A group of students from Oakland Technical High School came to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Monday encouraged by their teacher Tania Kappner.
"This is a historic moment. The opportunity to win affirmative action back for California and get the colleges to look more like our state, we need that," said Kappner.
In 1996 California voters supported the measure. It meant state government institutions could no longer consider a person's race, sex or ethnicity when applying for college, a job or a government contract.
Monday, a three-judge panel heard arguments in a lawsuit looking to overturn Prop 209, but only when it comes to applying to public universities. Their attorneys say the ban has hurt blacks and Latinos the most.
"California will become a state commanded by an apartheid system rather than a system that anyone thinks legitimately expresses fairness equality and avoids the problems of discrimination," said Shanta Driver from the Coalition to defend affirmative action.
Ralph Kasarda is the attorney for the American Civil Rights Institute -- the group supporting Prop 209.
"Because it guarantees equal opportunities for everyone. It prohibits discrimination at all levels of government and prohibits the preferred entry into public education," said Kasarda.
Supporters of affirmative action say Prop 209 has led to a drop in the number of black, Latino and Native American students at the top UCs, like Cal and UCLA.
"And if we had the charts for the law schools and the medical schools and so forth, you would see even more dramatic results," said George Washington from the Coalition to defend affirmative action.
Prop 209 has withstood legal scrutiny over the years, but this time those behind affirmative action say a case in Michigan may have an impact here in California. That case was heard last year by the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, overturning Michigan's ban on affirmative action.