Supreme Court justices are generally robed and mysterious figures. Their faces are not emblazoned on T-shirts, painted on fingernails, tattooed on arms and shoulders, and their characters are not parodied on TV programs ranging from Saturday Night Live to Scandal. At least not until Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg became a cultural icon at about the same time she turned 80. Much of that iconic status is attributed to a Tumblr called “Notorious R.B.G.,” which now has been transformed into a graphic nonfiction book due out Tuesday.

Enraged by the Supreme Court ruling in 2012 that gutted the Voting Rights Act, Shana Knizhnik created an online tribute for the equally furious dissenter in that case: Justice Ginsburg. The “Notorious R.B.G.” Tumblr took off like a bobsled on ice.

Soon Ginsburg heard about the Tumblr. She laughingly explained in an interview with this reporter that one of her law clerks told her about it. The clerk, she added, “also explained to me what ‘Notorious R.B.G.’ was a parody on.” Giggling while telling the story, she continued, “Well, my grandchildren love it, and I try to keep abreast of what’s on the Tumblr.”

Notorious RBG: The Supreme Court Justice Turned Cultural Icon

Photos: Dey Street Books

Woman in Gold

It’s one of the great legal battles in art history, writes Nina Totenberg. 

Maria Altmann fought her way to the Supreme Court to force the Austrian government to give back this painting of her aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer. The painting, and others by artist Gustav Klimt, were taken from the Bloch-Bauer home by the Nazis and ended up in Austria’s federal art museum after the war. Altmann’s story is featured in the new film, Woman in Gold, out this week. 

NPR’s Nina Totenberg, who interviewed Altmann before she died, has more here:

After Nazi Plunder, A Quest To Bring The ‘Woman In Gold’ Home

(Photos: Getty Images, The Weinstein Company)


Behind the Mic: Office Style at NPR

In our latest Work Wear series, WSJ’s Robin Kawakami and photographer Kurt Wilberding visited the Washington headquarters of npr.

A few highlights in this dress code-free office:

  • Nina Totenberg, legal affairs correspondent, recalls looking at footage of herself at a press conference with Gerald Ford in the 1970s. She said: “If I had had any idea then that I was that pretty, I would’ve had a lot easier life.” Her reminder to younger folks: “You are really pretty. You just don’t know it.”
  • Scott Simon, host of “Weekend Edition Saturday," loves red socks and gets almost all of his clothes at a London store called Cordings. His colleagues tease him for looking stylish even in war zones.
  • Gene Demby, lead blogger of "Code Switch,” calls his style “schlubby preppy.” He and his boss pick a different color to wear during the first week of every month.
  • Michel Martin, host of “Tell Me More,” on how clothing is information. “If what you want to say is, ‘I just got out of bed and didn’t take a shower,’ that’s fine. But that’s not what I’m trying to say.”
  • Bob Boilen, host of “All Songs Considered,” saves items like Adele’s water bottle and Daniel Johnston’s leftover cookie for his music memorabilia shelves.

Read the full piece, including outfit details and audio clips, here.

“If I dress like a schlump, I think like a schlump and I work like a schlump.” - Nina Totenberg in the Wall Street Journal’s slideshow of how people dress for the office at NPR.

I’ve worked in public radio for twelve years now, though never in an office other than the one where I’m the boss, and this is a pretty representative sampling. Some people look great (Audie Cornish), some look a mess. It’s a funny world, defined in large part by an audience that can’t see you.

(Incidentally, for the twelve million people who’ve emailed me to ask: no picture of me in this feature because while my show is distributed by NPR, I work out of my own office in Los Angeles, not NPR HQ in DC.)


The denouement of a 35-year-drama takes place Thursday at the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan. And I trust that my father, virtuoso violinist Roman Totenberg, who died three years ago, will be watching from somewhere.

For decades he played his beloved Stradivarius violin all over the world. And then one day, he turned around and it was gone. Stolen.

While he was greeting well-wishers after a concert, it was snatched from his office at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, Mass.

My father would dream of opening his violin case and seeing the Strad there again, but he never lay eyes on it again. He died in 2012, but the Stradivarius lived on — somewhere.

Then, on the last day in June, I got a call from FBI Special Agent Christopher McKeogh.

“We believe that the FBI has recovered your father’s stolen violin,” he said.

