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SCOTUS to hear affirmative action case during '12 campaign?

An order from the U.S. Supreme Court raises the very distinct possibility that it will hear the contentious issue of affirmative action in the heat of the presidential campaign this fall.

The court agreed to take up a challenge to a policy at the University of Texas that allows a student's race to be taken into account in deciding on freshman admissions.  The Supreme Court, in 2003, said race could be used as a factor -- in order to achieve a more diverse student body.

But the court has changed since then. Sandra Day O'Connor, who approved of the concept, has been replaced by the generally more conservative Samuel Alito.

With the court once again wading into this issue, affirmative action in school admissions may be in trouble. The court could hear this case in October or the first week of November.

Raising the stakes for defenders of affirmative action is this development: Justice Elena Kagan has taken herself off the case, because she worked on the issue while serving in the Obama Justice Department. That takes a potential vote in favor of affirmative action off the court.