Commencement 2015 Speaker
NPR Legal Affairs Correspondent
Doctor of Humane Letters
Nina Totenberg is one of the nation’s preeminent legal affairs correspondents. Her award-winning coverage of the Supreme Court and legal affairs across the country airs regularly on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition. She is also a frequent panelist and guest on television public affairs programs and has published articles in the New York Times Magazine, the Harvard Law Review, Parade Magazine, and New York Magazine, among others. In 1991, her NPR report on Law Professor Anita Hill’s allegations of sexual harassment against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas prompted the Senate Judiciary Committee to re-open Thomas’s confirmation hearings and ultimately initiated a national paradigm shift regarding sexual harassment in the workplace. The American Bar Association (ABA) has honored her seven times, and she has received numerous awards in journalism and broadcasting. She has been consistently recognized for her broad knowledge of the U.S. legal system, her persistence in following leads, her meticulous journalistic integrity, and her courageous coverage of controversial topics.
After landing her first job writing fashion stories and wedding announcements, Ms. Totenberg worked hard to gain news experience and eventually became a political reporter before proving her special talent for legal reporting at the National Observer. While writing background reports on the Supreme Court, she carefully studied legal briefs and educated herself on legal decisions and key issues; her astute understanding and skilled communication of Supreme Court decisions earned a Silver Gavel Award from the ABA. She quickly became known for her well-documented reporting and her unrelenting hard work. In 1975, she became NPR’s legal affairs correspondent. At NPR, she covered the background of every nominee to the Supreme Court, the Iran-Contra scandal, and revealed that Douglas H. Ginsburg, nominated for the Supreme Court by President Ronald Reagan in 1987, had openly smoked marijuana while teaching at Harvard Law School.
Ms. Totenberg has consistently fought for freedom of the press and for public access to government information. She has received intense criticism for her controversial reports from detractors across the spectrum of political opinion. In 1992, she refused to reveal her sources for the Anita Hill report to a senate committee; the committee’s special counsel sought a contempt citation against her, but did not succeed. For that coverage, she earned the George Foster Peabody Award and the Alfred I. Dupont Award, the top two journalism awards. Her coverage of the Clarence Thomas scandal sparked a national dialogue about sexual harassment that permanently changed codes of professional conduct in the workplace. The number of sexual harassment suits skyrocketed in the ensuing years, creating legal precedents that continue to protect American workers today.
Over the course of her distinguished career, Ms. Totenberg has also received the Sigma Delta Chi Award from the Society of Professional Journalists; the Carr Van Anda Award from the Scripps School of Journalism; the George Polk Award for excellence in journalism from Long Island University; and the Joan S. Barone Award for excellence in Washington-based national affairs/public policy reporting. In 1998, the National Press Foundation named her Broadcaster of the Year and gave her the Sol Taishoff Award for Excellence in Broadcasting making her the first radio journalist to receive this accolade. The American Judicature Society honored her by giving her their inaugural award for a body of work in the field of journalism and law.
For over four decades, Ms. Totenberg has educated and informed the public about the most important legal decisions made in this country, and her fearless and consistently nuanced reporting has made major contributions to the American understanding of the legal system.
Last modified April 02 2015 02:06 PM