COMPILED FROM WIRE AND STAFF REPORTS
As many Black Floridians focus on this week’s presidential debate (which occurred after the Florida Courier’s press time Wednesday night), events in Washington, D.C. were unfolding that could have long-term impact on foreign policy and public education.
Partisan sparring and angry questioning of witnesses underscored how the deaths of Ambassador Christopher Stevens, a State Department computer expert and two U.S. security contractors – and the Obama administration’s response to them – have become issues in presidential and congressional races four weeks before the elections.
Stevens and Sean Smith, a State Department computer specialist, suffocated from smoke from fires set by the estimated 120 suspected Islamist militants who stormed the compound around 9:40 p.m. on the 11th anniversary of the 2001 attacks on the United States. Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, two former Navy SEAL serving as security officers, died in a subsequent assault on a nearby CIA safe house.
Republicans and Democrats jousted over alleged security failures, the administration’s fluctuating accounts of what happened, and the State Department rejection of U.S. Embassy requests to extend the tours of security personnel even as the danger of being in Libya grew.
Democrats alleged that they were denied access to witnesses and information, while Republicans sought to tar the administration with the U.S. fatalities.
“I believe, personally, with more assets, more resources, just meeting the minimum standards, we could have and should have saved the life of Ambassador Stevens and the other people who were there,” asserted Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who is helping lead the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee investigation into the attack.
“The fact is that since 2011, the House has cut embassy security by hundreds of millions of dollars,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the panel’s top Democrat, who cited a bipartisan estimate that ending tax breaks for oil companies could save $2.5 billion annually. “We could fully replenish these embassy security accounts with just a fraction of that.”
At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney conceded that in hindsight “there is no question that the security was not enough to prevent that tragedy from happening.”
But Eric Allan Nordstrom, who served as the chief security officer at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli from September 2011 until July, testified that the “ferocity and intensity” of the attack on the rented Benghazi compound that served as a temporary consulate exceeded any violence that he had seen in Libya or elsewhere.
Affirmative action questioned
Conservative Supreme Court justices took aim at affirmative action Wednesday in a politically-charged case that will likely determine what role race can play in college admissions and other public policies.
The pointed questions during an unusually long oral argument presaged a close call, and possible problems ahead, for racial consideration of applicants to the University of Texas and other schools. This most highly anticipated case of the court’s 2012 term will probably come down to a single swing vote.
“There has to be a logical endpoint to your use of race (in admissions),” Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. told the university’s attorney. “When is that endpoint?”
Roberts pressed repeatedly for details on the university’s stated goal of enrolling a “critical mass” of minority students.
Justice Samuel Alito said flatly that he didn’t understand what the university meant, and Justice Antonin Scalia voiced repeated skepticism about the admissions preferences granted under what he termed “a very ambitious racial program” at the state’s flagship public university.
Attorney Gregory S. Garre, representing the university, responded that race is “only one modest factor among many” considered in admissions decisions, that diversity “serves an interest that is indisputably compelling.”
Andrea Noel Fisher, a White graduate of Steven F. Foster High School in Sugar Land, Texas, challenged the state university’s admissions policy after the school rejected her in 2008. The University of Texas guarantees admission to students in the top 10 percent of their high school classes, but Fisher’s 3.59 GPA was not enough to make the grade.
The university also admits a certain number of other students, for whom race, socioeconomic status and other factors can provide an admissions advantage.
In the courtroom
Fisher, who had a combined SAT score of 1180 out of 1600, was rejected. She subsequently enrolled at Louisiana State University and graduated in May.
Fisher was present in the courtroom for the 85-minute oral argument Wednesday morning, as was University of Texas President Bill Powers.
Powers and other university officials could be heartened, in part, from the questions and asides of Democratic appointees like Justice Sonia Sotomayor, although the final call could come down to Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has straddled positions on the issue.
Eight will vote
Justice Elena Kagan, who replaced affirmative action supporter John Paul Stevens in 2010, has recused herself because she previously served as the Obama administration’s solicitor general.
The administration supports the University of Texas.
With only eight justices considering the case, a 4-4 tie could occur. If that happens, a lower appellate court’s ruling upholding the University of Texas’ admissions policies would be sustained but would not serve as a national precedent.
Michael Doyle of McClatchy Newspapers (MCT) contributed to this report.