English-Only legislation restricts or prohibits the use of languages other than English by government employees and agencies. Over the last several years, English-Only initiatives have been introduced in city councils and state legislatures across the country. Mostly recently, Nashville was confronted with an English-Only initiative and ACLU-TN joined together with a broad-based coalition of groups and elected officials to defeat the initiative.
After a failed attempt to enact Metro Nashville “English-Only” legislation in 2007, Metro Councilman Eric Crafton launched a petition drive to place the language on the November 2008 ballot. While he succeeded in getting the 10,000 signatures necessary to have the resolution placed on the November ballot, there were procedural problems with the date he selected and the Davidson County Election Commission said that they could not place the resolution on the ballot.
In September 2008, Councilman Crafton sued the Election Commission. ACLU-TN spearheaded a litigation team that moved to intervene on behalf of ACLU-TN, Councilman Jameson, TIRRC, SEIU and the Chamber of Commerce in support of the Davidson County Election Commission’s exercise of their authority to ensure that procedural rules were complied with. Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman accepted our participation as Amici and ruled in favor of the Election Commission, causing the ballot initiative to be kept off of the November ballot. (Click to see the motion to intervene or the memo in support of the motion to intervene).
Councilman Crafton and “Nashville English First” then circulated a second petition calling for a special election on January 22, 2009. ACLU-TN joined with a broad-based and diverse group of organizations and founded the Nashville for All of Us Coalition (www.nashvilleforallofus.org) which led a grass-roots “get out the vote” campaign to defeat the English-Only resolution. On January 22, 2009, Nashvillians defeated the ballot initiative by a 53% to 47% vote.
ACLU-TN opposes “English-Only” laws because they are contrary to the spirit of liberty and diversity embodied in our Constitution and they abridge the rights of individuals who are not proficient in English. ACLU-TN believes that the proposals violate the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, are inconsistent with the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and violate the civil rights laws requiring equal access to government services regardless of race or national origin. Click here for talking points related to English-Only laws.