Editorials

2016: a big year for elections, court decisions

THE EDITORIAL BOARD

People stand in line Dec. 9 hoping to enter the Supreme Court for arguments in the Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin affirmative action case.
People stand in line Dec. 9 hoping to enter the Supreme Court for arguments in the Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin affirmative action case. AP

We’ve crossed into a year that promises to bring momentous decisions — from voters in crucial elections from March to November and from state and federal high courts on important legal cases.

Crucial decisions in Texas presidential campaigns, congressional contests and elections for state office will come in March 1 party primaries and, of course, the Nov. 3 general election.

Local elections will be May 7, with Fort Worth contemplating ballot measures expanding the City Council and raising pay for the mayor and council members.

A bond election to fund improvements at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth and JPS Health Network facilities on other parts of the county is being discussed for the Nov. 3 election date. Previously, the cost of those improvements has been pegged at $809 million.

That should be enough to keep political arguments going loud and long for most of the year.

Perhaps just as important will be a string of court decisions.

The Texas Supreme Court heard arguments Sept. 1 in the latest lawsuit challenging how — and how well — the state funds its public schools. A decision could come at any time.

A state district judge has ruled that the funding system is unconstitutional because it does not provide enough money to enable schools to meet state requirements, does not fairly distribute money among districts and turns the local property tax into a state tax.

Previous school finance cases have forced the Legislature into several special sessions to come up with ways to satisfy Supreme Court rulings.

Finally, decisions on key Texas cases with potential nationwide impact are expected from the U.S. Supreme Court. They could come all at once as the court wraps up its current session in June.

Abortion

Oral arguments are set for March 2 in a case involving abortion restrictions approved by the Legislature in 2013.

The key provisions under scrutiny have already brought the closing of more than half of the 40 abortion clinics in operation when the law was passed.

Proponents say the two provisions, requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic and making clinics meet the standards of hospital ambulatory surgical facilities, are to protect women’s health.

Opponents say their purpose is simply to make legal abortions harder to get.

Affirmative action

A case involving use of racial preferences for admission to The University of Texas at Austin has been in court since 2008, including a previous trip to the Supreme Court.

The justices heard another round of oral arguments Dec. 9. It’s clear they are troubled by continued use of affirmative action, but UT argues that it’s necessary in order to admit promising minority students and achieve “qualitative diversity” in the student body.

Voting districts

Texas voting districts are apportioned according to total population. A case heard by the Supreme Court in December would change that, drawing districts according to the number of eligible voters instead.

The current method puts more districts in urban areas, with high minority and immigrant populations that trend Democratic. The change would shift more districts to rural areas with older, white, Republican residents.

The political stakes are high in this closely watched case.

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