High court passes chance to rule on English-only law
March 3, 1997
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Opponents of an Arizona law requiring state employees to use only the English language for official business lost a Supreme Court challenge to the law Monday on a technicality.
The justices unanimously threw out an earlier court victory for the opponents because the state employee who challenged the law had long since left her job. The court did not comment on the merits of the law itself, but their ruling Monday apparently reinstated it in Arizona.
Arizona voters adopted the amendment -- which requires that English be "the language of the ballot, the public schools and all government functions and actions" -- to their state constitution in 1988. Maria-Kelly Yniguez, at the time a state employee who helped people with medical malpractice claims, filed suit to be allowed to use Spanish on occasion in her job.
The state's attorney general had already handed down a ruling allowing occasional use of another language. But a federal judge ruling on Yniguez's suit struck down the law, saying it infringed on free speech.
Then-Gov. Rose Mofford did not appeal the decision, but a group calling itself Arizonans for Official English, intervened and pursued appeals.
Yniguez left her job with the state in 1990, for reasons unrelated to the law or the lawsuit.
"At that point, it became plain that she lacked a still-vital claim for prospective relief," Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote.
In the court's 37-page ruling, Ginsburg also cited "grave doubts" that Arizonans for Official English had the proper legal standing to continue the appeals when the state dropped out.
The court sent the case back to a local district federal court with orders to dismiss the case entirely, leaving the English-only law still on the books in Arizona, although state officials have said they will not enforce it.
English-only laws have been passed in 23 states. Monday's court action does not affect them.
In other action Monday, the court:
Correspondent Anthony Collings contributed to this report.
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