A Rarity Reclaimed: Stolen Stradivarius Recovered After 35 Years

Photo and GIF credit: Courtesy of the Totenberg family


Same-sex marriage is at the Supreme Court today. And along with the plaintiffs and defendants, a record number of groups, individuals and governments filed amicus (”friend of the court”) briefs (seen above in green). Here they are by the numbers: 

  • 148 briefs filed, a record number
  • 136 previous amicus brief record, made in the 2013 Obamacare case
  • $25,000-$50,000 average cost to file one
  • 370 large & small businesses filed one brief
  • 76 briefs contending same-sex marriage bans are unconstitutional (as of 2 weeks ago)
  • 58 briefs defending the bans
  • 5 briefs supporting neither party

Read more about the briefs here. And the cases here.

You can follow npr news on Periscope, nprnews & nprpolitics on Twitter + for updates from the court throughout the day.

Photos: Emily Jan/NPR
Notorious RBG: The Supreme Court Justice Turned Cultural Icon : NPR

“The book has lots of these stories, tons of photos, drawings, a selection of annotated opinions, dissents, and doodles by RBG, and the Notorious RBG workout. Yes, her workout, which, as Carmon observed, includes 20 pushups: ‘Every time I tell somebody that she can do 20 pushups, no one believes me. But we fact-checked it.’”

[social sandbox] Advice from Emily Bogle, Scott Hensley, Nina Totenberg, Ira Glass

Hey everyone,

Your coworkers wrote the Sandbox today, which is great. We’ll start with Instagram, move to vulgarities, shift to Kat Chow, and end with Nina Totenberg and Ira Glass. 

What Caused An Increase In Engagement On InstagramEmily Bogle from the Viz team has noticed that the NPR Instagram community has started to tag their friends in the comment section as a way to share the story. She writes:

We have been increasing the number of posts on the NPR instagram account lately so we can showcase more of our great photographs, videos and illustrations. Typically we write a short description of the story and link to the full story in our profile since Instagram doesn’t provide a way to share a link in a post. We have seen a small amount of traffic coming from instagram but a more interesting thing to see is how our audience is tagging their friends in the comments as a way of sharing the image and story.

Want to increase your engagement? Well, #$%$% that. Writes Scott Hensley, “Profanity dramatically increases engagement. In case you can’t see this link, the engagement rate is 5%. Photos of my dog also help. Engagement rate 4%.”

Audio call-outs. Kat Chow did something really great yesterday. She decided to use a Google Voice number to ask for people to share Thanksgiving stories. Why is that great? Audio callouts! Think of the possibilities. (Plus, Google Voice auto transcribes the messages.)

Nina on Reddit: STATS: Nina’s Reddit AMA did really well. The chat got over 80,000 page views, including 37,962 uniques and 1.25 average time on page. From Reddit: "These are very good… Hope you are all pleased.” I love that I could hear every answer in her voice.

How to Listen to a Podcast: Before Serial launched, Ira Glass and co. released this video showing how older folks could download and listen to a podcast. I think this is so smart and probably generated a bigger audience for the podcast — especially among baby boomers — than it would have otherwise received.

See something? Let us know!

- @melodykramer


Just after President Obama and I concluded our interview — and after the microphones and cameras clicked off — he added a thought.

Senate Republicans’ vow not to consider the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court, he said, could have profound consequences for the high court and the justices themselves.

“The thing that could be lost,” said Obama, is the “collegiality” of the court, the ability to work together. When the confirmation gets so out of whack that it is “just impossible,” he said, that could bleed over and eventually erode “the ability to disagree without being disagreeable” that is the hallmark of an independent judiciary.

In a wide-ranging interview about the nomination, the president said that positive reviews about Garland from Republican senators were a significant factor in his decision to nominate the appeals court judge for a seat on the Supreme Court.

He called Garland “one of the best judges, not just in the country, but of his generation.”

Why President Obama Picked The ‘Only White Guy’ On His Shortlist

Video credit: NPR
Supreme Court Won't Hear Gay Marriage Cases In New Term

The Supreme Court’s new term will not include any cases that might decide the issue of same-sex marriage in the U.S., a development that comes after many lower and appeals courts have ruled against states’ bans on gay marriage. Advocates on both sides of the issue have been calling for the high court to review the issue and make an official ruling.

The court’s refusal of all the petitions related to bans on gay marriage means that the appeals courts’ decisions allowing gay marriage can now take effect. They had been on hold pending a potential review by the Supreme Court.

