This piece comes to us courtesy of Stateline. Stateline is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news service of the Pew Center on the States that provides daily reporting and analysis on trends in state policy.

Abigail Fisher was one of the more than 17,000 high-school seniors from around the country who were rejected when they applied to the University of Texas in 2008. In an argument to be heard next week by the U.S. Supreme Court, Fisher argues the university turned her down because she is white.

If the Supreme Court agrees with Fisher, it could spell the end to affirmative action programs across the country that provide some advantage to applicants from underrepresented minorities. At issue is whether Fisher’s “equal protection” under the 14th amendment was violated by the university’s consideration of the race of some of its applicants. Courts so far have found that it wasn’t, as both the 5th Circuit district and appeals courts ruled in favor of the University of Texas.

The majority of students at Texas’s flagship university got in through the state’s top 10 percent plan, under which students are automatically admitted, irrespective of race, if they graduate in the top 10 percent of their high school class. The policy has diversified the university because many Texas high schools are mostly black or Hispanic, but the university says that relying solely on high school academic rank is too restrictive.

“The students who are not automatically admitted bring tremendous talents, they can be somebody who’s student body president, stumbled a little bit academically sophomore year, but won the state math contest.” says Bill Powers, the university’s president. “We want that group of students to be ethnically diverse, as well.”

Fisher, from a wealthy Houston suburb, did not rank in the top tenth of her class but sought admission through the university’s “holistic review” process, which considers academic and personal characteristics, one of which is race, in determining admissions for the rest of the class.

CHANGES TO THE COURT

The Supreme Court last ruled on affirmative action in 2003. In Grutter v. Bollinger, the court upheld the admissions policies of the University of Michigan Law School, approved “narrowly tailored use of race in admissions decisions to further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body.”

The opinion in that case was authored by retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who was replaced by the more conservative Samuel Alito in 2006. The U.S. government, more than 100 colleges and other higher education organizations, and 15 states filed briefs in support of the University of Texas and its affirmative action policy. But the court’s conservative shift since O’Connor’s departure has led many observers to conclude that it intends to limit the racial preferences allowed by the Grutter ruling.

“Whatever the court does, all eyes of higher education will be upon it,” says Ada Meloy, the American Council on Education’s general counsel. Her organization filed a brief supporting the University of Texas, arguing that “[a] diverse student body is essential to the educational objectives of colleges and universities.”

But Fisher’s backers argue that the court went too far in its 2003 ruling.

“The Grutter case doesn’t fit in with the rest of the court’s equal protection jurisdiction very clearly,” says Gail Heriot, a law professor at the University of San Diego, and member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, who filed a brief supporting Fisher. “Every time the Supreme Court decides a case permitting a state to engage in racial discrimination it makes it that much easier to do it the next time.”

STATE ACTIONS

Some states are backing Texas. New York leads a coalition of 14 states that have filed a joint brief arguing that the Supreme Court should uphold the ruling of the appeals court, in favor of the University of Texas, because it “respects the traditional role of States in developing differing solutions to difficult and important problems.”

But other states have banned affirmative action without being compelled to by the courts. New Hampshire legislators passed a law last year banning affirmative action in admissions and hiring decisions at state colleges and agencies, and Oklahoma voters will decide this fall whether to ban affirmative action there. Surprisingly, the affirmative action bans haven’t led to less diversity in those states’ public universities, according to a report released this week by the progressive Century Foundation.

“The good news for those of us who care about racial and economic justice is that in the states where universities have been banned from using race, they have not given up on diversity,” says the report’s author, Richard Kahlenberg.

To maintain their diversity without race-based affirmative action, those states have given advantages to students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, abandoned legacy preferences and established partnerships with high schools serving low-income and minority students. Kahlenberg says that Texas was one of the most successful states in achieving this.

