Oklahoma State Question 751 (2010)

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Oklahoma Constitution
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The Oklahoma State Question 751, or the English is the Official Language of Oklahoma Act, was on the November 2, 2010 state ballot in Oklahoma as a legislatively-referred constitutional amendment. The measure would make English the official language of the state of Oklahoma. Representative Randy Terrill was one of the legislative members who authored the bill. The measure was approved. Approveda[1][2]

Aftermath

On November 9, 2010, a lawsuit was filed in Tulsa County District Court against the measure. James C. Thomas, a Tulsa attorney and University of Tulsa law professor, filed the lawsuit. According to Thomas, the measure violates free speech, which is held in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the free speech clause of the Oklahoma Constitution. Thomas stated, "This English only takes away the right to speak of all public officials of Oklahoma. They cannot render service ... in any language other than English."[3]

Representative Randy Terrill stated that the amendment passed with the largest margin of the 11 state questions that were on the ballot. He pointed this out as proof that the measure is the will of the voters. According to Terrill, "This is just another frivolous lawsuit filed by a liberal law professor trying to forum shop for a judge willing to thwart the will of the people."[4]

Lawsuit dropped

The lawsuit filed by James Thomas was withdrawn in early April 2011, but he stated that he would filed the lawsuit again, but without listing former Governor of Oklahoma Brad Henry as a defendant. The reason for the withdrawn lawsuit was due to a judge claiming that lawsuits naming the governor as a defendant are only to be filed in Oklahoma County. James stated he would remove the governor's name and re-file it in Tulsa County.[5]

Election results

See also: 2010 ballot measure election results

Official results of the measure follow:

Question 751 (Oklahoma Official Language)
ResultVotesPercentage
Approveda Yes 740,918 75.54%
No239,90424.46%

Results via the Oklahoma Election Board.

Text of amendment

Ballot title

The ballot title that Oklahoma voters saw on the ballot reads:[6]

This measure amends the State Constitution. It adds a new Article to the Constitution. That Article deals with the State's official actions. It dictates the language to be used in taking official State action. It requires that official State actions be in English. Native American languages could also be used. When Federal law requires, other languages could also be used.

These language requirements apply to the State's "official actions." The term "official actions" is not defined. The legislature could pass laws determining the application of the language requirements. The Legislature would also pass laws implementing and enforcing the language requirements.

No lawsuit based on State law could be brought on the basis of a State agency's failure to use a language other than English. Nor could such a lawsuit be brought against political subdivisions of the State.

Shall the proposal be approved?

For the proposal

Yes: __________

Against the proposal

No: __________

Summary

The summary of the measure read:[2]

This measure amends the State Constitution. It adds a new Article to the Constitution. That Article deals with the State's official actions. It dictates the language to be used in taking official State action. It requires that official State actions be in English. Native American languages could also be used. When Federal law requires, other languages could also be used.
These language requirements apply to the State's "official actions." The term "official actions" is not defined. The legislature could pass laws determining the application of the language requirements. The Legislature would also pass laws implementing and enforcing the language requirements.
No lawsuit based on State law could be brought on the basis of a State agency's failure to use a language other than English. Nor could such a lawsuit be brought against political subdivisions of the State.

Constitutional changes

Oklahoma State Question 751 (2010), Constitutional text changes

SQ 751 was proposed to add a new Article XXX to the Oklahoma Constitution that would state that English is the state's official language.[2]

Support

Supporters

  • Representative George Faught was in favor of the measure, citing that it could save the state money by not having to translate and print forms in other languages. According to Faught, "When someone migrates to America, they realize in order to be successful and to do business they need to learn the language of the land. If you or I moved to Mexico, it would be ridiculous to have them translate their native language just for us. You need to learn the culture that you are part of.”[7]
  • U.S. English was supportive of the measure, according to director of communication Daniel Patrick Head, who claimed that the measure would help the state's budget problems.[7]
  • The Oklahomans for Sovereignty and Free Enterprise had taken stances on a number of the 11 questions on the November ballot. The group's position on State Question 751 was to vote yes on the measure.[8]

Arguments

  • Supporters stated that the measure and making English the official language would in fact build a better atmosphere in the state by eliminating language barriers, and as a result, creating a better way for state businesses to succeed. According to Daniel Patrick Head, director of communication of U.S. English, stated that the measure would unify people, also arguing, "This has been done in 30 states, and I’m not aware of any real cases of someone being turned away from services because they speak the language. There are always ways to get information."[7]

Opposition

Opponents

  • Representative Terry Harrison was against the measure, stating, "If you looked it up in an encyclopedia or Googled, ‘election-year shenanigan’ this is what would come up. It is just an attempt to get more people, probably hate-filled Republicans, to come out to vote. Generally speaking, if you don’t like people that don't look like you, you will go to the polls over this issue."[7]
  • The American Dream Coalition, an advocacy group based out of Tulsa, was against the measure.[7]
  • Representative Mike Brown didn't feel the issue should be on the ballot, and saw no problems in the state. According to Brown, when commenting on voters, "I hope people are educated enough to realize English is our official language. Oklahoma’s law books are probably the largest in the nation, and we continually load them up with Christmas tree ornaments in elections.”[9]

