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Utah Official-English Rule Blocked

December 2, 2000

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ A judge on Friday blocked enforcement of a voter-approved measure making English the sole language of Utah’s state government.

The law was to take effect Monday, but state District Judge Ronald Nehring said serious constitutional issues had been raised. He issued a temporary restraining order and set a hearing for Dec. 14.

``I am concerned that a statute which in my view has First Amendment implications go into effect when serious questions concerning its constitutionality exist,″ Nehring said.

The measure, approved overwhelmingly on Nov. 7, contains exceptions for law enforcement or public safety needs, judicial proceedings and to promote tourism, including the Olympics, which will be held here in 2002.

``It covers everything except the exceptions and the exceptions cover everything,″ Nehring said of the law.

Assistant Attorney General Dan Larsen argued that it encourages people to have a common language but doesn’t force anyone to give up communicating in a foreign language.

``The proponents of the initiative explained why they wanted it,″ he said. ``Twenty-six other states are promoting this kind of statute.″

The judge also worried there is no clear determination of how the initiative will be enforced, leaving it open to wide interpretation.

``What I fear is that interpretation will be driven by its proponents, rather than by a deliberate, reasoned approach based on legal and constitutional analysis,″ he said.

The measure was challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union, Salt Lake City’s mayor and the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, among others.

Joe Hunter, spokesman for Utahns for Official English, which backed the measure, said Utah’s initiative was drafted to avoid some of the problems in a similar Arizona law that was thrown out by the courts.

``It does delay implementation of official English, but it is not fatal,″ Lisa Watts-Baskin, an attorney for the group, said of the ruling.

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