Seven years before the Grutter decision, Texas was banned from using race in admissions by a federal court ruling. The university modified its admissions policies to include preference for applicants from lower socioeconomic levels and state lawmakers developed the top 10 percent plan. The day the Grutter decision was delivered, the university announced that it would reintroduce race into admissions through its holistic process, but by then the combined black and Hispanic enrollment already exceeded what it had been before the ban.

Last year, black and Hispanic students accounted for 35 percent of students admitted to the university under the top 10 percent plan, now scaled back to the top 8 percent to allow the university some discretion in picking up to 25 percent of its class, and for 29 percent of all enrolled freshmen, more than 50 percent higher than pre-ban levels. The university argues in its brief that its plan has been successful because of the “de facto segregation throughout much of Texas’s secondary schools.” Hispanics are also the fastest growing group in Texas and now account for 38 percent of the population, according to the U.S. Census, meaning that continued growth in Hispanic enrollment is likely inevitable.

The black and Hispanic students admitted through the holistic review, which takes race into account, accounted for less than 5 percent of the freshmen class last year, but the University of Texas argues that its essential to include those students, in part because they are more likely to have attended integrated high schools, are often wealthier and tend to have higher SAT scores, creating diversity within the school’s minority populations.

ELITE COLLEGES AND 'MISMATCH'

Despite the Century Report findings, affirmative-action backers fear that without at least some racial preferences, states with smaller minority populations than Texas would have a difficult time achieving diversity. They also fear that even in states with diverse populations, a ban on all racial preferences could lead to smaller minority enrollment at elite universities. The Century Foundation study highlights three state schools where an end to affirmative action did lead to reduced minority enrollment: the University of California at Berkeley, the University of California at Los Angeles and the University of Michigan. Those schools are ranked among the best state universities, and attract large numbers of out-of-state applicants.

Some affirmative action opponents counter racial preferences harm minority students more than they help them. Stuart Taylor is co-author, with UCLA law professor Richard Sander, of a forthcoming book titled “Mismatch: How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It’s Intended to Help, and Why Universities Won’t Admit It.” Taylor says that students admitted to schools for which they are not academically qualified, whether it be for racial preference or alumni preference, are more likely to struggle and choose easier majors to survive academically. The problem is most acute among black students, he says.

“Blacks express an interest in sciences at higher rates than whites do,” he says, “but they bail out of science majors in droves.”

Nevertheless Taylor, who has written extensively about the Supreme Court, says he doesn’t support an outright ban on racial preferences, particularly in the short run, because of concerns about declined minority enrollment at the most elite universities, which he says still confer some advantages on minority students despite the potential for mismatch.

Still, he thinks that universities need to be more transparent about their admissions policies. He also wants them to more rigorously explore race-neutral alternatives to increasing diversity, and to conceive of an endpoint for using racial preferences, as the Grutter decision anticipated.

“We expect that 25 years from now,” O’Connor wrote in concluding the 2003 opinion, “the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today.”

If the University of Texas plan is upheld, Taylor believes it will take a lot longer than that. “I think we will still have affirmative action for the next 100 years,” he says.

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  • Kindergarten Kekec by Arhitektura Jure Kotnik -- Ljubljana, Slovenia

    An extension of a typical Slovenian prefab kindergarten from the '80s, the colorful, interactive design is a response to the school's lack of play equipment. The addition's three exterior walls are made of "toy slats": natural wooden planks that the kids can play with to "get to know different colors, experience wood as a natural material and constantly change the appearance of their kindergarten, all at the same time." via <a href="http://www.flavorwire.com/320057/the-most-beautiful-and-imaginative-public-schools-in-the-world?all=1">Flavorwire</a> Image credit: Miran Kambič via <a href="http://housevariety.blogspot.com/2011/03/kindergarten-kekec-by-arhitektura-jure.html#.UDHC1dDl3nQ">House Variety</a>

