining four additional congressional seats because of its booming population, but its redistricting plans are in limbo.
Eric Gay AP

Originally published on Mon January 9, 2012 3:10 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Monday in a tangle of Texas redistricting cases, with repercussions beyond the Lone Star State. Consolidated into one test, the cases pit the Voting Rights Act and its protections for minority voters against state legislative powers — with an overlaying sheen of sheer political calculus.

The case has been called a puzzle of three courts, a reference to the interplay between two lower courts and the Supreme Court.

A Chance To Redraw

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Law
5:00 am
Sat January 7, 2012

When Property Rights, Environmental Laws Collide

Chantell and Mike Sackett say the EPA violated their right to due process when it said they were building a house on a wetland. The Supreme Court will hear the case on Monday.
Jessica Robinson Northwest News Network

Originally published on Sat January 7, 2012 10:20 am

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Monday in a case near and dear to EPA haters.

It would seem to be a David-and-Goliath case that pits a middle-class American couple trying to build their dream home against the Environmental Protection Agency. But the couple, Michael and Chantell Sackett, is backed by a veritable who's who in American mining, oil, utilities, manufacturing and real estate development, as well as groups opposed to government regulation.

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Law
3:49 pm
Mon December 12, 2011

High Court To Wade Into Immigration Debate

A U.S. Border Patrol agent patrols along the U.S.-Mexico border in Naco, Ariz., in September. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a legal challenge to Arizona's tough new law on illegal immigration.
Joshua Lott Reuters /Landov

Originally published on Mon December 12, 2011 6:33 pm

The United States Supreme Court added another red-hot rocket to its docket on Monday, all but ensuring that it will resolve a major immigration case just weeks before the major parties hold their conventions next summer.

The court agreed to hear a challenge to a controversial Arizona law that targets people suspected of being illegal immigrants. This is a setback for the Obama administration, which had urged the justices to wait for the lower courts to thoroughly examine the constitutionality of the issues in the case.

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Books
2:45 pm
Fri December 9, 2011

At The High Court, A Tribute To A 'Chef Supreme'

Frozen Lime Souffle is Justice Ginsburg's favorite dessert.
Occasions Caterers

Originally published on Mon December 12, 2011 2:13 pm

Walk into the Supreme Court gift shop, and there, among all the books on the history of the court, is a cookbook — yes, a cookbook. Put together by the spouses of the Supreme Court justices, it is a tribute to a master chef, the late Martin Ginsburg, husband of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

By day, Marty Ginsburg was one of the nation's premier tax law professors and practitioners. By night, he was one of the nation's most innovative and accomplished amateur chefs.

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It's All Politics
4:30 pm
Tue December 6, 2011

Judicial Wars Flare As Senate Blocks Obama Nominee

Caitlin J. Halligan, then a lawyer for New York State, and attorney David Boies spoke in the Court of Appeals in Albany in 2005. On Tuesday, Senate Republicans blocked Halligan's nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
Jim McKnight AP

Originally published on Tue December 6, 2011 6:23 pm

Senate Republicans have blocked the nomination of Caitlin Halligan to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. A Senate majority of 54 voted to break the filibuster, but that number falls short of the 60 votes needed under Senate rules.

Although Halligan won bipartisan praise from legal and law enforcement groups, Republicans portrayed her as a left-wing activist for positions she took while representing the state of New York as its chief appellate lawyer.

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Law
12:01 am
Wed November 30, 2011

High Court To Hear HIV-Positive Pilot's Privacy Case

People wait to enter outside the U.S. Supreme Court in March. The court hears arguments Wednesday in a case testing whether the federal government is liable for damages when it violates the Privacy Act by disclosing that an individual is HIV-positive.
Brendan Smialowski AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Wed November 30, 2011 12:07 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Wednesday in a case testing whether the federal government is liable for damages when it violates the Privacy Act by disclosing that an individual is HIV-positive. The government does not dispute that it broke the law, but it asserts that the Privacy Act authorizes damage suits only for violations that cause economic harm, not for emotional harm.

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Law
12:01 am
Fri November 25, 2011

From South Africa, Lessons In 'Soft Vengeance'

South African Constitutional Court Judge Albie Sachs, seen here in Johannesburg in 2009, resisted the impulse to take revenge on the bomber who cost him his right arm.
Denis Farrell AP

Sometimes in the life of a reporter, you meet a person so extraordinary, so interesting, that you want to share that experience with others. Such is the case with Albie Sachs, whom I met while on vacation in South Africa.

Sachs has led a remarkable life, moving from freedom fighter to founding father.

