Friends of the Court

While there has been plenty of press coverage of the Supreme Court’s landmark court decisions over the years, the Justices themselves have long evaded the kind of public scrutiny endured by elected officials and other public servants. Seeking to shed light on one of the most opaque branches of government, this reporting team used a series of unconventional reporting techniques – cross-referencing highly redacted records from U.S. Marshals with flight data, hunting down fishing licenses, private yacht schedules, photos on social media and interviews with hundreds of people around the world – to reveal a system that enables judges to thwart ethical oversight and conceal conflicts of interest as they rule on the country’s most consequential legal cases. Their reporting prompted investigations by the Senate Judiciary and Finance committees and led to the Supreme Court’s adoption of a code of conduct for the first time in its history.

Unfettered Power: Mississippi Sheriffs

In the summer of 2022, Mississippi Today reporter Jerry Mitchell was alarmed by how often sheriffs accused of committing serious crimes managed to evade any consequences and remain in office. Mitchell and reporter Ilyssa Daly began investigating the state’s sheriffs and soon found themselves inundated with corruption allegations and harrowing tales of torture and violence from victims and witnesses across the state. Joining forces with the New York Times, the team obtained records logged from officers’ Tasers (the preferred torture device of the deputies, according to victims) and matched the logs with other departmental records to determine which device was assigned to each deputy. This allowed them to corroborate the victims’ accounts and identify additional victims. Their series of reports led to the federal indictment of one former sheriff and “lit a fire under federal authorities,” with the FBI requesting the reporters’ help in reaching the victims and witnesses for interviews.

This project was in part supported by Big Local News at Stanford University and the Pulitzer Center.

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.

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. She is the author of the New York Times bestseller Dinners with Ruth: A Memoir on the Power of Friendships.

Investigating Federal Prison Abuse 

The moment Jeffrey Epstein was found dead from a suicide in his federal jail cell, Associated Press reporters Mike Balsamo and Mike Sisak got to work. The two wanted to understand how the Federal Bureau of Prisons could have been so dysfunctional that its highest profile inmate in decades could have taken his own life. What followed was an investigation involving the federal Bureau of Prisons, the Justice Department’s largest law enforcement agency, that exposed systemic corruption, abuse of inmates and a culture that punished whistleblower employees while rewarding those involved in beatings of inmates and other serious misconduct with promotions, despite a record of dangerous behavior. In response to the AP’s investigation, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee demanded Attorney General Merrick Garland fire then-director Michael Carvajal, leading to Carvajal’s resignation. The reporting also led to a series of hearings by the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. 

Juvenile Injustice, Tennessee

In 2016, police arrested four Black girls at an elementary school in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Through more than 50 records requests and hundreds of hours of audio and video, reporters from WPLN and ProPublica uncovered a deeply unjust juvenile justice system that illegally arrested and jailed children, and disproportionately detained Black children. They discovered that the four girls, one as young as 8, were arrested for a crime that does not exist, in an investigation led by an officer who had been disciplined 37 times, on charges approved by judicial commissioners without law degrees, in a system overseen by a judge who failed the bar exam four times, in a county whose policy for locking up kids violated Tennessee law but was missed by inspectors year after year. Members of Congress have called for a federal civil rights investigation, and some members of the Tennessee legislature have called for the judge’s ouster. After the story was published, the judge announced she would be retiring at the end of her term this summer.

Crisis in the Catholic Church

Investigative reports from the Boston Globe exposed the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church.

“The Failure of the Death Penalty in Illinois” and “State of Execution: The Death Penalty in Texas”

A Tribune investigative series on problems plaguing the capital punishment system in the state.

Trial & Error

A five-part Tribune investigation that found 381 people who had homicide verdicts overturned because of prosecutor misconduct since 1963.

Who Owns the Law? West Publishing and the Courts

In a series prepared over four months, the journalists exposed federal judges accepting gifts from a private corporation often amounting to expensive vacations. The articles raised questions about the propriety of federal judges and the ensuing hidden corruption in the justice system.


Journalists Gary Cohn and Ginger Thompson were recognized for their series “Battalion 316” which told of atrocities committed by a secret Honduran Intelligence Unit that had been trained and equipped by the CIA.