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For 32 years, National Public Radio’s Nina Totenberg has been explaining how U.S. Supreme Court decisions affect the American public. On February 5, Totenberg will speak at Walnut Creek’s Lesher Center for the Arts. Here’s a preview of the Supreme Court insights she’ll share.
What will you talk about in Walnut Creek?
It will depend on what’s going on in the world at the time: if a justice decides to retire; if there is some huge issue coming down the pike.
Are more retirements possible?
Always. Justice [John Paul] Stevens is 86. Justice [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg is in her seventies. The word around Washington is that Justice [David H.] Souter is not the happiest of campers. Sandra Day O’Conner’s retirement was unexpected.
What big cases will be coming before the Supreme Court this term?
Whether a federal law banning partial-birth abortion is constitutional, limits on punitive damages [in a case involving Philip Morris being hit with a $79.5 million judgment], and school desegregation—whether race can be used in public school assignments to maintain racial diversity.
Any sense of the impact that new justices Samuel Alito and John Roberts will have on the court?
We won’t know a huge amount for several years. We’ll have some indication at the end of this term, but it will be limited. Sandra Day O’Conner didn’t become the justice we recognize today for a good 10 years.
How was it to twice be named one of Esquire’s Women We Love?
That was very, very nice.

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