Legal Status of official English in Alabama

In 1990, Alabama’s voters passed an amendment to the state constitution, establishing that English is the official language, by a margin of 9 to 1. (See below). To implement the law, the state ceased offering exams for driver’ licences in foreign languages. In 2001, A federal judge ruled that this violated the 1964 Civil Rights Act, saying it amounted to “discrimination on the basis of national origins.”

ProEnglish and 17 congressmen filed an amicus (“friend of the court”) brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Alexander v. Sandoval. In May 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with ProEnglish by upholding Alabama’s official English law. The U.S. Department of Justice, however, adopted the legal reasoning of the lower court decision which was overturned. Alabama’s law remains on the books, but ProEnglish is suing the government of Alabama, on the grounds that it has not meaningfully enforced the official English law. Currently, counties in Alabama offer testing in 11 languages, although street signs are published in English, and many counties have no speakers of many of the 11 languages.

Official English Law in Alabama
English as Official Language of State (1990)

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.




3,989,795 English
162,483 All languages other than English combined
89,729 Spanish or Spanish Creole
14,905 German
13,656 French (incl. Patois, Cajun)
5,271 Chinese
4,561 Vietnamese
4,029 Korean
2,620 Arabic
2,306 African languages
2,201 Japanese
2,158 Italian
1,702 Tagalog
1,533 Hindi
1,393 Greek
1,220 Russian
1,053 Gujarathi
965 Persian
817 Thai
774 Portuguese or Portuguese Creole
732 Other Native North American languages
649 Polish
635 Laotian
632 Urdu
493 Mon-Khmer, Cambodian
473 Scandinavian languages
410 Hebrew
285 Serbo-Croatian
239 French Creole
207 Yiddish
185 Hungarian
135 Armenian
53 Navajo
8 Miao, Hmong