As NPR’s Nina Totenberg reported in her preview of the court’s new term on today's Morning Edition:

“Right now, the only cases pending before the court are lower court decisions favoring the right of same-sex couples to marry. But a Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals panel, which heard arguments last August in Ohio, sounded as if it might go the other way. If it does, that would provide the kind of traditional conflict the Supreme Court looks to resolve.”

The court denied petitions to review cases in states including Utah, Virginia, Indiana, Oklahoma and Wisconsin. But the effects are wider, as several federal appeals courts had taken up the question.

“For example, in Utah, there have been a whole bunch of marriages actually that were performed,” Nina says. “Those will now become legal. The same is true in Virginia and other states in the Fourth Circuit — for example, West Virginia.”

Nina notes that because several federal circuits had already overturned bans on same-sex marriage, the court’s refusal to review those cases affects 19 states, including some that had already legalized gay marriage.

The court’s refusal to review the issue means that same-sex marriage will now be legal in 11 states where it had been banned. On Morning Edition, Nina lists those states, grouping them by federal circuit:

North Carolina
South Carolina
West Virginia

Before the justices decided not to intervene, same-sex marriage was legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia and banned in 31 states. Today’s development flips that ratio, making it 30 states (and D.C.) where the marriages are legal.

As for the high court’s inner workings that may be behind the decision to avoid same-sex marriage cases, Nina tells our Newscast unit:

“One suspects that Justice Kennedy, who’s likely the deciding vote in this case, either the conservatives and liberals [on the court] weren’t sure how he would vote, or his view was, this should percolate and there should be more states where we know what the views of the country are before we want to take this on as a court.”

Today’s news comes as a surprise to those who suspected the justices might review a same-sex marriage case during the court’s new term in order to add more legal clarity to a contentious issue. But it was absent from the court’s list of new cases that was issued last week, and it was also missing from additional orders released Monday morning.

The high court held its opening conference last Wednesday; today marks the start of its October term, which will run through June 2015.

On complicated and important issues such as gay marriage, the Supreme Court looks for cases that it sees as the “best vehicle” to decide the issue, an elusive standard whose requirements include strong and clear arguments on both sides of a particular case. As Nina reported this morning, the lawyers who have been touting their own same-sex marriage cases as the best vehicle for the court were said to have “sounded more like car salesmen than Supreme Court advocates.”
Ruth Bader Ginsburg Says She Has Quite a Large Supply of Notorious RBG Shirts
Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is intimately familiar with the popular Tumblr created in tribute to her, Notorious R.B.G.

“At an event at the 92nd St Y in New York Sunday evening, Ginsburg said she maintains “quite a large supply” of t-shirts bearing her face and the reference to the late rapper Biggie Smalls, known also as The Notorious B.I.G. In an interview with National Public Radio legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg, Ginsburg said she gives them out as gifts.

Totenberg: On a somewhat lighter note, I want to ask you about the Notorious RBG t-shirt. [Applause, Cheers]. [….]

Ginsburg: I think a law clerk told me about this tumblr and also explained to me what Notorious RBG was a parody on. And now my grandchildren love it and I try to keep abreast of the latest that’s on the tumblr. I have - and in fact I think I gave you a Notorious RBG -

Totenberg: Two of my three. I bought one.

Ginsburg: I have quite a large supply.

Ginsburg offered high praise for Tumblr earlier this year in an interview with Yahoo News’ Katie Couric.

“Most of it I think is very funny. There is a rap song, and there is one using the words from the Hobby Lobby dissent. I haven’t seen anything that isn’t either pleasing or funny on the Web site,” she said. “I think she has created a wonderful thing with Notorious R.B.G. I will admit I had to be told by my law clerks, what’s this Notorious, and they explained that to me, but the Web site is something I enjoy, all of my family do.”

Read the full piece here

See the Tumblr here | More Notorious R.B.G. posts 

For Women’s History Month, the folks at SheKnows made some free RBG coloring book pages that you can download for free from their site:

  • Listen

FIRST MENTION: Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland was a prosecutor for the Justice Department working on the Oklahoma City bombing case when he made his NPR debut 21 years ago today.

For more on Garland’s involvement in the legal events surrounding the bombing, see this story, from NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg.

Photo: Merrick Garland speaks to press at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City on April 21, 1995. Courtesy of Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum.

About FIRST MENTION: With the help of the RAD team, NPR’s All Things Considered digs through the audio archives to find the first time a person or thing was mentioned on the NPR airwaves.