An activist group filed suit in federal court in Oakland today in a new bid to overturn a controversial 1996 state ballot initiative and restore affirmative action in admitting students to the University of California system.

Proposition 209 banned public institutions from considering race, sex or ethnicity in public education, public employment and public contracting.

George B. Washington, the lead attorney for By Any Means Necessary, which was founded in 1995 to fight the UC Board of Regents’ ban on affirmative action, said the suit is asking the court to bar the state from enforcing the proposition as it applies to admissions to the UC system.

Washington, a Detroit-based labor and civil rights attorney, said the percentage of black and Latino students admitted to UC has dropped dramatically since Proposition 209 was enacted.

He said that in 2007, Latino, black, and Native American students comprised 45.1 percent of California’s high school graduates but only represented 16.9 percent and 19.9 percent of new freshmen admitted to UC Berkeley and UCLA, respectively.

“This is an outrage and a social explosion waiting to happen,” Washington said at a news conference outside U.S. District Court in Oakland.

He said the small percentage of Latino, black and Native American students at UC Berkeley is matched only at the flagship universities of the Deep South states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.

Proposition 209 has been upheld by federal appellate courts, but Washington said “the whole ballgame has changed” because of a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding an affirmative action program at the University of Michigan’s law school and the dramatic decline of black and Latino students in the UC system.

Proposition 209 supporters couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

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