Playing It Safe: How the Supreme Court Sidesteps Hard Cases and Stunts the Development of Law

By Lisa A. Kloppenberg | Go to book overview

1
The Court Avoids Scrutinizing
“Official English” Mandate

Maria-Kelly Yniguez frequently spoke both Spanish and Eng- lish as an insurance claims manager for the state of Arizona. She man- aged medical malpractice claims filed against state hospitals, interview- ing claimants about their injuries, explaining state compensation poli- cies, and drafting settlement documents in both languages to ensure that claimants understood the ramifications of their signatures. In 1988, Arizonans by a one percent margin passed an initiative amending their state constitution to declare English the official state language. After the election, Ms. Yniguez stopped using Spanish with her clients, because she and other Arizona employees feared discipline. She was offended by the new law and worried that it would prevent her from doing her job effectively. She felt concerned for monolingual and bilingual persons who would be unable to communicate effectively with her and other governmental employees. Ms. Yniguez was born in Arizona and her par- ents were Mexican. As a Latina, she felt that she could express important ideas and emotions more vividly in Spanish. Spanish was also part of her cultural heritage, which fostered a sense of community and govern- ment accessibility for Spanish speakers as they processed their malprac- tice claims.1

Maria-Kelly Yniguez brought the first challenge to the constitutional amendment in federal court, alleging that the law violated the First Amendment, Equal Protection, and a federal civil rights statute.2 The law was put on hold while the case proceeded. Ms. Yniguez had never been a civil rights activist, yet she knew there might be a downside to filing suit. Shortly after she sued, someone shot out the windows on her daughter’s car one night while it was parked in the family driveway. She also received dozens of mean-spirited letters and calls telling her to “go back to Mexico.”3

-17-

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