Constitutional Clash: When English-Only Meets Voting Rights
25 Pages Posted: 19 Oct 2009 Last revised: 22 Jul 2010
Date Written: October 16, 2009
This paper examines the constitutional vulnerability of English-only laws as they relate to voting materials. The topic is timely in light of King v. Mauro, a recent Iowa decision that drew national attention by interpreting a state statute to bar non-English voter registration materials. In short, this paper argues that English-only policies as applied to voting are constitutionally suspect. After providing background about the English-only movement and the recent high-profile Iowa decision, the paper considers complex and uncertain areas of constitutional law, outlining how one might argue that English-only laws violate the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act. In the end, the nation has an important choice to make: encourage participation in the electoral process, or use voting rights as means to disenfranchise language minority citizens. If the nation continues down the latter path, civil rights lawyers must be ready to respond.
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