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Federal judge upholds Arizona ethnic studies prohibition

A judge for the US District Court for the District of Arizona [official website] has upheld the constitutionality of an Arizona law [HB 2281, PDF] prohibiting public schools from offering courses that teach ethnic solidarity, a law which targeted the Mexican-American studies program in Tucson public schools. In the ruling [opinion, PDF] issued on Friday, Judge A Wallace Tashima found three of four sections of the law to be constitutional and denied a second motion for a preliminary injunction. Tashima found the section forbidding schools from offering "designed courses primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group" to be unconstitutionally vague, suggesting it would interfere with the teaching of legitimate ethnic studies courses. He ruled other sections are constitutional: "The Court's rulings stem in large part from the considerable deference that federal courts owe to the State's authority to regulate public school education." While plaintiffs argued the legislation violated free speech and equal protection of Hispanic students and teachers, Tashima noted that First Amendment rights were not compromised because the statute does not proscribe the rights of students to speak freely in the classroom. The judge rationalized:

The Court recognizes that, in certain instances, Defendants' actions may be seen as evincing a misunderstanding of the purpose and value of ethnic studies courses. Equally problematic is evidence suggesting an insensitivity to the challenges faced by minority communities in the United States. Nevertheless, these concerns do not meet the high threshold needed to establish a constitutional violation, with one exception. Instead, they are issues that must be left to the State of Arizona and its citizens to address through the democratic process.
The challenge to the law was initially launched in 2010 by teachers of the Tucson Unified School District's Mexican-American studies program that one judge found presented material in a biased, political and emotionally charged manner that promoted racial resentment.

The Hispanic population has faced numerous challenges in Arizona, most notably in regards to the state's controversial immigration law [SB 1070, PDF]. In June the US Supreme Court [official website] struck down [JURIST report] sections of the Arizona law, but upheld the controversial portion allowing police officers to check immigration status of anyone arrested. Currently, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit is considering another questionable provision of the law that prohibits the harboring of "unlawful aliens." The harboring ban had been in effect since SB 1070's inception in July 2010 until it was struck down [JURIST report] by the US District Court for the District of Arizona in September. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer [official website], who signed the bill into law, appealed [JURIST report] the lower court's injunction in late September.

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