  • Kindergarten Kekec by Arhitektura Jure Kotnik -- Ljubljana, Slovenia

    via <a href="http://www.flavorwire.com/320057/the-most-beautiful-and-imaginative-public-schools-in-the-world?all=1">Flavorwire</a> Image credit: Miran Kambič via <a href="http://housevariety.blogspot.com/2011/03/kindergarten-kekec-by-arhitektura-jure.html#.UDHC1dDl3nQ">House Variety</a>

  • Bailly School Complex by Mikou Design Studio -- Saint-Denis, France

    A catalyst for the development of an up-and-coming community, the bold learning complex houses a pre-school, an elementary school, and a rec center. Circulation is through a series of interior courtyards, allowing children to get fresh air between classes and to have a pleasant -- albeit brief -- experience of the outdoors during an otherwise enclosed school day. via <a href="http://www.flavorwire.com/320057/the-most-beautiful-and-imaginative-public-schools-in-the-world?all=1">Flavorwire</a> Image credit: Florian Kleinfenn via<a href="http://www.german-architects.com/en/projects/35702_bailly_school_complex/all/featured"> german-architects </a>

  • Bailly School Complex by Mikou Design Studio -- Saint-Denis, France

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  • Crèche Rue Pierre Budin by ECDM -- Paris, France

    Built around an expansive courtyard, this whimsical day-nursery sits in an eclectic Parisian neighborhood next to an intrusive 12-story building. Keeping the size of its Lilliputian inhabitants in mind, the scale of the project is intentionally small, and the design focuses on protection, both from the encroaching building next door and the city in general. The French architects described this elegant, cheerful school by stating that "the goal is to propose for this tiny program a frame of living that generates as much an emotion with the future occupants (children, parents, staff) than the local residents." A win-win situation for the kids and the community. via <a href="http://www.flavorwire.com/320057/the-most-beautiful-and-imaginative-public-schools-in-the-world?all=1">Flavorwire</a> Image credit: Luc Boegly via<a href="http://www.dezeen.com/2012/06/28/creche-rue-pierre-budin-by-ecdm/"> dezeen </a>

  • Crèche Rue Pierre Budin by ECDM -- Paris, France

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  • Galjoen School by Rocha Tombal -- The Hague, The Netherlands

    This red brick primary school is intended to wind around the site like a giant, motherly crocodile. Tapping into ideas about security and adventure, the designers explain that "with its friendly face and an attractive identity, this 'colorful animal' will improve the atmosphere of the square." Playing off of a pre-existing industrial power station, the two buildings form a protected outdoor play space complete with a garden. via <a href="http://www.flavorwire.com/320057/the-most-beautiful-and-imaginative-public-schools-in-the-world?all=1">Flavorwire</a> Image credit: Christian Richters via<a href="http://www.dezeen.com/2012/06/28/creche-rue-pierre-budin-by-ecdm/"> dezeen </a>

  • Galjoen School by Rocha Tombal -- The Hague, The Netherlands

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  • Timayui Kindergarten by Giancarlo Mazzanti -- Santa Marta, Colombia

    The Timayui preschool is made up of flexible modules surrounding a courtyard like the petals of a flower, creating playgrounds, outdoor classrooms, gardens, and orchards. Not only does the school provide a healthy, inspiring environment for the children, but it also strives to ameliorate the surrounding impoverished community. Hoping to lead by example, the innovative, open-source project was designed to be easily replicated. via <a href="http://www.flavorwire.com/320057/the-most-beautiful-and-imaginative-public-schools-in-the-world?all=1">Flavorwire</a> Image credit: <a href="http://www.hicarquitectura.com/2011/06/giancarlo-mazzanti-escuela-rural-en.html"> HIC* </a>

  • Timayui Kindergarten by Giancarlo Mazzanti -- Santa Marta, Colombia

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  • Leimondo Nursery School by Archivision Hirotani Studio -- Nagahama, Japan

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  • The Josephine Baker Schools by Dominique Coulon & Associés -- La Courneuve, France

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  • Antas Education Centre by AVA Architects -- Porto, Portugal

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  • Antas Education Centre by AVA Architects -- Porto, Portugal

