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November 13, 2007

English only: Drivers Licenses and Official Languages

The Alabama Supreme Court recently issued an opinion regarding the application of the state's "English only" constitutional provision to drivers license examinations given in multiple languages. Cole v. Riley, 2007 WL 3051051 (Ala. 2007). 

AL CONST Amend. No. 509 provides:

English is the official language of the state of Alabama. The legislature shall enforce this amendment by appropriate legislation. The legislature and officials of the state of Alabama shall take all steps necessary to insure that the role of English as the common language of the state of Alabama is preserved and enhanced. The legislature shall make no law which diminishes or ignores the role of English as the common language of the state of Alabama.

Any person who is a resident of or doing business in the state of Alabama shall have standing to sue the state of Alabama to enforce this amendment, and the courts of record of the state of Alabama shall have jurisdiction to hear cases brought to enforce this provision. The legislature may provide reasonable and appropriate limitations on the time and manner of suits brought under this amendment.

The Court assumed, without deciding, that the Constitutional amendment was self-executing.  A split court (in an opinion by the Chief Justice with two justices concurring and two concurring specially) concluded that the plaintiff had failed to demonstrate that offering drivers licenses in multiple languages had diminished or eroded English as Alabama's common language or that English-only testing was required in order to "preserve and enhance" English as the state's common language. 

November 13, 2007 in Hot Topics | Permalink

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