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The Brief: Dec. 9, 2015

Attorneys representing Abigail Fisher and the University of Texas at Austin appear again before the U.S. Supreme Court today to argue an affirmative action challenge that has national implications.

The U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C.

The Big Conversation

Attorneys representing Abigail Fisher and the University of Texas at Austin appear again before the U.S. Supreme Court today to argue an affirmative action challenge that has national implications.

As the Tribune's Matthew Watkins writes:

If she wins, Fisher would, at best, receive a $100 refund on her application. But a broad ruling in her favor could have major impact for millions of other students, potentially reshaping how they are admitted into college in Texas and beyond.

Those stakes have made the case one of the most highly anticipated of the court’s 2015-16 term. Some say it could bring an end to affirmative action in U.S. higher education. Groups ranging from civil rights leaders to Fortune 100 companies to members of the Texas Legislature have weighed in.

The seven-year-old legal action stems from Fisher being denied admission at UT-Austin and later claiming lesser qualified minority students were accepted in her place. Watkins notes the court has three options in making a ruling —  preserve UT-Austin’s current admissions policies, essentially preserving the current standards for affirmative action across the country; issue a broad ruling that could kill affirmative action nationwide; or narrowly shoot down UT-Austin’s policies, while preserving other schools' ability to consider race in their applications.

The potential landmark ruling seems to be making less of a splash on the UT-Austin campus. As the Tribune's Jordan Rudner writes, the legal fight is taking so long that it has long ago fallen off the radar screen of many students.

“I think there are pockets of knowledge — certainly groups of students who are very invested in what’s happening,” associate professor Richard Reddick told Rudner. “But I think there’s also, you know, ‘Fisher fatigue.’”

Rudner adds, "‘Fisher fatigue’ may be the main reason the case isn’t the talk of the campus. It's been working its way through the federal court system longer than most undergraduates have been at the university."

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Trib Must Reads

The Changing Face of Texas Public Schools, by Kiah Collier and Alexa Ura – The makeup of the Texas public school system has become less white and poorer in recent decades, according to the most recent data from the Texas Education Agency reflected in The Texas Tribune’s Texas Public Schools Explorer. 

Could Texas Foster Care Ruling Be Imminent?, by Edgar Walters – One year after a federal judge heard evidence alleging that Texas Child Protective Services had violated foster children’s civil rights, lawyers for the state and the advocates who filed suit are awaiting a potentially sweeping legal decision.

Analysis: Equal Numbers of Voters — or Constituents?, by Ross Ramsey – When political districts are based on population, each official represents the same number of people. If the lines were based instead on voting-age populations, their districts could have large variations in the numbers of people — voters plus nonvoters — they represent and serve.

Cruz Revels in Finding Himself Under Siege, by Patrick Svitek – For months, Ted Cruz's presidential campaign plodded along largely unscathed by his rivals for the White House, operating in relative obscurity as other candidates traded blows. Those days, it seems, are over. 

U.S. Supreme Court Hears Texas Redistricting Case, by Abby Livingston – The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday over a Texas case that sought to clarify what “one person, one vote” means in American politics. 

Lawmakers Grill Miller on Ag Fee Hikes, by Jim Malewitz – Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller faced pointed questions from lawmakers Tuesday over his plan to dramatically hike fees on a host of licenses, registrations and services that his agency provides.  

Congress Poised to Pass Rewrite of No Child Left Behind, by Kiah Collier – The end of the widely reviled No Child Left Behind Act — and Texas’ standoff with the federal government over that 2002 law — is in sight, to the elation of the state education commissioner, superintendents and teachers.

Abbott, Cruz Push New Curbs on Syrian Refugees, by Patrick Svitek – Gov. Greg Abbott and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas teamed up Tuesday to push new curbs on Syrian refugees entering the United States, unveiling a new bill that would let states "opt out" of accepting refugees from certain countries.

The Day Ahead

•    Attorney General Ken Paxton is set to deliver opening remarks at the 2015 Open Government Conference held by the Texas Attorney General’s Office at 8:45 a.m. at the Embassy Suites San Marcos Hotel Conference Center & Spa.

•    The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments for Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, a case challenging UT-Austin's consideration of race in the admissions process. 

•    Beginning at 8:30 a.m., the Tribune presents a daylong symposium on cybersecurity and privacy in Texas. The event will take place at UTSA's Downtown Campus and all panel discussions will be live streamed on the Tribune’s website for those unable to attend in person.

Elsewhere

Along with Trump’s rhetoric, the stakes for 2016 have risen dramaticallyThe Washington Post

Legal experts agree: Trump's proposal unconstitutional, The Associated Press

Ted Cruz derides climate change at hearingThe Dallas Morning News

State demands information in abuse probes, Houston Chronicle

Five Texas private colleges opt out of campus carry, Houston Chronicle

Gambling expansion remains on chopping block amid new shakeup at Texas Racing Commission, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Gun shops reporting robust sales amid mass shootingsHouston Chronicle

ACA growing pains: Losses for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas are over twice the U.S. average, The Dallas Morning-News

Dallas Police Chief David Brown: Swapping arrests for tickets in marijuana possession cases “hard to argue with”Dallas Morning News

Today in TribTalk

Why we're working to bring back Rick Perry, by Ed Willing — Rick Perry has proven that he is uniquely suited to be the next president of the United States. We believe he still is — and still can win the Republican nomination.

Quote to Note

"I might oversleep that day.”

— Bob Dole, former U.S. senator and 1996 Republican presidential nominee, on whether he would support Ted Cruz come election day, if Cruz were to receive the nomination.

News From Home

This week, we are pushing out Texas Public Schools Explorer 2.0 — a completely redesigned, revamped version of our public schools app. It includes extensive records on EVERY public and charter school in Texas, and lets you easily find graduation rates, test scores and more for all of the 1,219 school districts and 8,646 public schools in Texas.

Trib Events for the Calendar

•    A conversation about Houston & the Legislature: What's Next? on Dec. 15 at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston

•    A conversation with former White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove on Dec. 17 at the Austin Club

•    A conversation with state Reps. Celia Israel, Eddie Rodriguez and Paul Workman on Jan. 14 at St. Edward's University in Austin

•    The Texas Tribune's second Texas-centric Trivia Night on Jan. 31 at The Highball in Austin

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