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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11:05am

Thu March 22, 2012
Judging The Health Care Law

The Man Behind The Defense Of Obama's Health Law

Originally published on Mon March 26, 2012 5:05 pm

Solicitor General Don Verrilli grew up in Connecticut and received his law degree from Columbia Law School.
Mark Wilson Getty Images

At 54, Don Verrilli Jr. stands tall and calm in the Supreme Court chamber, his salt and pepper mustache the only thing about him that bristles. His deep, baritone voice suggests to the justices that he is the essence of reasonableness. There are no histrionics. Indeed, if he gets backed into a corner, his voice just gets deeper. Only the occasional, needless throat-clearing betrays any nerves at all.

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6:56pm

Wed March 21, 2012
Law

Supreme Court: Property Owners Can Challenge EPA

Mike and Chantell Sackett of Priest Lake, Idaho, pose for a photo in front of the Supreme Court in Washington on Oct. 14, 2011. The court ruled unanimously Wednesday that property owners have a right to prompt review by a judge of an important tool used by the Environmental Protection Agency to address water pollution.
Haraz N. Ghanbari AP

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled unanimously in favor of an Idaho couple who were prevented from building their dream home after the Environmental Protection Agency barred them from building on their land. The agency claimed the property was protected wetlands under the federal Clean Water Act.

The ruling gives property owners the right to challenge an EPA compliance order from the time it is issued, rather than waiting for the agency to begin enforcement actions.

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5:02pm

Wed March 21, 2012
Law

High Court Throws Out 'Bad Lawyer' Convictions

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, shown on Capitol Hill in April 2011, wrote the court's ruling Wednesday that for the most part, plea bargaining determines "who goes to jail and for how long. It is not some adjunct to the criminal justice system. It is the criminal justice system."
Evan Vucci AP

For the first time, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that defendants have a constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel in plea bargains. In a 5-4 decision Wednesday, the court went further, declaring that when a lawyer acts unethically or gives clearly wrong advice, the defendant may be entitled to a second chance at accepting a plea offer.

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4:07am

Wed March 21, 2012
Law

Confronting The VP May Be Impolite. Is It A Crime?

Vice President Dick Cheney defends the Bush administration's policy on the war in Iraq in an address to the American Legion's annual conference in Washington, D.C., in 2006.
Leslie E. Kossoff AFP/Getty Images

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Wednesday in a case involving the arrest of a Colorado man who was thrown in jail after telling Vice President Cheney in 2006 that the Bush administration's policies in Iraq were "disgusting."

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7:20pm

Tue March 20, 2012
Law

Justices Limit State Liability Under Medical Leave Act

Originally published on Tue March 20, 2012 8:18 pm

Daniel Coleman outside the U.S. Supreme Court after oral arguments in his case in January. On Tuesday, the justices ruled against Coleman, holding that that states cannot be sued for money damages for failing to give an employee time off to recover from an illness under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
J. Scott Applewhite AP

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that states cannot be sued for money damages for failing to give an employee time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act to recover from an illness. The vote was 5 to 4 with no legal theory commanding a clear majority.

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6:14pm

Tue March 20, 2012
Law

Supreme Court Considers Life Sentences For Juveniles

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Tuesday in two cases that ask whether it is constitutional to sentence juveniles to life in prison without parole.
Paul J. Richards AFP/Getty Images

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday in two murder cases testing whether it is unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment to sentence a 14-year-old to life in prison without the possibility of parole. There are currently 79 people serving such life terms for crimes committed when they were 14 or younger.

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4:14am

Tue March 20, 2012
Law

Do Juvenile Killers Deserve Life Behind Bars?

Originally published on Tue March 20, 2012 3:18 pm

Raphael Johnson shot and killed a classmate when he was 17. After his release from prison, he got bachelor's and master's degrees and started a community policing program in Detroit.
Courtesy of Equal Justice Initiative

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Tuesday in two homicide cases testing whether it is unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment to sentence a 14-year-old to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

There are currently 79 of these juvenile killers who will die in prison. What's more, in many states, the penalty is mandatory, meaning neither judge nor jury is allowed to consider the youngster's age or background in meting out the sentence.