Arguments

  • Marvin G. Lizama, president of the American Dream Coalition, stated that the measure would create problems in the state, especially for non-English speakers when seeking government services. That impact, according to Lizama, would end up hurting the state economy instead of helping it, as supporters of the measure were arguing.[7]

Federal government involvement

On April 14, 2009, a letter was sent from the federal government's U.S. Department of Justice to Drew Edmondson, Oklahoma's Attorney General. The letter indicated that Oklahoma might lose federal funding if the state's voters approved State Question 751. It stated, ."..implementation of this [English-only] amendment may conflict with Oklahoma’s obligations to protect the civil rights of limited English proficient (LEP) persons.”[10]

All members of Oklahoma's congressional delegation, including Democrats and Republicans, responded to the DOJ assertion in late July 2009 with a request that the DOJ justify and clarify its position. The Oklahoman congressional delegation letter stated that the DOJ letter was "dubiously timed at the peak of legislative debate" over the proposed amendment.[11][12]

  • U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe wrote, “This nation’s cultural diversity is one that contributes to the greatness of our country. I support the state’s effort to pass a constitutional amendment making English the official language of the state because it ultimately facilitates better communication across the many lines of diversity within our state. The state legislature has overwhelmingly passed this amendment, and now it is up to the voters of Oklahoma to decide if they wish to accept it. It is entirely unacceptable for the federal government to try to strong arm the state by threatening to remove federal funding. I look forward to hearing the Justice Department’s explanation for such behavior.”
  • U.S. Senator Tom Coburn wrote, “Secretary Holder owes the residents of Oklahoma an explanation as to why this thinly veiled threat was issued to Oklahoma on a state matter. The last thing Oklahoma needs is a bureaucrat in Washington dictating more of what we can and cannot do. Officials at the Department of Justice should focus on more pressing matters under their jurisdiction before issuing statements about a state issue that has yet to become law.”
  • U.S. Representative Dan Boren wrote, “The state of Oklahoma deserves a clear explanation of why it seems the Department of Justice has singled out the state and threatened funding retribution over a State Legislature initiative that has been approved in other states already. I join my colleagues in urging the Department to give us a full account of their actions on this issue.”‪‪
  • U.S. Representative John Sullivan wrote, “It is inappropriate for the United States Department of Justice to interfere in what is ultimately a state matter. In 2010, voters in Oklahoma will decide if the state constitution will be amended to make English the official language of the state and I proudly stand with the rest of the state delegation in supporting Oklahoma’s right to decide this issue.”
  • U.S. Representative Frank Lucas wrote, “Our country benefits from the diversity of our people. "However, throughout our history, it has been our common language that binds us as one nation. In order for new immigrants to our country to be successful and realize the American Dream, they must be able to speak the English language. Punishing the state of Oklahoma for encouraging that is unnecessary.”
  • U.S. Representative Mary Fallin wrote, “This incident should send shock waves through every state in the union. The letter from DOJ is an affront to Oklahoma’s tenth amendment rights under the Constitution. We should be allowed to pursue this policy without facing preemptive manipulation from the federal government.”

Media endorsements

See also: Endorsements of Oklahoma ballot measures, 2010

Support

  • The Tulsa Beacon made recommendations for all the state questions on the ballot, and recommended a 'yes' vote on the measure.[13]

Opposition

  • The Enid News was against the measure, stating in an editorial published on August 18, 2010, "It is really not needed and not that important of an issue in Oklahoma. It will yield minimal savings to the state in terms of less printing, signage or translators. And it will really do nothing to break down barriers that already impede cultural understanding and development...We encourage voters to reject this State Question 751 in November."[14]
  • The Oklahoman recommended a 'no' vote on the measure, stating "As one state senator who helped write the proposed constitutional amendment admitted, the change won't do much. It requires official "state actions" be conducted in English and allows latitude for Native American languages or differing federal requirements."[15]
  • The Tulsa World was against the measure, recommending a 'no' vote: "English is already the state’s dominant language and nothing decided in a referendum is going to change that. The measure should be rejected as a pointless effort to inflame voters."[16]
  • The Oklahoma Daily was against the measure, stating, "If supporters of the initiative really wanted to help legal immigrants, it would have proposed English teaching programs that citizens could choose to attend. There are 30 other states that have implemented “official English” laws. Let’s not add Oklahoma to that list. Vote “no” on SQ 751."[17]

