[JURIST] The Arizona Supreme Court ruled [opinion, PDF] on Friday that a state law [Arizona Code section 38-201(c) [text] requiring all public officials to be proficient in English is constitutional. The defendant in the case, Alejandrina Cabrera, was a city council candidate in the largely Spanish-speaking Arizona town of San Luis. Cabrera argued [AP report] that her English was good enough for San Luis because of the prevalence of Spanish speakers there, and that Section 38-201(c) may have been racially motivated. In rejecting Cabrera’s arguments, the Arizona Supreme Court held that the English language law advanced the legitimate state interest of ensuring that public officials could perform their basic duties and communicate with constituents who only speak English:
[Arizona’s English language law] manifests a legitimate concern that those who hold elective office be minimally proficient in English in order to conduct the duties of their office without the aid of an interpreter. Such a requirement helps ensure that the public officer will in fact be able to understand and perform the functions of the office, including communications with English-speaking constituents and the public.
The court based its ruling on a provision of the Arizona constitution [text] that codifies English as the official language of the state.
English language laws [JURIST news archive] have been a controversial legal issue recently both in the US and abroad. In April JURIST guest columnist Iryna Dasevich emphasized [JURIST op-ed] the need for interpreters in the US criminal justice system. In July 2011 an Indian couple challenged a UK immigration law [JURIST report] that includes and English proficiency requirement. In November 2010 the Supreme Court of Georgia [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that defendants with limited English skills have the right to an interpreter. In October 2010 lawmakers in Quebec approved a controversial bill [JURIST report] modifying English speakers’ access to English public schools in the province. In August 2010 the Canadian Bar Association [official website] passed a resolution [JURIST report] opposing a bill requiring Canadian Supreme Court Justices to speak both French and English.