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  • Sarreguemines Nursery by Michel Grasso and Paul Le Quernec -- Sarreguemines, France

    We have to give this project points for commendable creativity. Designed as a body cell, the nursery sits at the center as the "nucleus." Cytoplasm is represented by the surrounding gardens, and the exterior wall is akin to the membrane. The pre-K kids might be too young to fully appreciate the reference, but if a little cellular biology seeps in by osmosis, then we give the architects a giant gold star. via <a href="http://www.flavorwire.com/320057/the-most-beautiful-and-imaginative-public-schools-in-the-world?all=1">Flavorwire</a> Image credit: Michel Grasso + Paul Le Quernec via <a href="http://www.archdaily.com/178954/sarreguemines-nursery-michel-grasso/"> archdaily </a>

  • Sarreguemines Nursery by Michel Grasso and Paul Le Quernec -- Sarreguemines, France

    via <a href="http://www.flavorwire.com/320057/the-most-beautiful-and-imaginative-public-schools-in-the-world?all=1">Flavorwire</a> Image credit: Michel Grasso + Paul Le Quernec via <a href="http://www.archdaily.com/178954/sarreguemines-nursery-michel-grasso/"> archdaily </a>

  • Rafael Arozarena High School by AMP Arquitectos -- La Orotava, Spain

    Way to teach the young ones about the importance of context! Integrating the pre-existing walls of the farming terraces, this bold and beautiful high school blends seamlessly with the agrarian landscape, but still maintains a decidedly modern design. via <a href="http://www.flavorwire.com/320057/the-most-beautiful-and-imaginative-public-schools-in-the-world?all=1">Flavorwire</a> Image credit: AMP Arquitectos via <a href="http://www.worldarchitecturenews.com/index.php?fuseaction=wanappln.projectview&upload_id=11025"> World Architecture News </a>

  • Rafael Arozarena High School by AMP Arquitectos -- La Orotava, Spain

    via <a href="http://www.flavorwire.com/320057/the-most-beautiful-and-imaginative-public-schools-in-the-world?all=1">Flavorwire</a> Image credit: AMP Arquitectos via <a href="http://www.worldarchitecturenews.com/index.php?fuseaction=wanappln.projectview&upload_id=11025"> World Architecture News </a>

  • Ørestad Gymnasium by 3XN Architects -- Copenhagen, Denmark

    This Danish equivalent of a high school is definitely where we most wish we'd spent our formative teen years. The progressive, media-oriented design was inspired by a philosophy that favors "open study environments" instead of traditional classrooms. Sprawling on a giant beanbag in a floating circular loft space while debating the future of Square in the world of retail? Yes, please. via <a href="http://www.flavorwire.com/320057/the-most-beautiful-and-imaginative-public-schools-in-the-world?all=1">Flavorwire</a> Image credit: <a href="http://archisdesign.com/superstructure-orestad-gymnasium-designed-by-3xn/superstructure-orestad-gymnasium-designed-by-3xn_1"> archisdesign </a>; Adam Mørk via <a href="http://www.dac.dk/en/service-sider/press/press-archive/2010/close-up-3xn-mind-your-behaviour/">Danish Architecture Centre</a>

  • Ørestad Gymnasium by 3XN Architects -- Copenhagen, Denmark

    via <a href="http://www.flavorwire.com/320057/the-most-beautiful-and-imaginative-public-schools-in-the-world?all=1">Flavorwire</a> Image credit: <a href="http://archisdesign.com/superstructure-orestad-gymnasium-designed-by-3xn/superstructure-orestad-gymnasium-designed-by-3xn_1"> archisdesign </a>; Adam Mørk via <a href="http://www.dac.dk/en/service-sider/press/press-archive/2010/close-up-3xn-mind-your-behaviour/">Danish Architecture Centre</a>

  • Marcel Sembat High School by archi5 with B. Huidobro -- Sotteville lès Rouen, France

