St. Mary's Law Journal


El Cenizo's Spanish language ordinance is likely to survive a constitutional challenge. The City Council of El Cenizo’s Spanish language ordinance, however, has generated a significant amount of controversy in the United States. The ordinance stipulates that all city council meetings will be made in the city’s predominant language—Spanish. Critics argue that the ordinance has made Spanish the official language. Critics also argue that the ordinance is discriminatory toward English speakers. English only advocacy groups, such as English First and U.S. English, argue that the ordinance will create a trend across the United States of immigrants refusing to embrace an American identity. Despite the criticism, the City Council of El Cenizo was within their legal right to pass the Spanish language ordinance. Because the majority of the community spoke only Spanish, they did not have the capability of participating in local proceedings. Therefore, the council’s goal in passing the ordinance was to encourage community participation and improve the city’s social, political, educational, and economic spheres. Nonetheless, if the ordinance is constitutionally challenged in court, the ordinance is likely to pass constitutional muster under all scrutinties including: strict scrutiny, heightened scrutiny, and rational basis. The ordinance is likely to pass strict scrutiny review because the measures are temporary and flexible. Additionally, since the ordinance does not explicitly state that the language to be spoken is Spanish, the ordinance does not discriminate against English nor favor Spanish. Moreover, the city council did not act because of prejudices against non-Spanish speakers when it passed the measure, nor does the act represent an effort to orchestrate anti-English legislation. The measure was not intended to infringe upon the personal liberties of English speakers; rather, the ordinance sought to preserve the individual rights of citizens to partake in their civic calling.


St. Mary's University School of Law