Arizonans for Official English v. Arizona

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Arizonans for Official English v. Arizona
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued December 4, 1996
Decided March 3, 1997
Full case name Arizonans for Official English and Robert D. Park, petitioners v. Arizona, et al.
Citations 520 U.S. 43 (more)
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Ginsburg, joined by unanimous

Arizonans for Official English v. Arizona, 520 U.S. 43 (1996), was a United States Supreme Court decision that held that Article III required standing for each stage of litigation, rather than just when a complaint is filed.


In 1988, ballot initiative Proposition 106, mandating that state employees speak only English on the job passed with 50.5% of the vote.[1][2] Arizona insurance claims manager Maria-Kelly Yniguez sued to overturn this law because she was concerned that she would be fired for speaking Spanish to claimants. However, on February 6, 1990, judge Paul Rosenblatt of the United States District Court for the District of Arizona ruled that the law violated the free speech clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.[3] The group Arizonans for Official English appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and on December 7, 1994, that court upheld the Arizona federal court ruling.[4] The U.S. Supreme Court accepted an appeal of the Ninth Circuit ruling on March 26, 1996.[5]

Opinion of the Court[edit]

Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for a unanimous court:[1]

Federal courts lack competence to rule definitively on the meaning of state legislation, see, e.g., Reetz v. Bozanich, 397 U.S. 82, 86-87, 25 L. Ed. 2d 68, 90 S. Ct. 788 (1970), nor may they adjudicate challenges to state measures absent a showing of actual impact on the challenger, see, e.g., Golden v. Zwickler, 394 U.S. 103, 110, 22 L. Ed. 2d 113, 89 S. Ct. 956 (1969). The Ninth Circuit, in the case at hand, lost sight of these limitations. The initiating plaintiff, Maria-Kelly F. Yniguez, sought federal-court resolution of a novel question: the compatibility with the Federal Constitution of a 1988 amendment to Arizona's Constitution declaring English "the official language of the State of Arizona"-- "the language of . . . all government functions and actions." Ariz. Const., Art. XXVIII, §§ 1(1), 1(2). Participants in the federal litigation, proceeding without benefit of the views of the Arizona Supreme Court, expressed diverse opinions on the meaning of the amendment. ...

The Ninth Circuit had no warrant to proceed as it did. The case had lost the essential elements of a justiciable controversy and should not have been retained for adjudication on the merits by the Court of Appeals. We therefore vacate the Ninth Circuit's judgment, and remand the case to that court with directions that the action be dismissed by the District Court. We express no view on the correct interpretation of Article XXVIII or on the measure's constitutionality.

Furthermore, the court ruled Yniguez's complaint moot given that she resigned seven years before this decision.[6]

Subsequent developments[edit]

In 1999, the Supreme Court declined to hear another appeal by Arizonans for Official English in a case in which the Arizona Supreme Court overturned Proposition 106.[2]

In 2006, Arizona voters passed Proposition 103 with 74% of the vote,[7][8] requiring "all official actions of the government be conducted in English" with exceptions for certain duties.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "AZ-1988-Proposition 106 (Arizonans for Official English)". Retrieved January 31, 2012. 
  2. ^ a b Greenhouse, Linda (January 12, 1999). "Supreme Court Roundup; Appeal to Save English-Only Law Fails". The New York Times. Retrieved January 26, 2012. 
  3. ^ Barringer, Felicity (February 8, 1990). "Judge Nullifies Law Mandating Use of English". The New York Times. Retrieved January 26, 2012. 
  4. ^ Reuters staff report (December 9, 1994). "Court Strikes Language Law". The New York Times. 
  5. ^ Greenhouse, Linda (March 26, 1996). "Supreme Court Roundup;Justices to Review Effort to Make English Official Language". The New York Times. Retrieved January 26, 2012. 
  6. ^ Greenhouse, Lidna (March 4, 1997). "Justices Set Aside Reversal of 'English Only' Measure". The New York Times. Retrieved January 31, 2012. 
  7. ^ McCombs, Brady (November 8, 2006). "Anti-illegal immigrant propositions pass handily". Arizona Daily Star. Archived from the original on November 15, 2006. 
  8. ^ "Proposition 103: English as the official language". Arizona Secretary of State. November 28, 2006. Retrieved August 17, 2012. 
  9. ^ "Proposition 103 (2006)". Arizona Secretary of State. Archived from the original on December 27, 2011. Retrieved January 31, 2012. 

External links[edit]

  • ^ 520 U.S. 43 (Text of the opinion on