Arizonans for Official English v. Arizona
520 U.S. 43 (1997)

Annotate this Case

OCTOBER TERM, 1996

Syllabus

ARIZONANS FOR OFFICIAL ENGLISH ET AL. v.

ARIZONA ET AL.

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT

No. 95-974. Argued December 4, 1996-Decided March 3,1997

Maria-Kelly F. Yniguez, an Arizona state employee at the time, sued the State and its Governor, Attorney General, and Director of the Department of Administration under 42 U. S. C. § 1983, alleging that State Constitution Article XXVIII-key provisions of which declare English "the official language of the State," require the State to "act in English and in no other language," and authorize state residents and businesses "to bring [state-court] suitEs] to enforce thEe] Article"-violated, inter alia, the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. Yniguez used both English and Spanish in her work and feared that Article XXVIII, if read broadly, would require her to face discharge or other discipline if she did not refrain from speaking Spanish while serving the State. She requested injunctive and declaratory relief, counsel fees, and "all other relief that the Court deems just and proper." During the early phases of the suit, the State Attorney General released an opinion expressing his view that Article XXVIII is constitutional in that, although it requires the expression of "official acts" in English, it allows government employees to use other languages to facilitate the delivery of governmental services. The Federal District Court heard testimony and, among its rulings, determined that only the Governor, in her official capacity, was a proper defendant. The court, at the same time, dismissed the State because of its Eleventh Amendment immunity, the State Attorney General because he had no authority to enforce Article XXVIII against state employees, and the Director because there was no showing that she had undertaken or threatened any action adverse to Yniguez; rejected the Attorney General's interpretation of the Article on the ground that it conflicted with the measure's plain language; declared the Article fatally overbroad after reading it to impose a sweeping ban on the use of any language other than English by all of Arizona officialdom; and declined to allow the Arizona courts the initial opportunity to determine the scope of Article XXVIII. Following the Governor's announcement that she would not appeal, the District Court denied the State Attorney General's request to certify the pivotal statelaw question-the Article's correct construction-to the Arizona Supreme Court. The District Court also denied the State Attorney Gen-


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eral's motion to intervene on behalf of the State, under 28 U. S. C. § 2403(b), to contest on appeal the court's holding that the Article is unconstitutional. In addition, the court denied the motion of newcomers Arizonans for Official English Committee (AOE) and its Chairman Park, sponsors of the ballot initiative that became Article XXVIII, to intervene to support the Article's constitutionality. The day after AOE, Park, and the State Attorney General filed their notices of appeal, Yniguez resigned from state employment to accept a job in the private sector. The Ninth Circuit then concluded that AOE and Park met standing requirements under Article III of the Federal Constitution and could proceed as party appellants, and that the Attorney General, having successfully obtained dismissal below, could not reenter as a party, but could present an argument, pursuant to § 2403(b), regarding the constitutionality of Article XXVIII. Thereafter, the State Attorney General informed the Ninth Circuit of Yniguez's resignation and suggested that, for lack of a viable plaintiff, the case was moot. The court disagreed, holding that a plea for nominal damages could be read into the complaint's "all other relief" clause to save the case. The en banc Ninth Circuit ultimately affirmed the District Court's ruling that Article XXVIII was unconstitutional, and announced that Yniguez was entitled to nominal damages from the State. Finding the Article's "plain language" dispositive, and noting that the State Attorney General had never conceded that the Article would be unconstitutional if construed as Yniguez asserted it should be, the Court of Appeals also rejected the Attorney General's limiting construction of the Article and declined to certify the matter to the State Supreme Court. Finally, the Ninth Circuit acknowledged a state-court challenge to Article XXVIII's constitutionality, Ruiz v. State, but found that litigation no cause to stay the federal proceedings.

Held: Because the case was moot and should not have been retained for adjudication on the merits, the Court vacates the Ninth Circuit's judgment and remands the case with directions that the action be dismissed by the District Court. This Court expresses no view on the correct interpretation of Article XXVIII or on the measure's constitutionality. Pp.64-80.

(a) Grave doubts exist as to the standing of petitioners AOE and Park to pursue appellate review under Article Ill's case-or-controversy requirement. Standing to defend on appeal in the place of an original defendant demands that the litigant possess "a direct stake in the outcome." Diamond v. Charles, 476 U. S. 54, 62. Petitioners' primary argument-that, as initiative proponents, they have a quasi-legislative


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Full Text of Opinion

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