Delegation Reacts to English Amendment Explanation from Justice Department

Oct 09, 2009

Washington, DCThe Oklahoma Congressional delegation today reacted to an explanation provided by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for a letter the department sent to the state of Oklahoma in April threatening to pull federal funds if the state passed its amendment making English the official language of the state. 

This week, the Congressional delegation received the Justice Department’s response to an inquiry the delegation sent in July requesting clarification of the DOJ’s original April letter. The response from DOJ noted this was the first time Justice had sent a letter to a state regarding a state’s pending English-only legislation.  The explanation further states the Department learned of the Oklahoma Constitutional amendment through media reports and says, “Please be assured that voter approval next year of Oklahoma’s official English amendment would not affect the state’s eligibility for federal financial assistance from the Department.”

Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK-3) stated, “I thank the Department of Justice for their response and am encouraged by their statement that if this bill is approved, it will not affect Oklahoma’s eligibility for federal assistance. Oklahoma voters should be able to make decisions about their state without interference or threats from the federal government, especially while that law is still being debated.”

“I am pleased that the Justice Department has backed off its threat over Oklahoma’s proposed English-only constitutional amendment,” U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said.  “It was unprecedented and improper for the federal agency to send such a letter to the state while the proposed amendment was still being debated.  The threat to withhold funding by the Justice Department is further evidence of a runaway federal government improperly attempting to constrain state action.  This is an issue that should be decided by the voters in our state without undue influence from Washington.”

Rep. Mary Fallin (R-OK-5) commented, “I am pleased this issue was resolved at the state level, as it rightfully should have been.  It was inappropriate for the Department of Justice to try and interfere with the debate on this issue by attempting to influence Oklahoma voters.”

Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK-4) added, “I am pleased to see that the Department of Justice has recognized that the initiative complies with all applicable federal laws and that this matter will now be decided by the citizens of Oklahoma.”

Rep. John Sullivan (R-OK-1) said, “After reviewing the letter from the Department of Justice, I am reassured that the people of Oklahoma can vote on the English Language amendment without the fear of the federal government eliminating our financial assistance.  As a firm believer in states’ rights for Oklahoma, It is important that the people of Oklahoma are free to make this choice without threats from their own federal government.”

On April 14, 2009, during the state’s debate over the pending English-only state constitutional amendment, the U.S. Department of Justice sent a letter to Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson warning, “Many state, county, and local jurisdictions receive, either directly or indirectly, federal financial assistance from the Department of Justice (DOJ) or other federal agencies.  As you know, recipients of federal financial assistance must comply with various civil rights statutes including Title VI of the Civil Rights of 1964…which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin.  Under DOJ regulations implementing Title VI, recipients of federal financial assistance have a responsibility to ensure meaningful access to their programs and activities by LEP [limited English proficient] Persons.”

The Justice letter prompted Edmondson to send state officials a letter on April 21, 2009, saying “the DOJ is in effect warning our state about the possible federal consequences should these proposals pass.”

When the Oklahoma Congressional Delegation learned of this intrusion into Oklahoma affairs by the U.S. Justice Department, the members sent U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder a letter seeking explanation for what the delegation believed was an overreaching violation of the state’s rights.

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