Arizonans for Official English v. Arizona
In Arizonans for Official English v. Arizona, 520 U.S. 43, 67 (1997), the U.S. Supreme Court held that standing must exist at every stage of the litigation, not merely when the complaint is filed. Because the Court held that the plaintiff lack standing, it did not reach the merits of the dispute as to whether a 1988 Arizona ballot initiative established English as the official language of the State. Passed on November 8, 1988, by a margin of one percentage point, 1 the measure became effective on December 5 as Arizona State Constitution Article XXVIII.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg delivered the opinion of the unanimous court. The Court used surprisingly critical language for the Ninth Circuit, which rejected numerous state efforts and its suggested interpretation of the new law. The Court held that the Ninth Circuit should have certified the question to the state Supreme Court. Justice Ginsburg wrote:
- Federal courts lack competence to rule definitively on the meaning of state legislation, see, e.g., Reetz v. Bozanich, 397 U.S. 82, 86-87, 25 L. Ed. 2d 68, 90 S. Ct. 788 (1970), nor may they adjudicate challenges to state measures absent a showing of actual impact on the challenger, see, e.g., Golden v. Zwickler, 394 U.S. 103, 110, 22 L. Ed. 2d 113, 89 S. Ct. 956 (1969). The Ninth Circuit, in the case at hand, lost sight of these limitations. The initiating plaintiff, Maria-Kelly F. Yniguez, sought federal-court resolution of a novel question: the compatibility with the Federal Constitution of a 1988 amendment to Arizona's Constitution declaring English "the official language of the State of Arizona"-- "the language of . . . all government functions and actions." Ariz. Const., Art. XXVIII, §§ 1(1), 1(2). Participants in the federal litigation, proceeding without benefit of the views of the Arizona Supreme Court, expressed diverse opinions on the meaning of the amendment. ...
- The Ninth Circuit had no warrant to proceed as it did. The case had lost the essential elements of a justiciable controversy and should not have been retained for adjudication on the merits by the Court of Appeals. We therefore vacate the Ninth Circuit's judgment, and remand the case to that court with directions that the action be dismissed by the District Court. We express no view on the correct interpretation of Article XXVIII or on the measure's constitutionality.
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