The Brief: Top Texas News for Oct. 11, 2012

The Big Conversation:

Oral arguments at the Supreme Court on Wednesday spelled trouble for the University of Texas at Austin's affirmative action policy.

After a long and often heated proceeding in which lawyers for the University of Texas at Austin struggled to define a "critical mass" of minority students, the court's four conservative justices appeared ready to limit the school's use of race in its admissions policy.

But whether the court will prevent universities from considering race altogether remains unclear.

Doing so would likely require the justices to overturn a 2003 case, Grutter v. Bollinger, in which the court ruled that universities could use race as one factor in their admissions criteria to attain a "critical mass" of diversity but could not establish racial quotas.

In the courtroom on Wednesday, the conservative justices asked UT's lawyers at what point the university would no longer need to use race in its admissions, but didn't receive a clear answer. "You won’t tell me what the critical mass is," said Chief Justice John Roberts. "How am I supposed to do the job that our precedents say I should do?"

The conservative judges, as well as Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court's swing vote, also appeared to bridle at the university's use of race in admitting students who are not accepted under the state's top 10 percent law. Using race, UT's lawyers argued, allows the school to seek "diversity within diversity," including, for example, minorities from wealthy families. 

"So what you're saying is that what counts is race above all else," Kennedy said. "You want underprivileged of a certain race and privileged of a certain race."

Kennedy, who has opposed affirmative action programs but less fervently than the other conservative justices, may determine whether the Grutter ruling is overruled or merely limited.

Find full, in-depth coverage of Wednesday's arguments at SCOTUSblogThe court will announce its decision next spring.

Culled:

  • U.S. Senate candidates Ted Cruz and Paul Sadler battled over taxes on Wednesday during a joint interview with the Dallas Morning News editorial board. Cruz, who on Tuesday called his opponent more liberal than President Barack Obama, slammed Sadler for saying earlier this year that he supported letting the Bush tax cuts expire. "That is a more aggressively pro-tax position than President Obama," Cruz said. Sadler responded that he wouldn't let all of the Bush tax cuts expire but said all Americans should help reduce the national debt. “I don’t consider it liberal to pay our debt," he said. "I consider that very conservative."
  • Two new ads debuted Wednesday in Texas congressional races — one from U.S. Rep. Francisco "Quico" Canseco, R-San Antonio, hitting his Democratic opponent, state Rep. Pete Gallego of Alpine, for "voting with radicals," and the other from state Rep. Randy Weber, R-Pearland, touting his community work. Weber faces Democrat Nick Lampson in CD-14.

Canseco's:

Weber's:

  • The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency on Wednesday released the details of the investigation that led the group to ban cyclist Lance Armstrong from competition for life in August. As The New York Times writes, the evidence — a damning collection of emails, medical analysis and eyewitness testimony — paints a picture of Armstrong as an "infamous cheat, a defiant liar and a bully who pushed others to cheat with him so he could succeed, or be vanquished." Armstrong, who has denied the doping charges, had no comment.

"I know that time flies, but only nine of those years have passed." — Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer on 2003's Grutter vs. Bollinger ruling, which said racial preferences wouldn't be needed in 25 years

Must-Read:

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