An en banc panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has vacated an earlier decision by a three-judge panel that, pursuant to the minority language provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act ("VRA") (42 USC §1973aa-1a), California recall petitions must be translated into minority languages. The Ninth Circuit now joins two other circuits that have found voter-circulated petitions need not be translated into other languages to comply with Section 203 of the VRA. The majority held that these petitions were not materials "provided by" the state and, therefore, petition proponents are not required to comply with the minority language provisions of the VRA. An interesting aspect of the decision is the courts belief that a translation requirement would have a chilling effect on the petition process itself. The Court reasoned that if a translation were to be required for a petition in Orange County, the petition would have to be printed in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean and Chinese, the costs of which would fall directly on the proponents of the petition, which may deter participation in the electoral process. This decision will also end speculation that the VRA might also apply to initiative and referendum petitions.
For more information please contact John Scheuring. John Scheuring is an attorney in the Real Estate Practice Group in the firm’s San Francisco office.