Alabama lawsuit on drivers' licensing policy continued...

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Wed May 18 12:21:22 UTC 2005

Forwarded from

Article published May 17, 2005

Suit: state should offer driver's license exams only in English

Associated Press Writer

A lawsuit filed Tuesday challenges Alabama's policy of offering driver's
license exams in multiple languages and seeks a court order to give the
tests only in English. The non-profit Southeastern Legal Foundation filed
the suit against Gov.  Bob Riley and Department of Public Safety Director
Mike Coppage on behalf of five Alabama residents who are members of an
English language advocacy group.

"This is a matter of consitutional law; this is a matter of public policy;
this is a matter that has already been brought before the people of
Alabama," said Shannon Goessling, executive director of the foundation.
Goessling said six other states have eliminated multi-lingual tests for
various reasons and that Alabama would not be "discriminating against
anyone" if it joined them.

Alabama previously stopped offering the exam in languages other than
English in 1990, when state residents voted by a 9-1 margin to enact
Amendment 509, naming English as the official language of Alabama.
Then-Gov. Don Siegelman reinstituted multi-lingual tests after the
Southern Poverty Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union sued
Alabama in federal district court on behalf of a group of
non-English-speaking Alabama residents. That court found Alabama's policy
of offering exams solely in English violated "national origin"
discrimination provisions in the Civil Rights Act.

But the U.S. Supreme Court later reversed that decision, paving the way
for Alabama to legally offer tests exclusively in English. The state,
however, has not changed its policy and currently offers tests in 14
languages, including English and American Sign Language. "This is
basically going back and saying, 'Be consistent in implementing Amendment
509," said K.C. McAlpin, executive director of ProEnglish, the
English-language advocacy group.

He said he was surprised that Riley had not changed Alabama policy after
the Supreme Court ruling because Riley and 14 other Congressmen had signed
a friend of the court brief in support of Alabama's right to give the test
solely in English. "Gov. Riley has had an opportunity for several years to
reverse the policy," Goessling said. She said a reversal would give him
"the opportunity to protect" Alabama residents and the state constitution.
A spokesman for Riley declined comment, saying the governor had not yet
seen the lawsuit.

But Southern Poverty Law Center attorney Richard Cohen said he believed an
English-only policy would hurt the state rather than help its residents.
"I think it's a mean-spirited maneuver that could end up costing the state
millions of dollars in foreign investment and federal funds," Cohen said.
He said that "industry from around the world that we desperately need for
the state is going to be scared off."

He said that licensing non-English speakers was no different from giving
licenses to illiterate drivers. "Alabama currently licenses illiterate
drivers ... and no one's complaining about that," Cohen said. He said
reversal of the policy would also hinder immigrants' efforts to learn more
English, isolating them in their own communities and denying them
transportation to jobs.

McAlpin said that drivers who have obtained licenses from non-English
exams constitute a threat to public safety. They are often unable to read
road signs or converse with emergency personnel, he said. "You can't print
road signs in 14 languages," McAlpin said.

[Moderator's note: I have been following this lawsuit for some years, and
have written a paper on it which can be viewed at (hs)]

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