Nina Totenberg | New Hampshire Public Radio

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. She is often featured in documentaries — most recently RBG — that deal with issues before the court. As Newsweek put it, "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, including 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 more than two dozen honorary degrees. On a lighter note, Esquire magazine twice named her one of the "Women We Love."

A frequent contributor on TV shows, she has also written for major newspapers and periodicals — among them, The New York Times Magazine, The Harvard Law Review, The Christian Science Monitor, and New York Magazine, and others.

For the second time in as many weeks, the U.S. Supreme Court is tackling a major religion case. This time the question is whether lay teachers at parochial schools are exempt from the nation's fair employment laws.

But the court's eventual decision could reach beyond teachers, affecting the lives of millions of other employees who work for religiously affiliated institutions.

For the first time in its 231-year history, the Supreme Court justices heard oral arguments remotely by phone and made the audio available live.

The new setup went off largely without difficulties, but produced some memorable moments, including one justice forgetting to unmute and an ill-timed bathroom break.

Here are the top five can't-miss moments from this week's history-making oral arguments.

Updated at 7:35 p.m.

In a unanimous decision Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the convictions of two former aides to the then governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, in what came to be known as the "Bridgegate" scandal.

The high court said the evidence presented to the jury "no doubt shows wrongdoing—deception, corruption, abuse of power." But because the aides involved in the scheme did not obtain money or property for themselves, they did not violate the fraud statutes under which they were prosecuted.

Updated at 5:11 p.m. ET

A closely divided Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday in a case testing Trump administration rules that cut back on access to birth control under the Affordable Care Act. The difficulty of the issues was illustrated by the fact that the arguments lasted 49 minutes longer than scheduled.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg underwent non-surgical treatment Tuesday for a benign gallbladder condition, according to a press release from the Supreme Court. She plans to participate in oral arguments from the hospital on Wednesday, according to the release.

The Supreme Court kicked off a second day of telephone arguments Tuesday with a case that mingles sex, the HIV/AIDS epidemic and free speech.

At issue is whether the government can require private nonprofits to denounce prostitution in order to qualify for U.S foreign aid grants aimed at fighting the worldwide AIDS epidemic. This is the second time the court has faced this issue, but this time it comes with a twist.

The U.S. Supreme Court made history Monday. The coronavirus lockdown forced the typically cautious court to hear arguments for the first time via telephone, and to stream the arguments live for the public to hear.

Chief Justice John Roberts was at the court as the telephone session began, one or two other justices were in their offices at the court, and the rest of the justices dialed in from home.

The U.S. Supreme Court is no stranger to controversy, but it still gets higher marks in public opinion polls than the other branches of government. Now though, for the first time in memory, the court is not just split along ideological lines, but along political lines as well: All the conservatives are Republican appointees, all the liberals Democratic appointees. That division could put the court in the crosshairs of public opinion if it is forced to make decisions that affect the 2020 election.

What does the right to a unanimous jury verdict have to do with abortion, or school prayer, or federal environmental regulations? Stay tuned.

The U.S. Supreme Court Monday struck down state laws in Louisiana and Oregon that allowed people accused of serious crimes to be convicted by a non-unanimous jury vote. The 6-to-3 decision overturned a longstanding prior ruling from 1972, which had upheld such non-unanimous verdicts in state courts.

And these days, any decision to overturn a longstanding precedent rings the alarm bells in the Supreme Court.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Updated at 7:44 p.m.

The U.S. Supreme Court is taking the plunge. On Monday, it announced it will hear nearly a dozen oral arguments by remote telephone hook-up in May. The court said that the media would have live access to the arguments, and would be able to post online.

The U.S. Supreme Court has once again postponed oral arguments scheduled for this spring, but this time the court seemed to hint it might not hear arguments in most cases until next term.

Following postponement of arguments scheduled for the last two weeks of March, the court on Friday announced that it would delay another round of oral arguments — its last for the term — scheduled for the second half of April.

The U.S. Supreme court ruled Monday that states are free to abandon the insanity defense for accused criminals who contend they did not know right from wrong. The decision upholds a Kansas law that essentially allows consideration of mental status only at the sentencing phase of a trial.

There were fierce clashes at the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday and a fierce critique from Chief Justice John Roberts afterward upon learning about statements made by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer outside while the arguments were taking place inside.

Addressing a crowd of abortion-rights demonstrators, Schumer, D-N.Y., referred to the court's two Trump appointees, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, and said, "You have unleashed the whirlwind and you will pay the price. You won't know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions."