Polls

See also: Polls, 2010 ballot measures
  • In a survey conducted by SoonerPoll.com and powered by Tulsa World, 621 likely Oklahoma voters were polled on 5 of the 9 statewide ballot questions that was on the November 2, 2010 ballot. The poll, conducted via telephone during the dates of January 2-5, 2010, included only registered voters in the state, and surveyed 325 Democrats, 267 Republicans, 28 Independents and one Libertarian. According to reports, the margin of error was plus or minus 3.93 percentage points. The results for Question 751 were as follows:[18]
  • In a second poll conducted by SoonerPoll.com, 85 percent of voters polled stated that they were for the measure. The poll surveyed likely registered voters in the state, which included 385 Democrats, 340 Republicans and 31 independents. The margin of error was reported to be 3.57 percentage points and was commissioned by the Tulsa World.[19]
  • In one of the last polls taken by SoonerPoll before the general election, the results showed strong support of the measure by those surveyed. The poll included 384 Democrats, 345 Republicans and 24 independents.[20]
Legend

     Position is ahead and at or over 50%     Position is ahead or tied, but under 50%

Date of Poll Pollster In favor Opposed Undecided Number polled
January 2-5, 2010 SoonerPoll.com 83% 13% 4% 621
July 16-21, 2010 SoonerPoll.com 85% 11% 4% 755
October 18-23, 2010 SoonerPoll.com 79% 14% 7% 753

Litigation

See also: Aftermath of 751

Elena Kagan, at the time a United States Supreme Court nominee, stated that in the event of a court challenge if the measure passed, she would keep an open mind as to whether to uphold the decision of the state's voters. According to Kagan, "If Oklahoma adopts this resolution and a challenge to it comes before the court, I would fairly consider all the briefs and arguments presented."[21] Kagan was sworn in as Supreme Court Justice on August 7, 2010.

Suit

A legal challenge to the measure was filed in Tulsa County District Court, but the case was delayed until after the November election. The decision was made after plaintiffs agreed to dismiss the case for now, and would refile it if voters approve the measure. The lawsuit also pertains to State Question 746, which would require all voters to carry voter identification when voting. Plaintiffs argue that the measure is unconstitutional.

According to reports, both sides of the case decided that it was too late to strike the measure off the ballot, with the general election right around the corner. Plaintiffs in the case included Delilah Christine Gentges, state and local chapters of the League of Women Voters, and the Coalition of Hispanic Organizations.[22]

Path to the ballot

The Oklahoma State Legislature can approve a proposed amendment by a majority vote. (However, if the state legislature wants the proposed amendment to go on a special election ballot, it has to approve the amendment by a 2/3rds vote.) Oklahoma is one of ten states that allows a referred amendment to go on the ballot after a majority vote in one session of the state's legislature.

Legislative bill

HB 2674 was a bill that was proposed in the 2010 legislative session, but was rejected by the House Rules committee on February 25, 2010. The bill would have enacted actions in the state that would "diminish or ignore the role of English."The bill was proposed and would have only been enacted if the Question 751 was approved by voters. The bill was titled the Oklahoma Official English Language Implementation Act and was introduced by Representiative George Faught.[23]

See also

External links

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Suggest a link

Additional reading

Opinion

References

  1. Oklahoma Legislature, "HJR 1042" (dead link)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Oklahoma Secretary of State, "Proposed State Questions"
  3. The Oklahoman, "Oklahoma English-only measure challenged," November 11, 2010
  4. Enid News, "Lawmaker: Official English lawsuit frivolous," November 10, 2010 (dead link)
  5. Washington Examiner, "Lawsuit challenging 'official English' dropped," April 2, 2011
  6. Oklahoma Secretary of State, "Proposed State Questions"
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 Edmond Sun, "Groups oppose English-language measure," August 17, 2010
  8. Tulsa Beacon, "11 state questions may pose problems," September 15, 2010
  9. Tahlequah Daily Press, "State questions may confuse voters," August 19, 2010
  10. Copy of April 2009 letter from Department of Justice to Drew Edmondson
  11. Text of letter from Oklahoma Congressional Delegation to the DOJ
  12. Libertarian Republican, "Feds, Eric Holder threaten to trample on State of Oklahoma's Sovereignty over English-only Requirement," August 1, 2009
  13. Tulsa Beacon, "Tulsa Beacon voting endorsements for the Nov. 2 Election," October 28, 2010
  14. Enid News, "‘English only’ is no solution," August 18, 2010
  15. The Oklahoman, "Our SQ choices," October 17, 2010
  16. Tulsa World, "State questions," October 24, 2010
  17. The Oklahoma Daily, "OUR VIEW: 'Official English' alienates," October 28, 2010
  18. Tulsa World, "Term limit expansion finds hefty support," January 26, 2010
  19. The Tulsa World, "Education funding measure supported, Oklahoma Poll shows," August 5, 2010
  20. Tulsa World, "SQ 744 opposition rises," October 30, 2010
  21. The Oklahoman, "Kagan says she'll keep open mind on state ballot question on English," July 13, 2010
  22. Leagle.com, "Lawsuit over 2 state questions is dropped," September 18, 2010
  23. Latina Lista, "Legislative committee rejects new official-English bill," March 9, 2010 (dead link)