English Only Update VIII

            English Only Bill
            Reintroduced in 105th Congress

            By James Crawford

            January 8, 1997



Losing no time, a leading English-only advocate reintroduced the "Bill Emerson English Language Empowerment Act" yesterday, the first day of the 105th Congress. The measure, once again designated H.R. 123, is sponsored by Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham R-Calif.), the subcommittee chairman who shepherded the bill last year.

Cunningham said the measure "represents a common-sense, common language policy. The legislation names English as the official language of the Government of the United States, [and] recognizes our historical linguistic and cultural diversity, while finding that English represents a common bond of Americans, and is the language of opportunity in the United States."

It would also outlaw virtually all federal government programs, publications, proceedings, and services in languages other than English with only a few narrow exceptions for national security, language teaching, and the use of Native American languages. The bill is quite similar to Article 28 of the Arizona Constitution, adopted by voter initiative in 1988 and found unconstitutional by two federal courts, as a violation of the First Amendment right to free speech. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, is considering an appeal and could soon overturn these rulings (see Update VII).

According to its sponsor, H.R. 123 is essentially identical to legislation of the same title that passed the House last August, except that it drops a section repealing the bilingual provisions of the Voting Rights Act. The omission will expedite committee action, Cunningham explained. (If bilingual ballots were involved, the bill would have to be referred to the Judiciary Committee in addition to the Committee on Education and the Workforce.) This would seem to imply an intent to move the legislation early in this session.

As in the past, it is likely that various other "Language of Government Acts" will be introduced, including a Senate version. But Rep. Toby Roth (R-Wisc.), sponsor of the most extreme English-only measure last year, has retired from Congress. Rep. Bill Emerson (R-Mo.), who sponsored H.R. 123 in the past three Congresses, died in 1996 and is memorialized by the Cunningham bill.


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Copyright © 1997 by James Crawford. Permission is hereby granted to reproduce this article for free, noncommercial distribution, provided that credit is given and this notice is included. Requests for permission to reproduce in any other form should be forwarded by email.