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Politics
5:29 pm
Thu November 10, 2011

Newly Released Testimony Is Vintage Nixon

President Richard Nixon in the Oval Office on Feb. 19, 1970.
National Archives Getty Images

The National Archives has released President Nixon's long-secret grand jury testimony in the Watergate scandal. Nixon gave the testimony, spanning 298 pages, in 1975 after he had been named an unindicted co-conspirator, resigned and been pardoned for criminal abuses of government power.

From the get-go, the testimony is vintage Nixon — manipulative, self-pitying, and as unrevealing as possible.

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Law
12:01 am
Tue November 8, 2011

Do Police Need Warrants For GPS Tracking Devices?

The Supreme Court considers whether GPS monitoring devices like this one may be affixed to suspects' cars without a warrant from a judge.
Yasir Afifi AP

Originally published on Tue November 8, 2011 11:52 am

The U.S. Supreme Court, an institution steeped in tradition, steps into the turbulent world of new technology Tuesday. At issue before the court is whether police must get a warrant from a judge before they can attach a GPS tracking device to a car so they can monitor a suspect's every movement for an indefinite period of time.

The case could have enormous implications for privacy rights in the information age.

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Law
3:23 pm
Mon November 7, 2011

Can Passports List 'Jerusalem, Israel' As Birthplace?

The United States Supreme Court heard arguments on Monday in a case that combines the Middle East conflict with the dueling foreign policy roles of Congress and the president. Specifically, the question was whether Congress can force the executive branch to list Israel as the birthplace for United States citizens born in Jerusalem.

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Law
12:01 am
Mon November 7, 2011

Court Weighs President's Power To Recognize Nations

The Supreme Court will consider the question of whether U.S. citizens may list "Jerusalem, Israel" as their birthplace on passports.
Paul J. Richards AFP/Getty Images

The United States Supreme Court steps into a test of the president's foreign policy powers on Monday. It is a test that combines the Middle East conflict with the dueling roles of Congress and the executive branch, plus an added dash of interest over presidential signing statements. At issue in the case is whether Congress can force the executive branch to list Israel as the birthplace for United States citizens born in Jerusalem.

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Law
5:19 am
Tue November 1, 2011

Supreme Court To Weigh Case Of False Testimony

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Tuesday in a case that sounds more like a John Grisham novel than a Supreme Court case.

The issue is whether police investigators have total immunity from being sued for giving false testimony before a grand jury. The case has all the elements of a spooky saga, involving power, influence and money — all used to silence the critics of Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, the largest hospital in Albany, Ga.

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The Two-Way
5:40 pm
Mon October 31, 2011

Supreme Court Reinstates Conviction Of Grandmother In Shaken Baby Case

Originally published on Mon October 31, 2011 7:05 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court has once again rebuked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, based in California. This time, the court, by a 6-to-3 vote, reinstated the conviction of a California grandmother for shaking her baby grandson to death. The court's unsigned opinion, provoked a strong dissent from three of the justices, who accused the court majority of using a "tragic case" to "teach the Ninth Circut a lesson."

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Law
5:31 pm
Mon October 31, 2011

Supreme Court Hears Plea Bargain Cases

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Monday in two cases testing whether a lawyer's mishandling of a plea bargain offer should be sufficient reason for a defendant to get a second chance to accept the offer.

Both cases involve defendants who got prison terms much longer than they would have under plea bargains offered by the prosecutor. In one case, the defendant's lawyer never told his client about the offer. In the other, the defense lawyer advised against taking the offer based on a clearly erroneous understanding of state law.

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The Two-Way
5:27 pm
Mon October 31, 2011

High Court Lets Stand Ruling Ordering Removal Of Crosses In Utah

Originally published on Wed November 2, 2011 8:40 am

The United States Supreme Court has let stand a lower court ruling that ordered the removal of 12-foot high crosses placed along highways in Utah to commemorate state troopers killed in the line of duty.

The court acted without comment, but Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a 19-page dissent.

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Law
5:29 am
Mon October 31, 2011

High Court Considers When Bad Lawyers Taint A Case

The Supreme Court hears two cases about ineffective lawyers on Monday.

J. Scott Applewhite AP

On television, most criminal cases are tried before a jury. But in reality, more than 90 percent of all criminal cases in the United States never get to trial; they are resolved with a plea bargain. For the state, these bargains save money and resources, and they often include agreements that the defendant will help prosecutors make other cases. But plea bargains have also been criticized as a boon for real criminals who have information to bargain with, while little guys, with nothing to trade, can get mauled by the system.

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