Opening Arguments in Iowa Official English Case Heard Today
Multilingual Voter Registration Forms Said to Subvert State's Official English Law
December 21, 2007
Oral arguments were heard this morning in Iowa district court in the lawsuit involving U.S. English, U.S. Rep. Steve King, and eight Iowa citizens, including four County Auditors, against Secretary of State Michael Mauro. The Auditors included Joni Ernst (Montgomery Co.), Scott Reneker (Jefferson Co.), Judy Howrey (Calhoun Co.) and Karen Strawn (Buena Vista Co.). The case, heard in Iowa District Court in Polk County, challenges Secretary of State Mauro and his ongoing practice of issuing voter registration materials in foreign languages despite the state's official English law. Currently, the website for the Iowa Secretary of State offers voter registration forms in Spanish, Vietnamese, Laotian and Bosnian.
"This is the first time that Iowa's official English law has been tested in the court system," said Mauro E. Mujica, Chairman of the Board of U.S. English, Inc. "Iowa's law must be enforced."
In 2002, the Iowa legislature passed a measure, authored by then-state Senator Steve King, to make English the official language of the state. It passed by a wide margin with strong bipartisan support. The legislation was signed into law by then-Governor Tom Vilsack. As enacted, the bill makes English the official language of all government business, with specific exceptions for areas such as public health, criminal defense, trade, and tourism.
"What is the purpose of a law if elected officials have the right to flout it as they so choose?" asked Mujica. "The state legislature passed it, Iowans overwhelmingly support it, and yet Secretary of State Mauro is not adhering to it. Failure to uphold the will of the people of Iowa is disappointing."
"Voter registration and absentee ballot request forms are official government documents and therefore must be in English," said Jefferson County Auditor Scott Reneker. "Our community draws people from all over the world who are skilled in a variety of foreign languages. I've never had one of these citizens request a foreign language form. It's not needed."
"I support the English Language Reaffirmation Act and believe upholding English as our official language is extremely important in unifying all Iowans. As the County Commissioner of Elections, I am sworn to follow the Constitution and laws of the State of Iowa. Offering voter registration forms in foreign languages is not only unlawful but serves to segregate our population, rather than unify," said Joni K. Ernst, Montgomery County Auditor.
"English proficiency helps newcomers attain better paying jobs, it also provides a means of common communication with between all Iowans. English is Iowa's official language- it's the law," said Congressman Steve King (IA-5).
A decision is not expected before early 2008.