Legal Status of official English in California

In 1986, this state passed this amendment to their state constitution making English the state’s official language. Despite this, Oakland and San Francisco have frozen the hiring of employees who do not speak a language other than English. ProEnglish is suing the federal government in California to rescind Executive Order 13166, a federal regulation which compels recipients of federal funds to provide services in multiple foreign language.

California law had required all children who do not speak English to be placed into bilingual education programs. In 1998, voters replaced that law with one mandating access to English immersion programs. Achievement scores have since sharply risen in all subjects areas. Scores may have been helped by replacing “whole language” spelling instruction with “phonics,” and a lower student-faculty ration, but test scores improvements were highly correlated to the vigor with which school districts implemented the new law, Proposition 227.

Official English Law in California

(Proposition 63, 1986)

Section 1:
(a) Purpose.
English is the common language of the people of the United States of America and the State of California. This section is intended to preserve, protect and strengthen the English language, and not to supersede any of the rights guaranteed to the people of this Constitution.

(b) English as the Official Language of California.
English is the official language of California.

(c) Enforcement.
The Legislature shall enforce this section by appropriate legislation. The Legislature and officials of the State of California shall take all steps necessary to insure that the role of English as the common language of the State of California 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 California.

(d) Personal Right of Action and Jurisdiction of Courts.
Any person who is a resident of or doing business in the State of California shall have standing to sue the State of California to enforce this action, and the Courts of record of the State of California shall have jurisdiction to hear cases brought to enforce this section. The Legislature may provide reasonable and appropriate limitations on the time and manner of suits brought under this section.
Section 2: Severability.
If any provision of this section, or the application of any such provision to any person or circumstance, shall be held invalid, the remainder of this section to the extent it can be given effect shall not be affected thereby, and to this end, the provisions of this section are severable.


19,014,873 English
12,401,756 All languages other than English combined
8,105,505 Spanish or Spanish Creole
815,386 Chinese
626,399 Tagalog
407,119 Vietnamese
298,076 Korean
155,237 Armenian
154,633 Japanese
154,321 Persian
141,671 German
135,067 French (incl. Patois, Cajun)
118,382 Russian
108,340 Arabic
84,190 Italian
78,403 Portuguese or Portuguese Creole
76,134 Hindi
71,305 Mon-Khmer, Cambodian
65,529 Miao, Hmong
45,471 African languages
41,317 Laotian
39,970 Thai
34,647 Hebrew
33,112 Gujarathi
31,588 Urdu
28,847 Greek
28,653 Scandinavian languages
23,872 Serbo-Croatian
23,435 Polish
19,231 Hungarian
8,952 Yiddish
6,729 Other Native North American languages
4,107 French Creole
1,774 Navajo