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.


It's All Politics
5:23 pm
Mon June 8, 2015

Court Sides With President Over Congress In 'Jerusalem' Passport Dispute

Ari Zivotofsky (right) with his son, Menachem, outside the Supreme Court in 2011. Menachem, now 12, was born in Jerusalem, but the court ruled Israel cannot be noted as the birthplace on his passport.
Evan Vucci AP

The U.S. Supreme Court Monday sided with the president in a long-running struggle with Congress over who controls recognition of foreign countries and what information about nationhood can be put on the passports of American citizens.

In a 6-to-3 decision, the high court struck down a law requiring the State Department to indicate on passports that the city of Jerusalem is part of Israel. The decision was a blow to the pro-Israel lobby and to congressional power over certain parts of foreign policy.

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It's All Politics
8:48 pm
Mon June 1, 2015

Justices: Retailer Can't Refuse To Hire Someone Because She Wears Hijab

Samantha Elauf outside the Supreme Court after the court in February 2015.
Chip Somodevilla Getty Images

Originally published on Tue June 2, 2015 11:31 am

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that Abercrombie & Fitch violated the nation's laws against religious discrimination when it refused to hire a Muslim teenager because she wore a headscarf.

Samantha Elauf, 17, applied for a job selling clothes at the Abercrombie Kids store in Tulsa. She long had worn a hijab — a headscarf — for religious reasons, and she wore the black scarf when she was interviewed by the store's assistant manager.

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It's All Politics
5:05 pm
Wed April 29, 2015

It's Sotomayor V. Roberts In Supreme Court Death Penalty Drama

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor grilled lawyers arguing the constitutionality of new lethal-injection cocktails.
Win McNamee Getty Images

Originally published on Wed April 29, 2015 5:13 pm

Lethal injection was the grim subject before the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday. Specifically at issue: whether the drug combinations currently used to execute convicted murderers in some states are unconstitutionally cruel.

The issue comes to the court after three botched executions over the past year.

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It's All Politics
3:03 am
Wed April 29, 2015

After Botched Executions, Supreme Court Weighs Lethal Drug Cocktail

Bottles of the sedative midazolam at a hospital pharmacy in Oklahoma City.

Originally published on Wed April 29, 2015 4:39 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Wednesday in three death penalty cases testing which drug combinations constitute cruel and unusual punishment when used to execute a convicted murderer by lethal injection.

It is the second time in seven years that the justices have looked at the lethal injection question, and it comes after three botched executions over the past year.

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It's All Politics
5:53 pm
Tue April 28, 2015

Justices Deeply Divided Over Same-Sex-Marriage Arguments

Michelle McKelvey (left) and Meg McKelvey sit near demonstrators outside of the Supreme Court on Tuesday. They have been together for two years.
Emily Jan NPR

Originally published on Wed April 29, 2015 11:41 am

The justices of the U.S. Supreme Court seemed closely divided Tuesday over the question of gay marriage, with Justice Anthony Kennedy likely holding the deciding vote.

Kennedy, who over the past two decades has written the court's three decisions recognizing and expanding gay rights, seemed conflicted on the question of marriage.

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It's All Politics
3:01 am
Tue April 28, 2015

Record Number Of Amicus Briefs Filed In Same-Sex-Marriage Cases

The stack of amicus briefs filed as of April 9 reached past the knee of NPR legal affairs intern Anthony Palmer. The briefs cost, on average, an estimated $25,000 to $50,000.
Emily Jan NPR

Originally published on Tue April 28, 2015 7:25 am

This week's same-sex-marriage cases at the Supreme Court brought in a record number of friend-of-the-court briefs — 148 of them, according to the court, beating the previous record of 136 in the 2013 Obamacare case.

These briefs, known formally by their Latin name, amicus briefs, are filed by groups, individuals, and governments that have an interest in the outcome.

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It's All Politics
3:03 am
Mon April 27, 2015

Legal Battle Over Gay Marriage Hits The Supreme Court Tuesday

Protesters hold a pro-gay-rights flag outside the US Supreme Court on Saturday, countering the demonstrators who attended the March For Marriage in Washington, D.C. The Supreme Court meets on Tuesday to hear arguments over whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed in the United States, with a final decision expected in June.
Paul J. Richards AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Tue April 28, 2015 3:50 pm

People have been lining up outside the U.S. Supreme Court for days hoping that they will be among the lucky ones to get a seat for Tuesday's historic arguments on gay marriage.

As of now, gay marriage is legal in 36 states. By the end of this Supreme Court term, either same-sex couples will be able to wed in all 50 states, or gay marriage bans may be reinstituted in many of the states where they've previously been struck down.

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It's All Politics
2:34 am
Mon April 27, 2015

Same-Sex Marriage, In The Justices' Words

Chief Justice John Roberts (from left) and Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor at the State of the Union address earlier this year.
Mandel Ngan AP

Originally published on Fri May 1, 2015 10:19 am

The U.S. Supreme Court directly confronts the question of gay marriage this week with a whopping 2 1/2 hours of oral argument, accompanied by plenty of prognostication afterward about the expected results. It won't be until June that we learn how the issue is settled nationally. In the meantime, though, we do know a good deal about the views of the justices already.

To say that there has been a revolution in the law when it comes to gay rights is an understatement.

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NPR Story
1:39 pm
Tue April 21, 2015

Supreme Court: Police May Not Detain Traffic Violators Longer Than Necessary

Dissenting, Justice Samuel Alito called the court's decision "unnecessary, impractical, and arbitrary."
Carolyn Kaster AP

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that police may not detain a traffic violator longer than needed so as to allow police time to conduct a dog sniff for drugs.

Just after midnight on March 27, 2012, Dennys Rodriguez was spotted on a Nebraska highway veering slowly onto the shoulder and then back onto the road. Police officer Morgan Struble questioned Rodriguez and checked his license, registration and whether he had any outstanding arrest warrants. Everything checked out. Struble also questioned the passenger traveling with Rodriguez and checked his documents as well.

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2:39 pm
Mon April 20, 2015

Meet The 'Accidental Activists' Of The Supreme Court's Same-Sex-Marriage Case

Jayne Rowse (left) and April DeBoer with their four children, Jacob (from left), Rylee, Nolan and Ryanne at a news conference in March.
Valerie Macon Getty Images

Originally published on Mon April 20, 2015 4:23 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court hears legal arguments next week in the legal battle over same-sex marriage. It's an extraordinarily high-stakes clash, but the men and women at the center of it see themselves as incredibly ordinary. The 12 couples and two widowers include doctors, lawyers, an Army sergeant, nurses and teachers.

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