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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4:27pm

Tue May 27, 2014
Law

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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2:17pm

Tue May 27, 2014
Law

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

Originally published on Tue June 10, 2014 7:53 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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5:51pm

Tue May 20, 2014
Law

Judge Strikes Down Pennsylvania's Gay-Marriage Ban

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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2:16pm

Mon May 19, 2014
Law

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

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

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

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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4:06pm

Wed April 30, 2014
It's All Politics

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

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

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

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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2:24pm

Tue April 29, 2014
Law

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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1:14am

Tue April 29, 2014
All Tech Considered

Weighing The Risks Of Warrantless Phone Searches During Arrests

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

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

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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2:37pm

Mon April 28, 2014
Law

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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1:37am

Mon April 28, 2014
Law

How A Public Corruption Scandal Became A Fight Over Free Speech

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

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

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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5:40pm

Tue April 22, 2014
Law

Supreme Court Gives Police New Power To Rely On Anonymous Tips

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that police can stop and search a driver based solely on an anonymous 911 tip.

The 5-4 decision split the court's two most conservative justices, with Justice Clarence Thomas writing for the majority and Justice Antonin Scalia penning the dissent.

In August 2008, an anonymous 911 caller in California phoned in a report that a pickup truck had run her off the road. The caller gave the location of the incident, plus the make and model of the truck and the license plate number.

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2:16pm

Tue April 22, 2014
Law

High Court Upholds Michigan's Affirmative Action Ban

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

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

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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5:16am

Tue April 22, 2014
Law

Supreme Court Case Could Change How You Watch TV

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

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

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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3:16am

Tue April 22, 2014
Law

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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4:32pm

Mon April 7, 2014
Law

Group Goes Online To Find Affirmative Action Plaintiffs

Originally published on Mon April 7, 2014 6:18 pm

A group opposed to affirmative action in higher education is taking the unprecedented step of looking for plaintiffs online.

The Project on Fair Representation is advertising for college applicants willing to challenge Harvard University, the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

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2:16pm

Wed April 2, 2014
News

Supreme Court Strikes Down Pillar Of Campaign Finance Limits

Originally published on Wed April 2, 2014 8:16 pm

The Supreme Court
Evan Vucci AP

The U.S. Supreme Court has once again erased from the books a major provision of the nation's campaign finance law. By a 5-to-4 vote, the justices removed the cap on the total amount of money that donors can contribute to candidates and parties in each election. Prior to Wednesday's ruling, the aggregate limit was $123,000. Now there is no limit.

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2:56pm

Wed March 26, 2014
U.S.

Protesters Want To Sue Secret Service: Do They Have The Right?

Originally published on Wed March 26, 2014 6:24 pm

A 2004 case involving the Secret Service made its way to the Supreme Court Wednesday. Demonstrators want to sue for being moved away from then-President George W. Bush.
Charles Dharapak AP

On a day when three of President Obama's Secret Service agents were put on leave for "disciplinary reasons," the agency came under scrutiny in the U.S. Supreme Court for a separate incident.

The court heard arguments in a case testing whether Secret Service agents can be sued for moving a group of protesters out of earshot of President George W. Bush in 2004.

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2:16pm

Tue March 25, 2014
News

Justices Divide By Gender In Hobby Lobby Contraception Case

Originally published on Tue March 25, 2014 7:12 pm

There was a clear difference of opinion between male and female justices at the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday. The issue was whether for-profit corporations, citing religious objections, may refuse to include contraception coverage in the basic health plan now mandated under the Affordable Care Act.

The female justices were clearly supportive of the contraception mandate, while a majority of the male justices were more skeptical.

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1:18am

Tue March 25, 2014
Health Care

Hobby Lobby Contraceptive Case Goes Before Supreme Court

Originally published on Wed March 26, 2014 8:23 am

Hobby Lobby President Steve Green says the company should not have to provide insurance coverage for IUDs and morning-after pills for its 13,000 employees.
Tony Gutierrez AP

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Tuesday in the latest challenge to the Obama health care overhaul.

This time the issue is whether for-profit corporations, citing religious objections, may refuse to provide some, or potentially all, contraceptive services in health plans offered to employees. It is a case that touches lots of hot-button issues.

In enacting the ACA, Congress required large employers to provide basic preventive care for employees. That turned out to include all 20 contraceptive methods approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

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4:10pm

Thu March 20, 2014
The Two-Way

Lawrence Walsh, Who Investigated Iran-Contra Scandal, Dies At 102

Originally published on Fri March 21, 2014 4:20 pm

Iran-Contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh speaks to reporters in 1989.
Rick Bowmer AP

Lawrence Walsh, the special prosecutor who investigated charges of wrongdoing and criminality by top Reagan administration officials in the Iran-Contra scandal, has died.

He was 102.

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4:07pm

Thu March 20, 2014
The Two-Way

Lawrence Walsh: His Judgment Came Not From Confidence But From Insecurity

Originally published on Fri March 21, 2014 5:36 am

Lawrence Walsh in 1988.
Bob Daugherty AP

In 2003 the American Bar Association published Lawrence Walsh's autobiography, The Gift of Insecurity; A Lawyer's Life. Walsh died Wednesday at age 102. The following is the foreword NPR's Legal Affairs Correspondent Nina Totenberg wrote for the book.

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