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4:59pm

Mon March 19, 2012
Law

Justices Weigh IVF Technology Against 1939 Law

Originally published on Mon March 19, 2012 7:19 pm

Justices heard arguments Monday in a case that attempts to reconcile modern in vitro fertilization technology with a 1939 law.
J. Scott Applewhite AP

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Monday in a case testing whether children conceived through in vitro fertilization after the death of a parent are eligible for Social Security survivors benefits.

The case before the court began in 2001 when Robert Capato was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. Before beginning treatments, he deposited sperm at a fertility clinic, and after he died, his wife, Karen, carried out the couple's plan to conceive using Robert's sperm.

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4:05am

Mon March 19, 2012
Law

Is A Baby Conceived After Dad's Death A 'Survivor'?

Originally published on Mon March 19, 2012 9:06 am

A technician places a fertilized human egg in a test tube. New technology has led to new legal questions: What happens to survivors benefits when a baby is conceived after a father's death?
Rich Frishman Getty Images

Two eras clash on Monday at the U.S. Supreme Court, when a law written in 1939 is applied to in vitro fertilization. At issue is whether children conceived through in vitro fertilization after the death of a parent are eligible for Social Security survivors benefits.

At least 100 such cases are pending before the Social Security Administration.

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2:51pm

Fri March 16, 2012
Shots - Health Blog

Supreme Court Will Release Same-Day Audio Of Health Care Arguments

The U.S. Supreme Court has announced that it will make available same-day audio of upcoming oral arguments later this month, arguments that could determine the fate of the Obama health care overhaul.

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6:04pm

Mon March 5, 2012
The Two-Way

High Court To Reconsider Major Human Rights Ruling

Originally published on Mon March 5, 2012 6:24 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court said Monday that it will hear reargument next term in a major human rights case, raising the specter that the justices might reverse a 2004 ruling that allowed some lawsuits in U.S. courts for human rights atrocities committed abroad.

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12:01am

Tue February 28, 2012
Law

Human Rights Victims Seek Remedy At High Court

Charles Wiwa fled Nigeria in 1996 following a crackdown on protests against Shell's oil operations in the Niger Delta. Now a resident of Chicago, Wiwa and other natives of the oil-rich Ogoni region are suing Shell for human rights violations.
Charles Rex Arbogast AP

Human rights are front and center at the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday in two cases testing how American law intersects with international law. At issue in both cases is whether foreign nationals in the United States can sue corporations or other entities in U.S. courts for alleged violations of human rights.

The case that has corporate teeth chattering is a lawsuit against Royal Dutch Shell Oil, which is accused of aiding and abetting the Nigerian government in committing atrocities in the 1990s.

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6:56pm

Wed February 22, 2012
Law

Is A Lie Just Free Speech, Or Is It A Crime?

The Supreme Court heard arguments over whether it should be a crime to lie about receiving military medals. Here large replicas of the Medals of Honor hang at the Medal of Honor Museum.
Bruce Smith ASSOCIATED PRESS

The U.S. Supreme Court took up the subject of lying on Wednesday.

Specifically at issue was the constitutionality of a 2006 law that makes it a crime to lie about having received a military medal. But the questions posed by the justices ranged far beyond that — from advertising puffery to dating lies.

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6:19pm

Wed February 22, 2012
Law

Supreme Court Considers Case On Military Honors

The Supreme Court engaged in a lively debate Wednesday when it heard oral arguments in a case testing whether the 2006 Stolen Valor Act is constitutional. The law makes it a crime to lie about military honors.

12:01am

Wed February 22, 2012
Law

Can 'I Won The Medal Of Honor' Get You Jailed?

Originally published on Wed February 22, 2012 8:03 pm

The Medal of Honor is held by a military honor guard at the White House last September, when President Obama awarded the medal to Marine Cpl. Dakota Meyer, 23, from Greensburg, Ky., for his actions in Afghanistan. The Supreme Court is now deciding if those who falsely claim to have won such military awards can be prosecuted for lying.
Charles Dharapak AP

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Wednesday in a case about lies, big and small, and when those lies can be a crime under the Constitution's guarantee of free speech. At issue is the constitutionality of a law making it a crime to lie about being the recipient of military medals.

At the center of the case is Xavier Alvarez, a man nobody disputes is a liar. He lied about being an ex-professional hockey player. He lied about being an engineer. He lied about rescuing the American ambassador during the Iranian hostage crisis. He even lied about being a retired Marine.

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