    If there's a way to help the chronically disinterested and unaware youth of the world think twice about issues of sustainability, surely this is the way. Waking up every day to attend school in one of the most beautiful green-roofed structures in the world should be every child's right. via <a href="http://www.flavorwire.com/320057/the-most-beautiful-and-imaginative-public-schools-in-the-world?all=1">Flavorwire</a> Image credit: Thomas Jorion via<a href="http://www.archdaily.com/154206/marcel-sembat-high-school-archi5-with-b-huidobro/"> ardaily </a>

  • Marcel Sembat High School by archi5 with B. Huidobro -- Sotteville lès Rouen, France

    via <a href="http://www.flavorwire.com/320057/the-most-beautiful-and-imaginative-public-schools-in-the-world?all=1">Flavorwire</a> Image credit: Thomas Jorion via<a href="http://www.archdaily.com/154206/marcel-sembat-high-school-archi5-with-b-huidobro/"> ardaily </a>

  • Diamond Ranch High School by Morphosis -- Pomona, California

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  • Central Los Angeles Area High School #9 for the Visual and Performing Arts by Coop Himmelblau -- Los Angeles, California

    Located just off the Hollywood freeway, this public arts school in the heart of downtown Los Angeles is known for -- according to the <a href="http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/arts/la-ca-art-school31-2009may31,0,4081776.story" target="_hplink"><em>Los Angeles Times</em></a> -- its stunning cone-shaped library, a soaring lobby opening onto Grand Avenue, a 140-foot tower rising above a 950-seat theater, and giant, circular windows. Granted, all this grandeur comes with a hefty price tag that's spawned an ongoing debate over a campus that "flaunts a district's-worth of design at one site." via <a href="http://www.flavorwire.com/320057/the-most-beautiful-and-imaginative-public-schools-in-the-world?all=1">Flavorwire</a> Image credit: <a href="http://www.e-architect.co.uk/los_angeles/central_los_angeles_area_high_school_9.htm"> e-architect </a>; <a href="http://www.worldarchitecturenews.com/index.php?fuseaction=wanappln.showprojectbigimages&img=3&pro_id=10892">World Architecture News</a>

  • Central Los Angeles Area High School #9 for the Visual and Performing Arts by Coop Himmelblau -- Los Angeles, California

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  • Sra Pou Vocational School by Rudanko + Kankkunen -- Sra Pou, Cambodia

    Perhaps not as grand as some of the other designs we've featured, this rural Cambodian school's brilliance lies in the thought and careful consideration of the non-Western culture. Designed by Finnish architecture firm <a href="http://www.rudanko-kankkunen.com/" target="_hplink">Rudanko + Kankkunen</a> and built by members of the local community from hand-dried blocks of soil, the training center teaches local, underprivileged families to earn their own living in a colorful, inspiring space unlike any in the impoverished region. via <a href="http://www.flavorwire.com/320057/the-most-beautiful-and-imaginative-public-schools-in-the-world?all=1">Flavorwire</a> Image credit: Architects Rudanko + Kankkunen via<a href="http://n3un.com/2011/09/19/sra-pou-vocational-school-by-architects-rudanko-and-kankkunen/"> nuun design review </a>

  • Sra Pou Vocational School by Rudanko + Kankkunen -- Sra Pou, Cambodia

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  • Chromatic Play by Juana Canet Arquitectos -- Mallorca, Spain

    This green, yellow, and blue multi-purpose play space was added to an existing school. As much art as it is architecture, the outdoor room is magically "dyed by the chromatic play of the coloured glassed façade." via <a href="http://www.flavorwire.com/320057/the-most-beautiful-and-imaginative-public-schools-in-the-world?all=1">Flavorwire</a> Image credit: Jose Hevia via<a href="http://www.archdaily.com/239432/chromatic-play-juana-canet-arquitectos/_mainimage_1337369572-juego-cromatico-07-1000x623/"> archdaily </a>

