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
CONSTITUTION OF ALABAMA OF 1901,
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.
LANGUAGES SPOKEN IN ALABAMA
|162,483||All languages other than English combined|
|89,729||Spanish or Spanish Creole|
|13,656||French (incl. Patois, Cajun)|
|774||Portuguese or Portuguese Creole|
|732||Other Native North American languages|