Judge Shuts Down Arizona’s Ban on Ethnic Studies Program

In this May 9, 2011, photo, Carlos Galindo protests outside the Arizona Department of Education in Phoenix.
(AP Photo/Matt York, File)

TUCSON, Ariz. (CN) – Arizona can no longer enforce a law aimed at shutting down Tucson Unified School District’s defunct Mexican-American Studies program, shuttered in 2012 after the state threatened to cut district funding, a judge ordered Wednesday.

The state law, which was ruled a violation of the First and 14th amendments in August, attempted to block classes that “promote the overthrow of the United States government; promote resentment toward a race or class of people; are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group; or advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.”

Two Tucson students and their parents sued in 2010, claiming the law is racist. The district closed the program in 2012 after the state threatened to cut 10 percent of its state education funds, amounting to more than $10 million. No other ethnic studies program, in Tucson or elsewhere, was similarly targeted.

In August, Ninth Circuit Judge A. Wallace Tashima, sitting by designation at the U.S. District Court level, agreed with the plaintiffs and ruled the law was “motivated by a desire to advance a political agenda by capitalizing on race-based fears.” Wednesday’s final judgment lays down a permanent injunction preventing the state Board of Education from enforcing the ban, requiring compliance reports, or auditing classes or programs for compliance.

Tashima used former state Superintendent John Huppenthal’s own writings to condemn the law in his August ruling.

“Huppenthal’s blog comments provide the most important and direct evidence that racial animus infected the decision to enact A.R.S. § 15-112. Huppenthal not only voted for the bill, but was a key player in the effort to get it passed,” Tashima wrote.

“Several of his blog comments convey animus toward Mexican-Americans generally. Because these comments were made soon after the Legislature debated and voted on the bill, they are highly probative of Huppenthal’s state of mind during the relevant period.”

After Tashima’s ruling in August, the students’ lawyer Richard Martinez called the case a ground-breaking victory for civil rights in which the judiciary exerted the appropriate power to control illegal state actions.

“This is really important in terms of our jurisprudence and moving civil rights further down the road,” he said.

Wednesday’s order is the latest salvo in a battle stretching back a decade that included student walk-outs, shouting matches at local school board meetings, and seven years of legal wrangling. A replacement for the banned Mexican-American Studies program eventually met the state standards.

Spokesmen for the Attorney General’s office and state Department of Education did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Martinez could not immediately be contacted.


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