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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."

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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And now we are joined by NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg. She watched the hearing today. Hi there, Nina.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Hi there.

Supreme Court confirmation hearings are the stuff of novels and movies, but they are the stuff of reality TV, too.

For critics of the nominee — any nominee — the object is drama, even confrontation. For defenders of the nominee, the object is boredom. A confirmation hearing with no sparks and no controversy is a surefire path to a seat on the court.

So far, Gorsuch critics have been having difficulty getting traction — having been trumped, as it were, by other controversies. But there has been plenty going on behind the scenes.

At most Supreme Court confirmation hearings, questions focus on hot-button social issues — abortion, affirmative action, same-sex marriage — and the hearings next week on Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch will be no exception.

But senators are also likely to spend a lot of time examining the nominee's views on federal regulations — of the environment, health and safety laws for workers, and laws on consumer rights and business.

In question is a doctrine that Gorsuch has criticized but that also once helped his mother.

The Chevron doctrine

With the Senate Judiciary Committee set to open hearings on the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court, the game of confirmation cat and mouse is about to begin. Senators will try to get a fix on Gorsuch's legal views — and the nominee will try to say as little as possible.

Supreme Court scholars and practitioners on the right and left may disagree about whether they want to see Gorsuch confirmed, but in general there is little doubt about the nominee's conservatism. Indeed, his conservative pedigree is the reason he was picked.

In music, a coda is a passage that brings a musical composition to an end. This is the coda to a musical saga — the story of the Stradivarius violin that was stolen 37 years ago from my late father, violinist Roman Totenberg, and recovered in 2015.

That violin, made by Antonio Stradivari in 1734, was my father's "musical partner" for 38 years as he toured the world.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that when clear evidence emerges after a jury verdict that there was racial bias during deliberations, the trial judge must make an exception to the usual rule protecting the secrecy of deliberations in order to determine whether the defendant was denied a fair trial. The vote was 5-to-3.

Writing for the court majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said that racial discrimination is unlike other types of misconduct that may occur in the jury room because it "implicates unique historical, constitutional and institutional concerns."

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It was, to be blunt, sex day at the Supreme Court. The justices heard two cases, both involving men who had been punished for having consensual sex with a minor. In one case, a 21-year-old legal resident of the U.S. was ordered deported after he pleaded no contest to having sex with his 16-year-old girlfriend. That would not be a crime in 43 states or under federal law, but it was enough to get him deported for having committed an "aggravated felony" in California.

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In 2010, Lester Packingham was convicted of having a Facebook account. That's a crime in North Carolina, which bars registered sex offenders from "accessing" certain social media sites, including Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments on whether that law violates the First Amendment guarantee of free speech. Packingham contends the statute, instead of being narrowly targeted, encompasses a "vast amount" of speech that is protected by the Constitution.

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With security at the U.S.-Mexico border at the center of a seething controversy, the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court seemed torn at oral arguments on Tuesday — torn between their sense of justice and legal rules that until now have protected U.S. Border Patrol agents from liability in cross-border shootings.

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The cellphone video is vivid. A Border Patrol agent aims his gun at an unarmed 15-year-old some 60 feet away, across the border with Mexico, and shoots him dead.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments in a case testing whether the family of the dead boy can sue the agent for damages in the U.S.

Between 2005 and 2013, there were 42 such cross-border shootings, a dramatic increase over earlier times.

Americans are used to the hurly burly of political and legal debate. But presidents historically have been careful about criticizing individual judges or their motives.

However, President Donald Trump tweeted and railed against the judges who have ordered a temporary halt to his ban on people entering or returning to the U.S. from seven mostly Muslim countries.

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When the country elects a Republican president, and there's an opening on the U.S. Supreme Court, that president will nominate a conservative to fill the seat. The question is: What kind of a conservative?

There are different kinds of conservative judges, from the pragmatist to the originalist. Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Trump's nominee, is a self-proclaimed originalist.

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It seems like five weeks and not five days since the president announced he would be nominating federal appeals court Judge Neil Gorsuch to the open seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.

The late Justice Antonin Scalia may not have been the original originalist, but he popularized what had once been a fringe legal doctrine. He argued for it both on and off the U.S. Supreme Court and brought originalism into if not the mainstream then at least into the center of legal debate.

In Washington, D.C., the cognoscenti confidently predict that Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch will be easily confirmed. But both supporters and opponents are chastened by the predictors' embarrassingly wrong prognostications over the past year. And that is presenting Senate Democrats in particular with a strategic dilemma.

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President Trump is set to announce his pick for the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday, fulfilling a promise he made to social conservatives on the campaign trail to name someone like the late Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative icon whose seat has been vacant for almost a year.

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President Trump says he plans to announce his pick for the U.S. Supreme Court next week.

The Trump administration has begun to float specific names for the high court's vacancy. The consensus seems to be that among the finalists on Trump's shortlist are Neil Gorsuch, a judge on the federal appeals court based in Denver; Judge William H. Pryor Jr. of Alabama, who served on the federal appeals court based in Atlanta; and Judge Thomas Hardiman of Pittsburgh, who serves on the 3rd Circuit Federal Court of Appeals.

"The Oath." It sounds like the name of a book, and indeed, there have been many volumes with that name. But none more relevant this week than The Oath specified in the Constitution for the president of the United States when he takes office.

The 35 words in Article II, Section I, of the Constitution read as follows:

"I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

Rarely have U.S. Supreme Court arguments been more schizophrenic than they were on Wednesday.

The justices were hearing a challenge to the 1946 trademark law barring the federal registration of trademarks that "disparage" groups and individuals. The challenge was brought by an Asian-American rock group called, "The Slants."

The band members acknowledge that the name they picked for their group is seen as offensive and racist by many Asian-Americans, but they say they are seeking to reclaim the term and make it something positive.

What do the McDonald's golden arches, the apple on your iPhone, the NBC peacock, the Nike swoosh and the MGM lion have in common?

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on Wednesday in a dispute that advocates describe as the most important case involving public school special education in three decades.

At issue is whether federal law requires public schools to provide more than the bare minimum in special services for children with disabilities. With millions of children qualifying for these services, the court's ruling could have a profound effect.

Confirmation controversies kick off when the Senate Judiciary Committee convenes hearings Tuesday on the nomination of Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions to be attorney general.

Sessions has repeatedly amended the Senate questionnaire he submitted to the committee last month. Among the changes is his answer to a question asking the nominee to list any "unsuccessful nominations for appointive office." In his original answer, Sessions failed to list the fact that the Senate Judiciary Committee rejected his nomination to be a federal judge 30 years ago.

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