The state Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit Friday that sought to stop Alabama from giving the state driver’s license written exam in multiple languages and require the test be given in English only. Without explanation, the justices upheld a lower court ruling dismissing a lawsuit that challenged the multiple languages.
State Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, and several other Alabama residents sued Gov. Bob Riley in 2008. They claimed the use of multiple languages violated Alabama’s constitution, which says English is the official language of the state.
Montgomery County Circuit Judge Johnny Hardwick dismissed the suit because he said it was too similar to litigation the Alabama Supreme Court had rejected from English-only advocates in 2007. Beason appealed to the Supreme Court, which affirmed Hardwick 5-0 Friday.
Beason’s attorney, Shannon Goessling of Atlanta, said she was disappointed the justices didn’t write an opinion addressing such an important constitutional issue.
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“Scott Beason and our other clients should have had their day in court,” said Goessling, executive director of the Southeastern Legal Foundation.
Former state Attorney General Troy King, who defended the governor against the lawsuit, said Friday, “It’s always nice to be right.”
He said that as attorney general, he tried to stand on principle rather than doing what was politically popular, “and this is an example of that.”
State officials have defended giving the written exam in multiple languages as a way to welcome the many foreign executives who have moved to Alabama with the more than 350 foreign industries that have built plants in Alabama. They have also pointed to 40 other states that give the exam in multiple languages.
Alabama citizens voted overwhelmingly in 1990 to add an amendment to Alabama’s constitution to make English the official language. In 2007, members of the group ProEnglish used that constitutional amendment to try to stop the state from giving the driving exam in multiple languages. The state Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the group presented no evidence that administering the driving exam in multiple languages diminished English as Alabama’s common language.
“The court has said the constitution means nothing. To me, it means we should be doing all our official business in English,” Beason said.
In 2008, Beason introduced a bill in the state Senate for English-only exams, but he couldn’t get a Democrat-controlled committee to approve it. Now that Republicans are in control of all Senate committees, Beason said he’s considering trying again.
The driver’s license exam was also an issue in last year’s race for governor. Republican Tim James promised that if elected, he would order the exams be given in English only. He became a sensation on YouTube with a tough-talking campaign ad, where he said, “This is Alabama. We speak English. If you want to live here, learn it.”
Despite enormous Internet attention, he finished third out of seven candidates in the GOP primary.