An expedited 2-page order issued today by the Arizona Supreme Court affirming a lower court ruling keeping a candidate for the San Luis city council off the ballot due to her limited English proficiency doesn't explain the reasoning. That will follow later in a written opinion. But as reported in this Associated Press story, a sociolinguistic's assessment of Alejandrina Cabrera's proficiency as "survival level" but insufficient to carry out a city council role anchored the trial court determination that Cabrera failed to meet the state law that requires that public officials be proficient in English. More specifically, a state law applies to local public officials the language in the Arizona state constitution (adopted upon statehood) that says that“the ability to read, write, speak, and understand the English language sufficiently well to conduct the duties of the office without the aid of an interpreter, shall be a necessary qualification for all state officers and members of the state legislature.” Cabrera is an Arizona native and a graduate of a local high school. Her lawyer told the Yuma Sun, “This is a fine example of judicial activism. Arizona now has a English standard to be on a ballot but doesn't tell you what that standard is.”
Prof. Vikram Amar, writing on the constitutional issues in the case in Justia, "English Language Proficiency and Elective Office in the Southwest: An Arizona Ballot-Access Case Poses Important Questions," appears to agree:
All of this brings me to what might be the biggest vulnerability in the Arizona requirement: the vagueness and manipulability of a standard of “[i]nab[ility] to speak, write and read” in English. Remember, the Arizona law disqualifies from all elected offices those who are “unable to speak, write and read” in English. What does “unable” mean? Who decides? How sophisticated does one’s understanding of the presentation of ideas in English have to be to qualify? And how might this standard vary by office?
These are key questions, because imprecision in the standard inevitably creates discretion on the part of the enforcer. And that discretion may be manipulated by bureaucrats and even judges (especially state judges, who are often elected) to achieve impermissible partisan or racial ends.