The Arizona Supreme Court did not say what the state could do to promote the use of English. It did say that a voter-approved law requiring that only English be used in government went too far.
Requiring that official state and local government business be conducted only in English unconstitutionally encroaches on free-speech rights, the court ruled Tuesday.It also makes it more difficult to get information and services, the court said, and violates the 14th Amendment's equal-protection clause.
The Utah Legislature earlier this year turned down a bill with similar English-only requirements. An activist who campaigned for the Arizona law and who defended it from legal challenges said he will appeal the ruling in federal court.
"The First Amendment applies to private speech, not government speech. What they're saying here now is that . . . a government employee has a right to choose what language to do business in," said Robert Park of Prescott. "That is totally unacceptable."
Arizona is one of at least 21 states that have enacted official English laws. Most are largely symbolic, with several merely stating that English is the state's official language.
The Arizona measure, approved in 1988, required the state and its political subdivisions to "act in English and no other language" and prohibited them from making laws or policies that required the use of a language other than English. Also, no government document "shall be valid, effective or enforceable unless it is in the English language."