If you have a mortgage or a loan or a credit card, you likely have more protection from deceptive practices in the financial services industry today than you did at the time of the 2008 financial crash. But at the Supreme Court Tuesday, the court's conservative majority voiced skepticism about the independent agency Congress created to protect consumers from abuse in the financial services industry.

At the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday, the Trump administration is seeking to make it easier for the president to call in the heads of the nation's independent agencies and say those words he was famous for on TV: "You're fired!" In particular, the administration is asking the court to restrict or reverse a decision that dates back nearly a century and that has been repeatedly reaffirmed.

In a potentially historic case, the Supreme Court heard arguments Monday on the Trump administration's policy of speeding deportations of asylum seekers without them ever having a chance to have their cases heard by a judge.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Updated at 8:34 p.m. ET

Like it or not, Chief Justice John Roberts finds himself drawn into impeachment controversies perhaps more than he anticipated. Over a 24-hour period, he has twice refused to put a question from Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., to the House impeachment managers and lawyers for President Trump.

In a case with potentially profound implications, the U.S. Supreme Court's conservative majority seemed ready to invalidate a provision of the Montana state constitution that bars aid to religious schools. A decision like that would work a sea change in constitutional law, significantly removing the longstanding high wall of separation between church and state.

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments Wednesday in a major case that could dramatically alter the line separating church and state.

At issue is a Montana state constitutional amendment that bars direct and indirect taxpayer aid to religious institutions. Conservative religious groups and advocates of school choice are challenging the "no-aid" provision.

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear two cases challenging state attempts to penalize Electoral College delegates who fail to vote for the presidential candidate they were pledged to support.

Electoral College delegates are selected by each party, and under state laws, they are pledged to cast their ballots for the candidate who carries the popular vote. But from 1796 to 2016, over 20 presidential elections, 150 electors have not abided by that pledge, according to FairVote, a nonpartisan voting rights advocacy group.

There were some acerbic and personal comments from the justices of the Supreme Court on Wednesday, as they heard an age discrimination case that could affect more than a million federal workers over the age of 40.

The federal law says that "all personnel decisions" made in the federal workforce "shall be made free from age discrimination."

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has long interpreted that to mean that if a federal worker can show that age was a factor in denying her a job or promotion, the worker is entitled to back pay or other remedies.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday weighed whether to make life more difficult for prosecutors in public corruption cases.

The modern-day court has made it increasingly difficult to prosecute public officials who abuse their power but don't personally enrich themselves. The court has thrown out multiple public corruption convictions in recent years, all but eviscerating broad statutes aimed at ensuring the honest services of public employees.

"Bridgegate" was the political scandal that marked the beginning of the end of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's presidential hopes. The scandal's legal consequences could prove more consequential if, as prosecutors fear, the criminal convictions in the case are thrown out by the Supreme Court.

On Tuesday, the justices will revisit the case that made headlines in 2013 on the first day of school when, unbeknownst to the public, officials close to Christie ordered the shutdown of two of three access lanes from Fort Lee onto the George Washington Bridge.

Twenty-one years ago Thursday, as the House approved articles of impeachment against President Bill Clinton, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott was sitting in his study in Pascagoula, Miss., "looking out on a beautiful live oak tree." With a sigh, the Republican leader picked up the phone to call Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, his Democratic counterpart.

"Whether we like it or not, this is sitting in our lap," he told Daschle, "and we've got to figure out how to deal with it."

Lott was a skilled vote-counter.

Updated at 6:35 p.m. ET

The U.S. Supreme Court said late Friday that it will review three lower court decisions upholding congressional and grand jury subpoenas for financial records from President Trump's longtime personal accountants and from banks he did business with.

The high court's order sets the stage for a constitutional battle over the limits of presidential power.

The U.S. Supreme Court examined Obamacare for the fifth time on Tuesday, only this time the justices cast their skeptical gaze on Republican efforts to hobble the law.

Enacted by a Democrat-controlled Congress in 2010, the Affordable Care Act promised to partially reimburse insurers if they lost money by covering people with preexisting conditions. The law said that the government "shall" make these payments. But in 2015, Republicans, by then in control of both houses of Congress, attached riders to appropriations bills barring the use of the money for the promised payments.

The arc of partisanship in impeachment, to some extent, matches the increased polarization of politics in America over the last 45 years. It moves from consensus to deadlock.

When the House Judiciary Committee votes on articles of impeachment against President Trump, the vote is expected to be along purely partisan lines — a far cry from the committee impeachment vote against President Richard Nixon in 1974, and different too from the President Bill Clinton's impeachment in 1998.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Pages