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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Health Care
4:10 am
Wed July 23, 2014

Conflicting Obamacare Rulings Set Stage For Supreme Court Face-Off

Originally published on Wed July 23, 2014 5:51 am

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Law
2:14 pm
Tue July 22, 2014

Obama's Health Care Law Has A Confusing Day In Court

Originally published on Tue July 22, 2014 6:17 pm

Another wild legal ride for Obamacare on Tuesday: Two U.S. Court of Appeals panels issued conflicting decisions on an issue with the potential to gut the health care overhaul.

The two rulings could lead to another U.S. Supreme Court showdown over the controversial law, all because of what one of the law's opponents initially called "a glitch."

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Law
1:12 pm
Sun July 6, 2014

Rare Unanimity In Supreme Court Term, With Plenty Of Fireworks

The recent Supreme Court term resulted in an unusual number of unanimous decisions — but that doesn't mean there wasn't disagreement.
Mark Wilson Getty Images

Originally published on Mon July 7, 2014 1:10 pm

The nation greets the coming of July each year with fireworks on the National Mall and, days earlier, explosive decisions at the U.S. Supreme Court.

While the Mall fireworks dissipate within moments, the court's decisions will have repercussions for decades. Indeed, no sooner was the ink dry on this term's contraception decision than the court's three female justices accused their male colleagues of reneging.

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Law
3:03 pm
Mon June 30, 2014

High Court Allows Some Companies To Opt Out Of Contraceptives Mandate

Originally published on Mon June 30, 2014 5:07 pm

For the first time, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a for-profit corporation can refuse to comply with a general government mandate because doing so would violate the corporation's asserted religious beliefs.

By a 5-4 vote, the court struck an important part of President Obama's health care law — the requirement that all insurance plans cover birth control — because it conflicted with a corporation owners' religious beliefs.

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Law
11:32 am
Mon June 30, 2014

Supreme Court Ruling Affirms Hobby Lobby Victory

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

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Law
3:10 am
Fri June 27, 2014

High Court Strikes Down Abortion Clinic 'Buffer Zone' Law

Originally published on Fri June 27, 2014 5:59 am

The Supreme Court eased restrictions on protesters at clinics that perform abortions. The court invalidated a Massachusetts law that created a 35 foot buffer outside abortion clinics in the state.

Law
2:20 pm
Thu June 26, 2014

Takeaways From Supreme Court Rulings On Buffer Zones, Recess Picks

Originally published on Fri June 27, 2014 11:19 am

The U.S. Supreme Court issued two major rulings on Thursday: one that narrows protections for patients and employees outside abortion clinics, and another that narrows the president's power to fill top government positions temporarily without the Senate's consent.

Both rulings were technically unanimous because all nine justices agreed on the bottom-line outcome, but in fact both were 5-to-4 rulings with fiery disagreements expressed by the minority.

Here are summaries of the two cases and the arguments for and against them.

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Law
12:19 pm
Thu June 26, 2014

Supreme Court Rules On Obama Appointments, Abortion Protests

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The Supreme Court has issued rulings in two controversial cases. The court invalidated several appointments President Obama made while the Senate was in recess, or appeared to be, anyway. And the court also limited the power of a state to define buffer zones around abortion clinics. A lot to talk about here, let's dive right in with NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg. Hi, Nina.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Hi.

INSKEEP: OK, so these decisions appear to be, to you, anyway, compromises - why is that?

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Law
2:15 pm
Wed June 25, 2014

High Court Ruling On Search Warrants Is Broader Than Cellphones

Originally published on Wed June 25, 2014 7:30 pm

Bold. Landmark. Sweeping. Those were the words experts on all sides used Wednesday to describe the U.S. Supreme Court's unanimous ruling that police must obtain a warrant before searching a cellphone at the time of an arrest.

The decision came in two cases where law enforcement used information obtained from a cellphone without a warrant to win a conviction.

Writing for the unanimous court, Chief Justice John Roberts said that the answer to the question of what police must do before searching a cellphone at the time of an arrest is "simple — get a warrant."

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Law
10:48 am
Wed June 25, 2014

Supreme Court Rules On Aereo, Cellphone Searches

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

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Law
2:43 pm
Mon June 23, 2014

EPA Gets A Win From Supreme Court On Global Warming Emissions — Mostly

Originally published on Mon June 23, 2014 6:07 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court gave the Environmental Protection Agency the green light to regulate greenhouse gases that are emitted from new and modified utility plants and factories on Monday.

