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.

Pages

Law
3:53 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.

Read more
NPR Story
3:25 pm
Mon April 22, 2013

High Court Grapples With Free Speech And AIDS Organizations

People line up to enter the Supreme Court on Monday for arguments.
Mark Wilson Getty Images

Originally published on Mon April 22, 2013 7:52 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court grappled with a tough First Amendment issue on Monday that pits congressional priorities against free speech rights. At issue: what speech limitations may be placed on private groups that receive federal grant money to fight HIV/AIDS abroad.

The justices' questions revealed a court closely divided, and not along the usual liberal/conservative lines.

Read more
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.

Read more
Law
3:37 pm
Wed April 17, 2013

Supreme Court Curbs Lawsuits Over Foreign Abuses

Nigerian widow Esther Kiobel, a plaintiff in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, cries as she speaks outside the Supreme Court in October 2012.
Carolyn Kaster AP

Originally published on Wed April 17, 2013 6:37 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court dealt a blow to human-rights advocates Wednesday, in a case that was closely watched globally by human-rights groups and foreign governments.

The court limited the reach of a 224-year-old federal law that in recent decades has been used to hold foreign corporations and individuals accountable in U.S. courts for human-rights abuses abroad.

Read more
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.

Read more
Law
4:06 pm
Mon April 15, 2013

Supreme Court Weighs Patenting Of Human Genes

Medical geneticist Dr. Harry Ostrer (center) talks to the press outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday. The court heard oral arguments on the highly charged question of whether human genes can be patented.
Mladen Antonov AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Tue April 16, 2013 6:44 am

In a case considered pivotal to the future of science and medicine, the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court seemed skeptical Monday about a claim that human genes can be patented.

Contending that genes can be patented are the biotech and pharmaceutical industries, which see patents as the keys to new scientific exploration. On the other side are doctors, patients and many scientists, who see gene patents as an attempt to monopolize and block future exploration in the new universe of genetics.

Read more
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.

Read more
The Two-Way
4:44 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

Originally published on Thu March 28, 2013 4:52 pm

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?

Read more
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.

Read more
Same-Sex Marriage And The Supreme Court
3:58 pm
Wed March 27, 2013

Justice Kennedy May Be Deciding Vote In Defense Of Marriage Act Case

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday in a case challenging whether the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) means the federal government can deny marriage benefits to same sex couples in states that allow gay marriage. Same-sex couples had reason to be optimistic afterward. Assuming the court can overcome procedural concerns, it looked as if a majority of justices was ready to strike down DOMA.

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.

Read more
Same-Sex Marriage And The Supreme Court
5:29 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.

Read more
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.

Read more
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.

Read more
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.

Read more
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.

Read more
Same-Sex Marriage And The Supreme Court
3:03 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.

Read more
The Two-Way
1:43 pm
Tue March 19, 2013

Supreme Court OKs Discounted Resale Of 'Gray Market' Goods

People stand in line outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday.
Chip Somodevilla Getty Images

Originally published on Tue March 19, 2013 5:51 pm

The Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that U.S. companies that make and sell products abroad cannot prevent those items from being resold in the U.S.

The 6-3 decision — likely worth billions, even trillions of dollars — could have repercussions that extend from U.S. trade policy to local yard sales.

Read more
Law
2:43 pm
Mon March 18, 2013

Supreme Court Tests Limits Of Voter Registration Law

Arizona Attorney General Thomas Horne talks with reporters outside the U.S. Supreme Court after oral arguments in the case challenging Arizona's voter registration law on Monday.
Chip Somodevilla Getty Images

Originally published on Mon March 18, 2013 4:57 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Monday in a case that seeks to redefine a federal law aimed at streamlining the nation's voter registration process.

Congress enacted the law 20 years ago after it found that 40 percent of eligible voters were not registered to vote. Under the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, people can register by mail to vote in federal elections using a standard federal form. The form, among other things, asks prospective voters whether they are U.S. citizens and requires them to sign to the statement, under penalty of perjury.

Read more
Law
1:19 am
Mon March 18, 2013

Can States Go Beyond Federal Law On Voter Registration?

A voter fills out her ballot during early voting before the 2012 presidential election at the Gila County Recorder's Office in Globe, Ariz., on Oct. 26.
Joshua Lott Reuters/Landov

Originally published on Mon March 18, 2013 10:38 am

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Monday in a case that could upend the federal effort to spur and streamline voter registration.

At issue is an Arizona law that requires prospective voters to provide proof of citizenship when they register to vote. A federal appeals court ruled last year that the state law must fall because it conflicts with federal law.

Read more
Law
1:00 am
Fri March 1, 2013

Administration Asks Supreme Court To End Calif. Gay-Marriage Ban

Originally published on Fri March 1, 2013 6:47 am

The Obama administration has filed a friend of the court brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down California's ban on gay marriage as a denial of "equal protection under the law." But the brief does not call for the abolition of all state bans on same-sex marriage.

