Deseret News

Wednesday, September 5, 2001

ACLU Drops English-Only Court Fight in Utah
By LINDA THOMSON, Deseret News Staff Writer
     The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah has decided not to appeal a district court's upholding of the new "English-only" law because many of the ACLU's plaintiff's fears have been assuaged by the district court and the Utah State Attorney General's Office.
     "The reason we're not appealing is because we won," Stephen Clark, legal director for the ACLU of Utah said.
      The statute was approved by voters last November, and the ACLU filed suit the next month to overturn the law. Third District Court Judge Ronald Nehring later issued a 15-page ruling that substantially limited the scope of the law.
     "Although Judge Nehring upheld the statute, he ruled that it was largely symbolic and it can't really be used to deprive people of government information or services based on language proficiency," Clark said.
     "Given that, and given the fact that the attorney general has decided to appoint someone to advise state agencies on the proper scope of the law, we concluded that the risk of language discrimination under the color of state law is substantially diminished," Clark said.
     "When Judge Nehring dramatically limited the language, and when the attorney general basically said, 'We'll make sure that narrow interpretation is applied,' we basically said, 'We've got a victory here. Instead of waging a sort of symbolic battle, let's focus on concrete things,'" Clark said.
     If the ACLU decided to appeal, its brief had to be filed by Sept. 4. Clark said a month-long review produced the decision not to proceed any further.
     When the statute became official, "We were afraid that state agencies would read the statute and say, 'We can't provide information for services in any language other than English,' " Clark said. "Courts around the country have concluded that was a serious constitutional problem. That's why we filed the (original) lawsuit."