This was a letter I sent to a couple of newspapers in Arizona in connection with the matter of Alejandrina Cabrera, a US citizen who was deemed ineligible for public office due to be principally fluent in Spanish rather than English. This is a matter where there’s room for a range of views; in my particular case I thought it was more interesting for the light on the debate which can be shed by a knowledge of history.
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Alejandrina Cabrera’s recent barring from running for San Luis city council on the grounds of speaking insufficient English intrigued me. I am presently researching American legal attitudes towards citizenship after the Revolution. History would require only that a public official speak enough English to discharge their duties before allowing them to exercise that particular right of citizenship. After the Revolution, American courts focused on concrete realities in these questions. In Cummington v Springfield (1824), a redcoat who was captured during the Revolution and after release remained in America, thereby became a citizen. In Caignet v Pettit (1795), a Frenchman who did not support the French Republic and settled in the US ceased to be a French subject. In each case, the practical realities were critical. By extension, while a prospective public official like Ms Cabrera should understand enough English to discharge her duties, no higher standard should be required.