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Sahil Kapur

Sahil Kapur is TPM's senior congressional reporter and Supreme Court correspondent. His articles have been published in the Huffington Post, The Guardian and The New Republic. Email him at sahil@talkingpointsmemo.com and follow him on Twitter at @sahilkapur.

Articles by Sahil

On March 15, 1965, a week after Alabama state troopers brutally attacked civil rights protesters in Selma, President Lyndon Johnson delivered a stirring speech to a joint session of Congress introducing a bill to end voter discrimination against blacks.

The law that it gave birth to, the Voting Rights Act, now hangs in the balance, with oral arguments next week before the Supreme Court. Five conservative justices are skeptical that a centerpiece of the nearly-half-century-old law is constitutional.

"I speak tonight for the dignity of man and the destiny of democracy," Johnson said that night, nearly half a century ago. "A century has passed, more than a hundred years, since equality was promised. And yet the Negro is not equal. A century has passed since the day of promise. And the promise is unkept. The time of justice has now come."

Days later, he submitted legislation to Congress aimed at taking stringent, unprecedented steps to end voter discrimination and disenfranchisement. As Congress took it up, opponents rebelled.

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President Obama said Thursday on Al Sharpton's radio show that the Republicans' overarching priority is to protect affluent Americans from tax increases.

"Their basic view is that nothing is important enough to raise taxes on wealthy individuals or corporations," Obama said in a portion of the interview that was played on MSNBC. "And they would prefer to see these kinds of cuts that could slow down our recovery over closing tax loopholes."

Supporters of the Voting Rights Act are painting a bleak picture of what it would mean for the rights of minority voters if the Supreme Court were to strike down the landmark 1965 law's Section 5, which requires state and local governments with a history of disenfranchising minority voters (i.e. mostly in the south) to receive preclearance from the Justice Department or federal court before changing laws that affect voting.

"Broadly speaking, if we didn't have Section 5 we would find that minority voters are in many places around the covered jurisdictions will have their ability to equally participate in the political process severely compromised," Julie Fernandes, a civil rights activist and former deputy assistant attorney general at the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, said this week. "We'll see a lot more of the diluting tactics that we used to have."

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Although he now blames President Obama for the draconian spending cuts set to take effect March 1, just days before it passed House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) characterized the so-called sequester to Republicans as a way to hold the president accountable.

A PowerPoint presentation that Boehner sent to his conference on July 31, 2011, reported by TPM at the time and resurfaced by The Daily Beast's John Avlon, cast the sequester and the rest of the deal in favorable terms. The seven-slide PowerPoint was titled "Two-Step Approach To Hold President Obama Accountable" and the final slide made the case for sequestration.

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House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) responded Wednesday to a letter by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta about the adverse consequences of the sequester by blaming President Obama and Senate Democrats.

“I agree with the Secretary of Defense that the impact of the president’s sequester would be devastating to our military.  That’s why the House has acted twice to replace the president’s sequester with common-sense cuts and reforms that protect our national security, and it’s why I’ve been calling on the president for more than a year to press his Democratic-controlled Senate to do the same.  Despite dire warnings from his own Secretary of Defense for more than a year that the sequester would ‘hollow out’ our military, the president has yet to put forward a specific plan that can pass his Democratic-controlled Senate, and has exerted no pressure on the Democratic leadership of the Senate to actually pass legislation to replace the sequester he proposed.  As the commander-in-chief, President Obama is ultimately responsible for our military readiness, so it’s fair to ask: what is he doing to stop his sequester that would ‘hollow out’ our Armed Forces?”

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta wrote a letter dated Wednesday to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) warning that if sequestration goes into effect, it will cause furloughs and "do real harm" to national security.

"If faced with sequestration, the Defense Department will be forced to forego critical objectives," Panetta wrote, calling the cuts "destructive" and saying "the Department will have to consider furloughs across the entire defense civilian workforce in order to meet the fiscal target mandated by sequestration."

He warned that as a result, "the workload on each employee and the requirements for each position that will result from such furloughs will be increased beyond what can reasonably be achieved."

"The furloughs contemplated by this notice will do real harm to our national security," Panetta wrote.

When the Supreme Court hears oral arguments next week about the constitutionality of a key element of the Voting Rights Act, the Obama administration and other proponents of the law will be facing five very skeptical justices.

Shelby County v. Holder is the latest in a string of landmark cases that will shape the legacy of the Roberts Court. Proponents of the law are extremely nervous, and privately acknowledge that they face a steep uphill climb in winning over a majority of the justices.

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A total of 26 Republican-led or Republican-leaning states have declined to establish insurance exchanges, a centerpiece of the reforms ushered in by the Affordable Care Act, ceding control of a critical element of their health care system to the federal government.

The ACA requires the creation of the one-stop marketplaces called exchanges to connect buyers and sellers of health insurance -- the vehicle through which the law would expand coverage and protect consumers. The law encourages states to build their own exchanges under the guidelines. If they refuse, the federal government will take on the task.

By last Friday's deadline, just 17 states and Washington, D.C., submitted their plans for exchanges. Just four of them are governed by Republicans -- Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. An additional seven states intend to build their exchanges in partnership with the federal government. The exchanges are scheduled to go live on Jan. 1, 2014.

Of the remaining 26, twenty-four have Republican governors. The other two, Montana and Missouri, have decidedly conservatives electorates and Republican-controlled legislatures.

Kaiser Health News has a chart of where the states stand:

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President Obama has already gone to battle twice with Republicans on momentous fiscal issues since his re-election. Both times the GOP caved.

Will they do so again?

President Obama delivered a speech Tuesday morning in the White House complex detailing the "troubling" consequences of the sequester -- deep, indiscriminate spending cuts to defense and domestic programs set to take effect on March 1 -- and demanding that Republicans drop their blanket opposition to raising revenues in a deal to avoid it.

Flanked by a group of first responders, Obama called the cuts "arbitrary" and "brutal," warning that they will "hurt our economy" and cost "hundreds of thousands" of jobs.

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said in a statement Tuesday that President Obama's speech on the sequester suggests that the president prefers campaigning to finding a solution.

"Today’s event at the White House proves once again that more than three months after the November election, President Obama still prefers campaign events to common sense, bipartisan action. Surely the President won't cut funds to first responders when just last year Washington handed out an estimated $115 billion in payments to individuals who weren’t even eligible to receive them, or at a time when 11 different government agencies are funding 90 different green energy programs. That would be a terrible and entirely unnecessary choice by a President who claims to want bipartisan reform."

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