The case now before the high court tests the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8, a referendum narrowly passed by voters in 2008 that reinstituted a ban on gay marriage.

Read more
Law
5:29 pm
Thu February 28, 2013

Obama Administration Brief Doesn't Call For End To Bans On Gay Marriage

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish. This evening, the Obama administration filed a friend of the court brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down California's ban on gay marriage, but the brief does not call for abolition of bans on same-sex marriage across the country. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg joins us in the studio. And, Nina, just to start, remind us quickly how this case actually came to be.

Read more
Law
3:19 pm
Wed February 27, 2013

Conservative Justices Skeptical Of Key Part Of Voting Law

Originally published on Wed February 27, 2013 6:43 pm

A majority of Supreme Court justices seemed prepared on Wednesday to invalidate a key section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The law is considered the most effective piece of civil rights legislation in the nation's history.

Read more
Law
1:03 am
Wed February 27, 2013

Supreme Court Weighs Future Of Voting Rights Act

The Supreme Court on Wednesday weighs the future of a key provision of the landmark Voting Rights Act.
Carolyn Kaster AP

Originally published on Wed February 27, 2013 6:48 am

Once again, race is front and center at the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday. And once again, the bull's eye is the 1965 Voting Rights Act, widely viewed as the most effective and successful civil rights legislation in American history. Upheld five times by the court, the law now appears to be on life support.

Read more
Law
3:25 pm
Tue February 26, 2013

Supreme Court Makes It Harder To Challenge Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act

U.S. Supreme Court Police officers stand on the steps in front of the court building in November.
Chip Somodevilla Getty Images

Originally published on Tue February 26, 2013 5:48 pm

A sharply divided Supreme Court has made it practically impossible for American citizens to challenge the constitutionality of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Read more
Law
1:23 am
Tue February 26, 2013

Supreme Court Considers If Warrantless DNA Swab Violates Constitution

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments in a case about the collection of DNA evidence, and whether the Fourth Amendment prohibits police from obtaining DNA samples before conviction without a warrant.
Chip Somodevilla Getty Images

Originally published on Tue February 26, 2013 7:44 am

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments on Tuesday in a case that could throw a monkey wrench into the widespread use of DNA testing — a case that pits modern technology against notions of personal privacy.

Twenty-eight states and the federal government have enacted laws that provide for automatic DNA collection from people at the time of their arrest. The question is whether it is unconstitutional to do that without a warrant, for the sole purpose of checking the DNA against a national DNA crime scene database.

Read more
It's All Politics
3:13 am
Sat February 23, 2013

States Take Sides As Court Revisits Voting Rights Act

President Lyndon Johnson and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. discuss the Voting Rights Act in 1965. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court hears arguments on whether a key part of the law is still needed nearly a half century after its passage.
Hulton Archive Getty Images

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments next week in a case that tests the constitutionality of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the law considered the most effective civil rights statute in American history. At issue is whether a key provision of the statute has outlived its usefulness.

Read more
Law
1:17 am
Tue February 19, 2013

Prisoner's Handwritten Petition Prompts Justices To Weigh Government Immunity

The U.S. Supreme Court
J. Scott Applewhite AP

Originally published on Tue February 19, 2013 10:33 am

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright, the Supreme Court's landmark decision requiring the states to provide lawyers for poor people accused of committing crimes. Clarence Gideon, the defendant in that case, wrote his own petition to the high court in longhand, and Tuesday, the Supreme Court is hearing the case of another defendant who, in the longest of long shots, filed a handwritten petition from prison asking the justices for their help.

Read more
Law
12:39 pm
Fri February 8, 2013

Obama Team To Make Important, If Symbolic, Choice On Gay Marriage

People wait in line to enter the Supreme Court as the term began in October.
Carolyn Kaster AP

Originally published on Fri February 8, 2013 5:09 pm

The Obama administration faces tricky political and legal questions on the subject of gay marriage. By the end of this month, the federal government is expected to file not just one but two briefs in a pair of same-sex marriage cases at the U.S. Supreme Court.

But it is the Proposition 8 case from California that poses the thornier questions for the administration — questions so difficult that the president himself is expected to make the final decision on what arguments the Justice Department will make in the Supreme Court.

Read more
Books
1:51 pm
Wed January 30, 2013

Sotomayor's Memoir Already A Best-Seller

Originally published on Thu January 31, 2013 1:27 pm

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor's memoir is riding high, topping the New York Times best-seller list in its first week of sales.

My Beloved World, Sotomayor's account of her path from the tenements of the Bronx to the U.S. Supreme Court, is on track to outdistance even the best-selling books of other justices.

Read more

Pages