Arizona Court: Public Office Requires English Proficiency

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Written By admin at Sunday, August 19th, 2012


The Arizona Supreme Court on Friday upheld a state law that requires elected officials to be able to read, write and speak the English language.

The state’s top court, in affirming a lower court’s ruling, said the long-standing language requirement “manifests a legitimate concern that those who hold elective office be minimally proficient in English in order to conduct the duties of their office without the aid of an interpreter.”

The court rejected an argument that a lower court’s interpretation of the law violates the right to participate in government, with the high court holding that there is no constitutional right to seek office. The state law requiring English proficiency as a qualification for public office has existed since before statehood, the opinion said.

“Such a requirement helps ensure that the public officer will in fact be able to understand and  perform the functions of the  office, including communications with English-speaking constituents and the public,” Justice Robert Brutinel wrote in the opinion.

The case came about when the mayor of the city of San Luis sought to disqualify a candidate for city council on the grounds that she could not read, write and speak the English language as required by the law. The lower court conducted a hearing and decided to preclude her from the ballot.

The candidate contended that she met the state’s requirements and appealed to the state supreme court.

The Supreme Court, in its opinion, noted that the candidate was  “not forever barred from running for office.”

“Should she obtain a sufficient English proficiency to perform as a city councilmember, she could then run for that office,” the opinion said.

Lawyers for the city and the candidate could not be immediately reached for comment.

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