Puerto Rican Organization for Political Action
(PROPA) v. Kusper
490 F.2d 575 (7th Cir. 1973)
A state's simple Official English
declaration does not justify practical restrictions on bilingual services,
according to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Furthermore, the court
found that Puerto Ricans residing in Illinois are entitled to election
materials in Spanish.<1> This
is one of several decisions that prompted Congress to mandate bilingual
voting materials in its 1975 amendments to the Voting Rights Act. The case
involved a refusal by Chicago officials to provide bilingual voting instructions
and election workers in Puerto Rican precincts during the 1972 election.
The officials based this denial, in part, on the state's 1969 Official
English statute. A U.S. district judge rejected this reasoning and
issued an injunction requiring Chicago to provide bilingual voter assistance.
Its ruling was affirmed by the appellate court in an opinion delivered
by Judge Sprecher on December 18, 1973.
This [Official English] statute (which appears with others
naming the state bird and the state song) has never been used to prevent
publication of official materials in other languages. In fact, various
state and city agencies publish numerous materials and provide many services
in Spanish. ... We conclude that no Illinois law prohibits defendants from
giving voting assistance in Spanish. ...
United States policy toward persons born in Puerto Rico
is to make them U.S. citizens, to allow them to conduct their schools in
Spanish, and to permit them unrestricted immigration to the mainland. As
a result, thousands of Puerto Ricans have come to live in New York, Chicago,
and other urban areas; they are eligible, as residents and U.S. citizens,
to vote in elections conducted in a language many of them do not understand.
Puerto Ricans are not required, as are immigrants from foreign countries,
to learn English before they have the right to vote as U.S. citizens.<2>
Their plight is as much a result of government policy as is the plight
of Negroes trying to pass literacy in states which had subjected them to
segregated, unequal school systems.
Congress responded to the inequities caused by literacy
tests by outlawing them in states with low percentages of registrants or
voters.<3> In the same act, Congress
buttressed the right of Puerto Ricans to vote in the following language:
Congress hereby declares that to secure the rights under
the Fourteenth Amendment of persons educated in American-flag schools in
which the predominant classroom language was other than English, it is
necessary to prohibit the States from conditioning the right to vote of
such persons on ability to read, write, understand, or interpret any matter
in the English language. ...
We agree with the interpretation ... that "the right
to vote" encompasses the right to an effective vote. If a person who
cannot read English is entitled to oral assistance, if a Negro is entitled
to correction of erroneous instructions, so a Spanish-speaking Puerto Rican
is entitled to assistance in the language he can read or understand. ...
1. The court added that the decision would apply not
only to Spanish speakers, but "to any case in which otherwise qualified
voters, literate in a language other than English, are able to make a comparable
demonstration of access to sources of political information."
2. 8 U.S.C. § 1423.
3. Voting Rights Act of 1965, 42 U.S.C. § 1973