U.S.ENGLISH, along with U.S. Representative Steve King (R-IA) and eight Iowa citizens, won a critical victory on March 31, 2008 in a lawsuit brought against Iowa’s Secretary of State Chet Culver for violating the state’s Official English law when he refused to stop issuing voter registration materials in multiple foreign languages.
This precedent-setting victory represents the first legal test of Official English legislation this decade — and decisively rejects claims that the Iowa state’s Official English law is “unconstitutional.” The outcome of this legal battle in Iowa will have a tremendous impact on how the 29 other states with Official English laws proceed with enforcement. Yet, despite this victory in the courts, we anticipate that this will not be the final test for Official English in Iowa. Our greatest concern is that Iowa is not the only state where Official English laws are being undermined by officials with a radical, pro-multilingual agenda. Read the verdict.
Finding that Initiative A is “descriptive rather than proscriptive, prohibitive of nothing,” Judge Nehring upheld Utah’s official English law against challenges by the ACLU and other groups claiming that the law violates the free speech, due process and equal protection rights of Utah’s ethnic minorities. Judge Nehring held that a statutory requirement that the government perform its duties in English neither infringes the speech of governmental employees nor discriminates against any class of persons. Nehring further found that, at best, any infringement of the speech of Utah’s citizens “is a derivative one,” and in any event cannot be deemed discriminatory because of the clear exceptions that Initiative A provides.
Nehring’s decision rests primarily on the fact that complainants challenged Initiative A facially on the grounds that the law is overly broad and therefore violative of the constitution. Such a challenge, he reasoned, “confronts long odds,” because it requires complainants to demonstrate that the law is unconstitutional under any set of facts. Using a textual reading of the statute, Judge Nehring found that this burden cannot be satisfied because Initiative A’s application is, in the main, “clearly symbolic and of no constitutional consequence.” In addition, the law’s declaration that English is “the sole language of government” is not inconsistent with any provision of the Utah Constitution or the United States Constitution, as its clear intent is that only “official” proceedings and documents — a common sense distinction — shall be in English. Where non-English speakers require access to government, Judge Nehring found that the six (6) exceptions provided in Initiative A ensure that the rights of all Utahns to petition the government and to seek governmental services are not abridged. Finally, Judge Nehring concluded that the savings clause included in Initiative A, which preserves all rights guaranteed by the Utah Constitution and United States Constitution, provides “reaffirmation of constitutional guarantees of speech” and only underscores his conclusion that nothing in Initiative A was intended to, nor in practice will, restrict the free speech of any Utah citizen or violate his or her rights to due process and equal protection.
Oklahoma Supreme Court
On September 21, 2000, Senator Carol Martin submitted a motion to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, requesting an accelerated briefing schedule for any and all challenges to the Oklahoma Official English initiative petition for the November 2000 ballot. More than 100,000 citizens of Oklahoma signed petitions sponsored by Oklahoma State Senator Carol Martin to make English the official language of their state, sending a clear message of support that we hope will be heard well in the Oklahoma statehouse. We at U.S.ENGLISH are proud to have been a part of Senator Martin’s successful efforts to glean public support for making English the official language. U.S. English continues to support Senator Martin in her efforts to keep that ballot initiative from being derailed by opponents of Official English.
Alaska Supreme Court
On Election Day of 1998, Alaskans passed a statewide official English initiative with 69 percent voting in favor. However, the Alaskan Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and others challenged the law before it was scheduled to take effect in March 1999.
Current official English legislation in Alaska does not prevent the use of Native American languages by tribal governments and other autonomous Native American communities, such as Alaska Native villages. Because this law declares English as the common language, while respecting individual rights and freedoms, the initiative was well received. However, as was the case in Utah, the ACLU tried again to legally block the implementation of official English in Alaska, promoting opinions of the small percentage of anti-English activists in the states.
Through a series of legal rulings, U.S. English was granted status as an “intervener,” meaning U.S. English attorneys can defend the measure in court. In that capacity, U.S. English appealed the measure on June 17, 2003 in front of the Alaska Supreme Court.
After four years of litigation, we finally won the crucial, long-overdue victory in our defense of Alaska’s Official English law in 2007! This precedent-setting battle protecting the will of the majority of Alaskans who voted to make English their state’s official language is one of our most important victories.