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

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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The House voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to approve a rule that would give the House GOP's Violence Against Women Act a vote, and if it fails, the Senate-passed version would get a vote.

The expectation, aides on both sides signaled to TPM, was that the House version would fail and the Senate version would pass. A final vote is expected Thursday after debate.

The Voting Rights Act took a beating from conservative justices Wednesday during oral arguments at the Supreme Court.

At issue is the constitutionality of Section 5 of the 1965 law, which requires state and local governments with a history of voter disenfranchisement to pre-approve any changes that affect voting with the Justice Department or a federal court.

Oral arguments showed a sharp divide along ideological lines and suggested that the conservative majority is strongly inclined to overturn Section 5 of the half-century-old law.

A question posed by Chief Justice John Roberts to the Obama administration's lawyer defending the Voting Rights Act captured the tenor of the proceedings.

"Is it the government's submission that the citizens in the South are more racist than the citizens in the North?" Roberts asked.

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The Republican-led House is poised to vote Wednesday afternoon on its plan to bring up the Violence Against Women Act. The rule calls for a vote on the House version and, if it fails, a vote on the Senate-passed version.

The expectation, Democratic aides said Tuesday night, is that the House version fails and the Senate version passes.

House conservatives are unhappy with the decision, which amounts to backing down and being willing to accept the aggressive reforms to cover LGBT, Native American and undocumented women who are abused. Conservatives have resisted those provisions for nearly a year.

A centerpiece of the monumental Voting Rights Act is in jeopardy Wednesday as it heads before the Supreme Court for oral argument.

At issue is the constitutionality of Section 5 of the 1965 law, which requires state and local governments in 16 states to receive preclearance from the Justice Department or a federal court before making any changes to laws that affect voting. The purpose was to proactively snuff out voter discrimination where it's most likely to emanate, but conservatives argue that it has worked so well it now discriminates against the mostly southern regions covered.

Although Congress has repeatedly reauthorized and the Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld it, Section 5 faces a clear danger now as the Roberts Court's five conservative-leaning justices signaled their misgivings with it in a 2009 case involving a Texas jurisdiction's right to "bail out" of the preclearance requirement.

In that 2009 case, the Court refrained from ruling on the underlying constitutional question, but during oral arguments and in eventual written opinions, the five Republican-appointed jurists built their case against that portion of the law -- which is why supporters are nervous. Here are some excerpts from that case:

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After nearly a year of resistance that has damaged them politically with women voters, House Republicans have found a clever way to back down on the reauthorization of an expanded Violence Against Women Act, aides confirmed to TPM late Tuesday.

The original plan was for the Republican majority in the House to pass its version of the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization and then go to conference conference committee with the Senate. The Senate has already overwhelmingly passed a more aggressive bill, with protections for LGBT, Native American and undocumented women that have been at the heart of the dispute with House Republicans.

But all that changed Tuesday night. The Rules Committee instead sent the House GOP's version of the Violence Against Women Act to the floor with a key caveat: if that legislation fails, then the Senate-passed version will get an up-or-down vote.

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Chris Christie of New Jersey on Tuesday become the latest Republican governor to support the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare.

"It's simple. We are putting people first," Christie said in a speech before the legislature unveiling his budget. "Which is why, after considerable discussion and research, I have decided to participate in the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act."

"Let me be clear, refusing these federal dollars does not mean that they won't be spent," he said. "It just means that they will be used to expand health care access in New York, Connecticut, Ohio or somewhere else. ... In fact, [New Jersey] taxpayers will save approximately $227 million in fiscal year 2014 alone."

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A new effort by a large group of influential Republican luminaries to champion same sex marriage represents a breakthrough for the party and the cause.

At least 75 current and former Republican officials and intellectuals have signed on to a draft legal brief calling on the Supreme Court to overturn California's Proposition 8 and similar laws prohibiting gay marriage, according to the New York Times.

The signatories to the brief include noted Republicans such as Reps. Ilena Ros-Lehtinen (FL) and Richard Hanna (NY), senior George W. Bush administration officials Carlos Gutierrez and James Comey, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, Reagan White House budget director David Stockman and former California gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman, among others. The Times reports that the amicus brief will be filed with the Court this week.

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