John Nagy | February 13, 2019
Nina Totenberg has been covering the United States Supreme Court since Earl Warren’s last year as chief justice, in 1969. As you might imagine, a few things have changed since then.
Start with the obvious, as NPR’s legal affairs correspondent did Thursday night, February 7, before an audience of more than 500 people in Corbett Family Hall’s seventh-floor ballroom. Though it still hasn’t reached parity, journalism’s gender landscape is evening out. Totenberg is far from the only woman in the newsroom — and she no longer writes her stories while sitting next to rookie male reporters making 50 percent more money than she does.
Over those five decades, Totenberg has reported on the nominations of three chief justices and 16 associate justices — and the unsuccessful nominations of several others — while becoming the nation’s foremost journalistic interpreter of the Supreme Court. Of the shifts she’s witnessed, those of greatest interest to her audience happened inside the court and in the law itself.
Her candid conversation with Notre Dame law professor and constitutional scholar Randy Kozel, sponsored by the Law School, traced several. The Supreme Court’s caseload has been cut in half, down from about 160 cases per term in the early 1970s to more like 75 or 80 today. Diversity of experience is no longer a priority for nominations — where the Warren court featured former politicians of wide-ranging achievements, Totenberg said that all the current justices save Elena Kagan were plucked straight from the federal appeals courts.
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