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Federal role questioned in Oklahoma's English-only debate

CHRIS CASTEEL, Washington Bureau Modified: July 29, 2009 at 4:08 pm •  Published: July 29, 2009
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/> The day after receiving the letter, Edmondson sent a letter to Gov. Brad Henry, legislative leaders and lawmakers working on the amendment outlining the concerns raised by the Justice Department.

"As you will note, the DOJ is in effect warning our state about the possible federal consequences should these proposals pass,” Edmondson wrote.

Edmondson told state leaders that the letter suggested the Justice Department could sue the state for civil rights violations.

"It is not clear whether we would prevail in such litigation but it appears very clear that we can expect such litigation to follow passage of these proposals,” he wrote.

After Edmondson’s letter, the legislation was changed to say that "official actions of the state shall be conducted in English, except as required by federal law.”

Charlie Price, a spokesman for Edmondson, said Tuesday that it wasn’t clear whether the change to the legislation would protect the state.

"It would depend on the allegations in the lawsuit as to whether this language would help in the state’s defense,” Price said.

Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, said Tuesday, "I support the state’s effort to pass a constitutional amendment making English the official language of the state because it ultimately facilitates better communication across the many lines of diversity within our state.

"It is entirely unacceptable for the federal government to try to strong-arm the state by threatening to remove federal funding. I look forward to hearing the Justice Department’s explanation for such behavior,” Inhofe said.