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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

The Republican-led House on Thursday passed the Democrats' version of the Violence Against Women on Thursday, relenting after a painful battle over expanded protections for gay, Native American and illegal immigrant women.

The final vote was 286-138, winning over 199 Democrats and 87 Republicans. It lost 138 GOP members. It's the third time Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has brought legislation to a floor vote without the support of at least half his conference. The GOP's substitute failed 166-257.

Because the same bill has already passed the Senate, it will go straight to President Obama, who said he looks forward to signing it into law.

"I was pleased to see the House of Representatives come together and vote to reauthorize and strengthen the Violence Against Women Act. Over more than two decades, this law has saved countless lives and transformed the way we treat victims of abuse," Obama said in a statement. "Renewing this bill is an important step towards making sure no one in America is forced to live in fear, and I look forward to signing it into law as soon as it hits my desk."

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Vice President Joe Biden, the original author of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act, on Thursday praised congressional leaders for putting aside politics and giving final passage to an expanded, inclusive reauthorization.

Biden said in a statement:

Today Congress put politics aside and voted to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. Eighteen years ago, I envisioned a world where women could live free from violence and abuse.  Since VAWA first passed in 1994, we have seen a 64% reduction in domestic violence.  I am pleased that this progress will continue, with new tools for cops and prosecutors to hold abusers and rapists accountable, and more support for all victims of these crimes. 

The urgent need for this bill cannot be more obvious.  Consider just one fact—that 40% of all mass shootings started with the murderer targeting their girlfriend, or their wife, or their ex-wife. Among many other important provisions, the new VAWA will increase the use of proven models of reducing domestic violence homicides. 

This morning I met with several parents whose beautiful young daughters were killed by abusive boyfriends. Nothing puts this legislation in to perspective more than their stories. This issue should be beyond politics—and I want to thank the leaders from both parties—Patrick Leahy, Mike Crapo, Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer and Gwen Moore—and the bipartisan majorities in both the House and the Senate who have made that clear once again.

President Obama issued a statement Thursday praising final passage of the Violence Against Women Act, which cleared the House 286-138.

I was pleased to see the House of Representatives come together and vote to reauthorize and strengthen the Violence Against Women Act.  Over more than two decades, this law has saved countless lives and transformed the way we treat victims of abuse. Today’s vote will go even further by continuing to reduce domestic violence, improving how we treat victims of rape, and extending protections to Native American women and members of the LGBT community.  The bill also reauthorizes the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, providing critical support for both international and domestic victims of trafficking and helping ensure traffickers are brought to justice.  I want to thank leaders from both parties – especially Leader Pelosi, Congresswoman Gwen Moore and Senator Leahy – for everything they’ve done to make this happen.  Renewing this bill is an important step towards making sure no one in America is forced to live in fear, and I look forward to signing it into law as soon as it hits my desk.

The House approved the Senate-passed version and the bill now heads to Obama's desk.

The National Alliance to End Sexual Violence effusively praised final passage of an inclusive Violence Against Women Act on Thursday.

"The National Alliance to End Sexual Violence is thrilled with the passage of VAWA by the House today. The House has now joined the Senate in ensuring that the most vulnerable victims of sexual assault and domestic violence will be protected. Congress has signaled a new day in this nation's efforts to address the crime of rape," said Monika Johnson Hostler, president of the group.

In a statement, the organization added:

S. 47 includes critical new measures to augment the response to sexual assault including:

  • Creating tools for states to address the criminal justice response to rape;
  • Dedicating set-asides in the STOP and Arrest programs for sexual assault;
  • Strengthening state-level VAWA planning processes;
  • Renewing the Sexual Assault Services and Rape Prevention and Education programs;
  • Extending first ever federal public housing protections for victims of sexual assault;
  • Increasing and improving efforts to address the rape kit backlog;
  • Reauthorizing the Trafficking Victims Protection Act;
  • Explicitly protecting LGBT victims;
  • Fortifying tribes' ability to hold offenders accountable; and
  • Expanding protections for victims on college campuses

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) celebrated final passage of the Violence Against Women Act in a statement Thursday morning. The House voted to pass the Senate-approved version.

She called it a "long delayed, hard won, and badly needed victory for millions of women."

“This is a long delayed, hard won, and badly needed victory for millions of women, especially those who were told that they weren’t worthy of VAWA’s protections. It means that finally, after over 16 months of struggle, tribal women, the LGBT community, immigrants, and women on college campuses will have the tools and resources this life-saving bill provides.

“There is absolutely no reason that it should have taken this long for the House leadership to come around on a bill that had overwhelming bipartisan support. But passage today is a validation of what we’ve been saying since this bill expired in 2011 - VAWA has never been, and should never be, a partisan bill. That is why I applaud moderate Republican voices in the House who stood up to their leadership to demand a vote on the Senate bill. 

“Throughout this process - often through tears - countless women had the courage to come forward and tell painful stories about why this bill was so vital to them. By stepping out of the shadows, they reinforced that they were more than statistics, and they forced those who stood in opposition to this bill to face up to the reality that who a person loves, where they live, or their immigration status should never determine whether they are protected from violence.

“I want to especially thank Deborah Parker of the Tulalip Tribe in my home state. Deborah has been by my side time and again in this effort and repeatedly told her deeply personal story of the violence and abuse women face on tribal lands to illustrate a tremendous unmet need. Along with Deborah, I know that advocates across the country are breathing a sigh of relief today knowing that we finally got this done.

 “I’m proud to join the President, the Vice President, Senator Leahy, and the coalition of women’s groups, law enforcement, clergy members, educators, and concerned citizens who’ve repeatedly stood strong to make this moment possible. For nearly two decades VAWA has allowed women to escape lives afflicted by violence and abuse. It’s been one of the privileges of my career to stand strong over the past year and a half to ensure that VAWA’s protections are expanded to include more women.”

As expected, the Republican-led House on Thurday voted 166-257 to nix the GOP's Violence Against Women Act alternative.

A vote on the Senate-passed VAWA is next.

After brutal questioning from conservative justices during Supreme Court oral arguments Wednesday, supporters of the Voting Rights Act were searching for signs of hope that one of the signature achievements of the civil rights movement will survive.

There wasn't much to cling to, but proponents of the law heard some things from Justice Anthony Kennedy that made him seem at least plausibly in play, unlike the other conservative justices.

"I think Justice Kennedy was very methodical and deliberate in his assessment," Texas State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D), an outspoken voting rights advocate, told TPM after witnessing the argument. "I don't think he showed anybody anything. I think what he showed is that he knows the Voting Rights Act very well, and knows the case very well."

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Seemingly aware that they were outnumbered and fighting an uphill battle, the four liberal justices on the Supreme Court defended the Voting Rights Act during Supreme Court oral arguments Wednesday with a mix of sharp questions, appeals to history, and indirect rejoinders to the more conservative justices.

All four of them participated actively in oral arguments. None was more emphatic than Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

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In expressing his deep skepticism Wednesday for the constitutionality of a centerpiece of the Voting Rights Act, Justice Antonin Scalia questioned the motivations of Congress for repeatedly reauthorizing it since it was initially passed in 1965.

"I don't think there is anything to be gained by any Senator to vote against continuation of this act," Scalia said during oral arguments in Shelby County v. Holder. "They are going to lose votes if they do not reenact the Voting Rights Act. Even the name of it is wonderful -- the Voting Rights Act. Who is going to vote against that in the future?"

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