NYCLU Commends Town of Jackson for Rescinding Discriminatory English-Only Law

June 2, 2011 —  The New York Civil Liberties Union today commended the Jackson Town Board for following the law and rescinding a local ordinance requiring all official town business to be conducted exclusively in English.

“We welcome the Town Board’s decision to rescind this discriminatory and unconstitutional ordinance,” said Melanie Trimble, director of the NYCLU’s Capital Region Chapter. “The English language is not under assault in Jackson or anyplace else. This decision helps ensure that all residents, regardless of what language they speak, have access to crucial public services.”

After the Town Board enacted the English-only ordinance in March 2010, the NYCLU informed town officials in a letter that that the measure violated the U.S. Constitution, New York State Constitution, as well as state and federal law.

The NYCLU maintained that the ordinance violated core constitutional rights of free speech, due process and equal protection under the law. It also argued that the ordinance violates Title VI of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 by excluding people who are not fluent in English from accessing important federally funded town services, such as medical aid, public education services and police protection.

In April, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman warned Jackson officials that the English-only ordinance was illegal, discriminatory and unconstitutional. He advised them to rescind the ordinance.

“We applaud Attorney General Schneiderman for getting involved in this matter,” Trimble said. “We hope other municipalities that have passed or are considering similar English-only ordinances take notice.”

Jackson, located in Washington County, has a population about 1,800. Only about 3 percent of its residents speak a language other than English at home, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.