  • Chromatic Play by Juana Canet Arquitectos -- Mallorca, Spain

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  • School Barvaux-Condroz by LR Architects -- Barvaux-Condroz, Belgium

    The antithesis of greige, this cheerful school with built-in play spaces and hiding dens is sure to motivate even the most sullen of children. via <a href="http://www.flavorwire.com/320057/the-most-beautiful-and-imaginative-public-schools-in-the-world?all=1">Flavorwire</a> Image credit: M. van Coile via<a href="http://www.archdaily.com/234893/school-barvaux-condroz-lr-architects/lrarchitectebarvaux27/"> archdaily </a>

  • School Barvaux-Condroz by LR Architects -- Barvaux-Condroz, Belgium

    via <a href="http://www.flavorwire.com/320057/the-most-beautiful-and-imaginative-public-schools-in-the-world?all=1">Flavorwire</a> Image credit: M. van Coile via<a href="http://www.archdaily.com/234893/school-barvaux-condroz-lr-architects/lrarchitectebarvaux27/"> archdaily </a>

  • Maria Grazia Cutuli Primary School by 2A+P/A + IaN+ + MaO -- Herat, Afghanistan

    This project was realized by the <a href="http://www.fondazionecutuli.it/home.php" target="_hplink">Maria Grazia Cutuli Foundation</a>, established to honor the life of Maria Grazia Cutuli, a prominent Italian journalist killed on assignment in Afghanistan. The vibrant school "is an alternative to those models related to the after-war reconstruction emergencies." It includes a progressive "green classroom" and made use of local technologies and construction materials. via <a href="http://www.flavorwire.com/320057/the-most-beautiful-and-imaginative-public-schools-in-the-world?all=1">Flavorwire</a> Image credit: <a href="http://www.ianplus.it/"> IaN+ </a>

  • Maria Grazia Cutuli Primary School by 2A+P/A + IaN+ + MaO -- Herat, Afghanistan

    via <a href="http://www.flavorwire.com/320057/the-most-beautiful-and-imaginative-public-schools-in-the-world?all=1">Flavorwire</a> Image credit: <a href="http://www.ianplus.it/"> IaN+ </a>

  • Les Vinyes Primary and Secondary School by MMDM Arquitectes S.C.P. -- Barcelona, Spain

    Inspiring aspiring Stanley Kubricks in Barcelona. via <a href="http://www.flavorwire.com/320057/the-most-beautiful-and-imaginative-public-schools-in-the-world?all=1">Flavorwire</a> Image credit: <a href="http://www.eugeni-pons.com/">Eugeni Pons </a>

  • Les Vinyes Primary and Secondary School by MMDM Arquitectes S.C.P. -- Barcelona, Spain

    via <a href="http://www.flavorwire.com/320057/the-most-beautiful-and-imaginative-public-schools-in-the-world?all=1">Flavorwire</a> Image credit: <a href="http://www.eugeni-pons.com/">Eugeni Pons </a>

  • Kindergarten by Eva Samuel Architect Urbanist & Associates -- Paris, France

    One big, pink-frosted building full of magical, child-sized playhouses. via <a href="http://www.flavorwire.com/320057/the-most-beautiful-and-imaginative-public-schools-in-the-world?all=1">Flavorwire</a> Image credit: Gaston Bergeret via<a href="http://www.archdaily.com/244133/kindergarten-in-paris-eva-samuel-architect-urbanist-associates/gaston-bergeret-_mg_1002_/"> archdaily </a>

  • Kindergarten by Eva Samuel Architect Urbanist & Associates -- Paris, France

    via <a href="http://www.flavorwire.com/320057/the-most-beautiful-and-imaginative-public-schools-in-the-world?all=1">Flavorwire</a> Image credit: Gaston Bergeret via<a href="http://www.archdaily.com/244133/kindergarten-in-paris-eva-samuel-architect-urbanist-associates/gaston-bergeret-_mg_1002_/"> archdaily </a>