Resolution Opposing Legislation Making English the Official Language of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

WHEREAS, on September 26, 1991, the Board of Governors of the Philadelphia Bar Association adopted a resolution opposing proposed legislation that would have designated English as the “official language” of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania;

WHEREAS, on June 27, 1994 the Board of Governors of the Philadelphia Bar Association adopted a resolution calling for testing and certification of foreign language interpreters in Pennsylvania Courts, and also addressed the need for electronic recording of non-English and sign language testimony;

WHEREAS, on June 27, 1996, the Board of Governors of the Philadelphia Bar Association passed a resolution for the protection of state civil rights and again opposed a bill that would have mandated English as Pennsylvania’s official state language;

WHEREAS, in March 2003 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Committee on Racial and Gender Bias in the Judicial System reported extensive findings and recommendations after exhaustive study as to changes needed to make the state judicial system accessible to persons with limited English proficiency, stating that “Upgrading the capacity of the Pennsylvania judicial system to provide justice for all, regardless of English language ability, should be a priority for the Commonwealth”;

WHEREAS, the Report of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Committee on Racial and Gender Bias indicated that Pennsylvania courts in recent years have requested oral language interpretation services in more than 50 different languages and dialects;

WHEREAS, the federal government interprets Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d, et seq., as mandating that recipients of federal financial assistance (including the Court of Common Pleas and Pennsylvania state agencies and those programs receiving funds from those agencies) must ensure that their programs and activities normally provided in English are also accessible to persons with limited English proficiency;

WHEREAS, on September 25, 2003, the Board of Governors of the Philadelphia Bar Association adopted a resolution concerning Equal Access to Courts and Administrative Agencies by Limited English Proficient Persons and Persons with Disabilities, establishing participation by the Association in the Campaign for Litigants’ Equal Participation;

WHEREAS, the Mayor of the City of Philadelphia on September 29, 2001 issued an Executive Order, directing all City of Philadelphia agencies to develop compliance programs for providing meaningful access to their federally funded programs and activities for persons with limited English proficiency;

WHEREAS, the City of Philadelphia has a highly visible cultural and ethnic population;

WHEREAS, during 2005, Chancellor Andrew Chirls made it a priority of his term to involve the Association in work with immigrant and non-English speaking communities;

WHEREAS, the City of Philadelphia and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania have attempted to promote economic development through attracting international businesses to the region;

WHEREAS, House Bill 2089, Printer’s No. 2879 seeks to establish English as the official language of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania;

WHEREAS, on June 28, 2006 the Pennsylvania House amended House Bill 1959, Printer’s No. 2692, a bill addressing insurance department fees, to include provisions making English the official language of Pennsylvania;

WHEREAS, House Bill 1959, as amended, was passed in the House and referred to the State Government Committee in the Pennsylvania Senate as Printer’s No. 4423;

WHEREAS, courts in three other states that have passed similar statutes, Alaska, Arizona and Oklahoma, have found these laws to be unconstitutional because they violate the free speech rights of citizens and state employees;

WHEREAS, enactment of House Bill 2089 or House Bill 1959 is likely to lead to similar costly litigation in Pennsylvania;

WHEREAS, enactment of House Bill 2089 or the House Bill 1959 may discourage international businesses from further development in Pennsylvania;

WHEREAS, enactment of House Bill 2089 or House Bill 1959 would be detrimental to efforts to ensure the rights of all Pennsylvanians, regardless of English proficiency.

NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Philadelphia Bar Association opposes passage of House Bill 2089, Printer’s No. 2879 or House Bill 1959, Printer’s No. 4423, or similar legislation.

AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Chancellor is authorized to take whatever steps are deemed necessary to communicate the views of the Philadelphia Bar Association to the appropriate members of the General Assembly and to the Governor, and to otherwise effectuate this resolution.

PHILADELPHIA BAR ASSOCIATION
BOARD OF GOVERNORS
ADOPTED: JULY 27, 2006