Arizona Daily Star
Tuesday, January 12, 1999
English Only' Amendment Hits `End of the Road' in High
The nation's high court drove the final nail in the coffin of Arizona's ``English only'' constitutional amendment yesterday.
Without comment the U.S. Supreme Court refused to overturn last year's ruling by the Arizona Supreme Court that the measure is unconstitutional.
That leaves Bob Park, architect of the successful 1988 ballot initiative, with no legal recourse.
``It's the end of the road,'' said Park, a Prescott resident and political activist. He said it would be a waste of time trying to recast the measure to make it acceptable to the court.
``To try to do things to satisfy judges, you go bonkers,'' he said. Instead, Park said he will concentrate his efforts on supporting an initiative planned for the 2000 ballot to restrict bilingual education. The court upholds New York City's zoning plan for X-rated businesses. Page 9A.
The 1988 amendment, which 50.5 percent of Arizona voters approved, declared English the state's official language and required the state and local governments to ``take all reasonable steps to preserve, protect and enhance the role of the English language as the official language.''
It also required governments to ``act in English and in no other language'' and made all government documents void unless in English.
Park argued that the measure didn't violate anyone's rights as it didn't prohibit people from speaking other languages. But now-retired Justice James Moeller, who wrote the Arizona Supreme Court ruling, said the amendment actually went much further.
Moeller said while it is long settled that English is the country's common language there is a difference between encouraging the use of English ``and repressing the use of other languages.''
The justice said the amendment would have ``severe consequences' not only for public officials and employees, ``but also for the many thousands of persons who would be precluded from receiving essential information from government employees and elected officials in Arizona governments.''
The court stressed, though, that it was not suggesting that government agencies are required to communicate with residents in languages other than English.
``Just about everybody who works in South Tucson at one time or another has to communicate in Spanish,'' said Fernando Castro, assistant city manager for the one-square mile city.
``It is a daily occurrence,'' he said yesterday, adding that he agrees with the Supreme Court's decision. Castro said the majority of people who come to South Tucson City Hall ``feel more comfortable speaking Spanish than they do English, and some can only communicate in Spanish.''
The city's population is 6,500 and 90 percent of the residents are Hispanic, Castro said.
This is actually the second time the U.S. Supreme Court has reviewed the provision. In 1997 it sidestepped the issue, saying legal questions should have first been presented to the Arizona Supreme Court.
Arizona Daily Star reporter Carmen Duarte contributed to this story.