Arizona Supreme Court: Political Candidates Must Speak English (Dammit)

The Arizona Supreme Court has upheld an age-old law requiring everyone seeking political office in the state be proficient in the English language.

To put it in nativist terms, "Speak English, dammit."

Alejandrina Cabrera was trying to run for a city council seat in San Luis -- where 88 percent of people speak a language other than English at home, according to the latest census statistics.

Additionally, almost 99 percent of people in the city identified themselves as Hispanic or Latino in the last census.

This question over English-speaking came up in December, when San Luis Mayor Juan Carlos Escamilla challenged Cabrera's candidacy, and a court agreed with the mayor.

Varitaions of Arizona's law mandating that anyone seeking public office be proficient in English have been around since before statehood, and it made its way into the state constitution.

The Supreme Court's ruling notes that the state constitution calls for candidates to have "sufficient English proficiency to conduct the duties of the office without the aid of an interpreter."

"The most plausible and harmonious reading of the statute is that it requires a sufficient level of proficiency of the English language to conduct the duties of the office without the aid of an interpreter," the ruling says.

Even though there's no specific test for this language requirement, the court didn't find anything unfair about a linguistics expert who testified in trial court that Cabrera "could not adequately function as a Council member in the Council meetings."

If you check out the decision (which can be found here), you'll see that the court didn't find much to agree with in any of Cabrera's challenges to the law.

Still, it was an issue that probably needed a definitive answer -- you can read about some of the intricacies of the language issue in this New York Times story -- and Arizona has it's answer: your politicians will know how to speak English.

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Matthew Hendley
Contact: Matthew Hendley