Greenhouse gases are blamed for global warming, and the court's 7-2 decision gave the EPA most of what it wanted. But in a separate 5-4 vote, the justices rejected the agency's broad assertion of regulatory power under one section of the Clean Air Act.

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Law
2:12 pm
Thu June 19, 2014

From Supreme Court, Firm Support For Employee In Retaliation Case

Originally published on Thu June 19, 2014 6:20 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday that public employees cannot be fired in retaliation for testifying truthfully on matters of public corruption or public concern. The unanimous decision came in the case of Edward Lane, who was fired after he testified that an Alabama state legislator was a no-show employee being paid by the taxpayers for no work.

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Law
4:04 pm
Mon June 16, 2014

Supreme Court Rules Against Gun 'Straw Purchases'

Originally published on Wed June 18, 2014 1:59 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court delivered a major victory to gun control advocates on Monday. The 5-4 ruling allows strict enforcement of the federal ban on gun "straw purchases," or one person buying a gun for another.

The federal law on background checks requires federally licensed gun dealers to verify the identity of buyers and submit their names to a federal database to weed out felons, those with a history of mental illness and others barred from gun ownership.

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Law
2:29 pm
Mon June 16, 2014

By Slim Margin, Supreme Court Preserves Key Gun Control Law

Originally published on Mon June 16, 2014 4:04 pm

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that federal law may prohibit someone from buying a gun for another person — whether or not the other person is legally allowed to purchase a gun. The narrow decision maintains the status quo on "straw" purchases of guns.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

The Salt
4:50 pm
Thu June 12, 2014

POM Wonderful Wins A Round In Food Fight With Coca-Cola

POM sued Coca-Cola, claiming that it was losing sales because the label and advertising for its Minute Maid pomegranate-blueberry drink were misleading consumers into believing they were getting a juice combination consisting mainly of pomegranate and blueberry juices when, in fact, the juice was more than 99 percent apple and grape juices, which are far cheaper.
Courtesy of the Coca-Cola Co.

Originally published on Fri June 13, 2014 10:47 am

A food fight at the U.S. Supreme Court ended in a unanimous decision on Thursday.

The justices ruled that POM Wonderful can go forward with a lawsuit alleging Coca-Cola Co. tricked consumers and stole business from POM with false and misleading juice labels.

The case centers on a product aimed at health-conscious consumers: pomegranate-blueberry juice.

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Law
4:20 pm
Mon June 9, 2014

Supreme Court Rules Against Homeowners In Superfund Case

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that a federal law seeking to improve accountability for environmental spills and pollution can be circumvented by certain kinds of state laws.

The federal Superfund law supersedes state statutes of limitations. Instead the federal law dictates that lawsuits alleging environmental injury need only be filed when individuals either first learn or should have learned that they have been harmed. But what the court gave with one hand, it took away with the other, ruling that rare state statutes of another sort can limit lawsuits in a different way.

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Law
2:43 pm
Mon June 9, 2014

Supreme Court: At 21, Some Children Must Start Visa Process Over

Originally published on Mon June 9, 2014 4:42 pm

A fractured U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that when parents wait years to win legal entry into the United States, their children may have to go to the back of the line when they turn 21. The court's decision came on a 5-to-4 vote, with the majority split into two camps.

Under the Immigration Act, citizens and lawful permanent residents may sponsor family members petitions' for visas and green cards. In most cases, those immigrating with a minor child stand in line with their children. But even after approval, the process of getting a visa can take as long as decades.

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Law
2:22 pm
Mon June 2, 2014

Supreme Court: Case Involved Romantic Jealousy, Not Chemical Weapons

Originally published on Mon June 2, 2014 5:19 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday dodged a major constitutional test of the Constitution's treaty power. Conservative activists had seen the case as a chance to limit the power of the president and Congress to make and enforce treaties. Instead, the case boiled down to, in Chief Justice John Roberts' words, "an act of revenge born of romantic jealousy."

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Law
4:27 pm
Tue May 27, 2014

Supreme Court Upholds Law Enforcement's Qualified Immunity

Originally published on Tue May 27, 2014 5:01 pm

In two decisions handed down Tuesday, the Supreme Court made it more difficult for citizens to sue law enforcement officers for their conduct. Both decisions were unanimous.

The central issue in both was the doctrine of "qualified immunity," which shields public officials from being sued for actions that fall short of violating a clearly established statutory or constitutional right.

