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Supreme Weekly: Cases in Arizona and Utah

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Judgepedia's Supreme Weekly: The States

February 9, 2012

by: Katy Farrell

Court makes headlines with English proficiency ruling

This week, the Arizona Supreme Court made national headlines with its decision to prohibit a candidate who was not proficient in English from running for city court in a local election. The court has not yet released its full decision, since an expedited hearing was necessary in order to print election ballots. The ruling affirmed that of the Judge John N. Nelson, of the Yuma County Superior Court. [1]

Nelson found that Alejandrina Cabrera was not proficient in English after she had difficulty answering questions during her hearing. Prior to appearing in court, Cabrera was forced to take a test to determine her ability to understand the language. San Luis Mayor Juan Carlos Escamilla filed a lawsuit to ask for clarification on the idea of proficiency.

Things to consider:

  • Cabrera is a United States citizen.
  • English proficiency is a requirement for seeking office in Arizona.
  • There is no system in place to determine proficiency.
  • Cabrera was running for city council in a border town with 87% of residents who speak a language other than English in their homes.[1]

Another element to the story is that Cabrera formerly led two attempts to recall Mayor Escamilla. When asked about the campaign to keep her off the ballot, the mayor insisted that the history between the two had no bearing on his actions.[1]

The rationale for the decision is expected to be explained soon by the Arizona Supreme Court. The order handed down read:

It is ordered that the trial court's judgment and orders filed January 27, 2012 are affirmed. The City Clerk shall not include appellant's name on the March 13, 2012, City Council election ballot. A written decision of this court shall follow in due course.[1]

Cabrera and her attorney have expressed their intention to take the argument to the ultimate court of last resort, the Supreme Court of the United States.[2]

Court considering cases

The Utah Supreme Court is considering two interesting cases this week. In the first, the defense attorney for a woman accused of improper relations with an under-aged friend of her son is attempting to waive a jury trial. The defense argues that impartial jurors would be difficult to find given the media attention around the case, and that the legal questions posed are too complex for jurors. In response to the second point, Justice Matthew Durrant said, "On the continuum of complexity, I don't think it rates that high." [3]

In the second case, the high court is looking at the definition of parenting in order to determine whether a posthumously conceived son is eligible for his late father's Social Security benefits. The case made it to Utah's Supreme Court after the United States District Court for the District of Utah said it was for the state to decide.[4]

See also