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Law
2:44 pm
Tue May 27, 2014

A Divided High Court Strikes Down IQ Rules In Fla. Death Penalty

Originally published on Wed May 28, 2014 10:26 am

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 12 years ago that the states could not execute the "mentally retarded." But the court left to the states the definition of what constitutes retardation.

On Tuesday, however, the justices, by a 5-to-4 vote, imposed some limits on those definitions. At issue, in a case from Florida, was how to evaluate IQ tests.

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Law
5:25 pm
Tue May 20, 2014

Judge Strikes Down Pennsylvania's Gay-Marriage Ban

Originally published on Tue May 20, 2014 5:51 pm

A federal judge in Pennsylvania has struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional. The ruling is the latest in a growing cascade of federal and state court decisions declaring a right to marry for gay couples.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down a federal law barring recognition of same-sex marriage, federal and state courts have been rife with challenges to state bans. On Tuesday, Judge John Jones III in Pennsylvania became the latest federal judge to strike down such a ban.

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Law
2:16 pm
Mon May 19, 2014

In 'Raging Bull' Ruling, High Court Sides With Co-Writer's Daughter

Actor Robert De Niro as Jake La Motta in Raging Bull. In her decision Monday, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted that MGM has marketed the movie continuously since 1980.
AP

Originally published on Tue May 20, 2014 4:05 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court delivered a TKO to MGM Monday, giving the daughter of a deceased screenwriter a chance to prove in court that the critically acclaimed movie Raging Bull infringed the copyright of a screenplay written by her father.

At the center of the dispute is the iconic 1980 movie Raging Bull, directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Robert De Niro, who played the role of champion boxer Jake LaMotta.

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It's All Politics
4:06 pm
Wed April 30, 2014

Nino's No-No: Justice Scalia Flubs Dissent In Pollution Case

Whether the error in Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's recent dissent was originally his fault or a clerk's doesn't make it less cringeworthy.
Alex Wong Getty Images

Originally published on Wed April 30, 2014 5:28 pm

All of us who write for a living know what it's like to completely forget something you wrote 13 years ago.

But when a Supreme Court justice pointedly cites the facts in a decision he wrote, and gets them exactly wrong, it is more than embarrassing. It makes for headlines among the legal cognoscenti.

I'm not sure I rank as one of the cognoscenti, but here's my headline for Justice Antonin Scalia's booboo: "Nino's No-No."

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Law
2:03 pm
Tue April 29, 2014

Supreme Court Considers Limits On Warrantless Cellphone Searches

Originally published on Wed April 30, 2014 8:37 am

In a case that reaches into almost every American's pocket or purse, the U.S. Supreme Court struggled Tuesday to adapt modern technology to traditional legal rules. At issue was whether police can search cellphones without obtaining a warrant at the time of an arrest.

The courts have long allowed police to search people without a warrant when making an arrest. But those searches have been limited by the amount of information individuals could carry on their persons.

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All Tech Considered
1:14 am
Tue April 29, 2014

Weighing The Risks Of Warrantless Phone Searches During Arrests

The Supreme Court is hearing arguments in two cases over whether law enforcement can search cellphones obtained at an arrest without a warrant.
iStockphoto

Originally published on Thu May 1, 2014 11:10 am

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Tuesday in two cases testing whether police can search cellphones without a warrant at the time of an arrest, be it for a traffic violation or for a felony.

The Supreme Court has interpreted the Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches to require that police obtain a search warrant from a neutral judge upon a showing that there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed. The warrant is to specify where the search will be conducted and the evidence being sought.

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Law
2:00 pm
Mon April 28, 2014

Justices Troubled By Their Earlier Ruling On Public Employee Speech Rights

Originally published on Mon April 28, 2014 7:18 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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Law
1:37 am
Mon April 28, 2014

How A Public Corruption Scandal Became A Fight Over Free Speech

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

Originally published on Mon April 28, 2014 11:31 am

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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Law
2:16 pm
Tue April 22, 2014

High Court Upholds Michigan's Affirmative Action Ban

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

Originally published on Tue April 22, 2014 4:38 pm

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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Law
5:16 am
Tue April 22, 2014

Supreme Court Case Could Change How You Watch TV

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

Originally published on Tue April 22, 2014 7:42 am

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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Law
3:16 am
Tue April 22, 2014

Supreme Court Will Hear Challenge To Ohio Ban On Campaign Lies

Originally published on Tue April 22, 2014 6:12 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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