We go to Arizona, where a hearing is underway that will decide whether a ban on ethnic studies which eliminated the Mexican-American studies program in Tucson schools is unconstitutional. In 2010, Arizona passed a controversial law banning the teaching of any class designed for a particular ethnic group that would “promote resentment toward a race or class of people.” Following the passage of the bill, then-Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal ruled in 2011 that the Mexican-American studies program violated the state law, despite an independent auditor’s finding showing otherwise. The Tucson Unified School District ultimately suspended the acclaimed Mexican-American studies program in 2012 under the threat of losing up to $14 million of funding if they allowed it to continue. We are joined by Richard Martinez, one of the attorneys representing the families challenging the law.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to Arizona, where a hearing is underway that will decide whether a ban on ethnic studies, which eliminated the Mexican-American studies program in Tucson schools, is unconstitutional. In 2010, Arizona passed a controversial law banning the teaching of any class designed for a particular ethnic group that would, quote, “promote resentment toward a race or class of people,” unquote. Following the passage of the bill, then-Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal ruled in 2011 that the Mexican-American studies program violated the state law, despite an independent auditor’s finding that showed otherwise. This is Huppenthal speaking on Democracy Now! in January 2012.
JOHN HUPPENTHAL: In our determination, we found that these classes were promoting ethnic resentment. They were promoting ethnic solidarity in ways that are really intolerable in an educational environment.
AMY GOODMAN: The Tucson Unified School District ultimately suspended the acclaimed Mexican-American studies program in 2012, under the threat of losing up to $14 million of funding if they allowed it to continue. The program’s suspension also included banning seven books that can no longer be used in the classrooms, including Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years, Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire and Chicano!: The History of the Mexican [American] Civil Rights Movement.
For more, we go to Tucson, Arizona, where we’re joined by Richard Martinez, one of the attorneys representing the families challenging the Arizona law.
Welcome back to Democracy Now! We spoke to you when you were bringing this case. You’re in court now. What’s happening, Richard Martinez?
RICHARD MARTINEZ: Well, thank you for the invitation. And today, we start the second week of the trial, which is expected to last through probably at least Tuesday of next week. And this is a court that—this is a trial to the court, to Judge Tashima, who’s a sitting, by designation, Ninth Circuit judge. And in this case, we are challenging the constitutionality of the statute and the enforcement of the statute under the Equal Protection Clause and under the First Amendment.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Richard Martinez, part of your argument, as I understand it, is that you’re trying to prove that the law was racially and politically partisan in motivation. And you’re presenting evidence about the involvement of Dolores Huerta, the famous leader of the farm workers’ union, and how that triggered the decision by some—that she was speaking in Arizona, that triggered the decision by some of the officials involved here to begin work on this law. Can you talk about that, for people who are not aware of the background to how this law came into being?
RICHARD MARTINEZ: Sure. The Mexican-American studies program had existed for about a decade in the Tucson Unified School District. In 2006, during the Cesar Chavez celebration week, Ms. Huerta was at Tucson High School, gave a speech to the student body. And during that speech, she made reference to the fact that, from her perspective, Republicans hated Latinos. And she was questioning, you know, why had they come to that position. And during that period, there was, as it exists now, a significant amount of anti-immigrant, anti-Mexican sentiment in Arizona.
Tom Horne, who was then superintendent of education, hears that comment, or hears about that comment, reacts very negatively, insists that his deputy have the opportunity to speak to the student body at Tucson High School. That was Margaret Garcia Dugan. Several weeks later, she addresses the student body at the high school. She does not provide any opportunity for the students to ask questions of her. So the students, in protest, placed tape over their mouth and turned their backs on her during her speech.
This further enrages Mr. Horne, who then embarks on a sustained effort to have the Mexican-American studies program banned. And ultimately, in 2010, as a companion legislation to SB 1070, he’s successful that year, and Jan Brewer signs HB 2281. Before leaving office and prior to the statute being in effect, he issues a violation finding with respect to the program. Mr. Huppenthal takes office, within days adopts that finding, and then hires, subsequent to that, an independent group to investigate, called Cambian. Cambian conducted an on-site investigation, an audit, of the Mexican-American studies program, found the program to be fully compliant—in fact, recommended that the program be expanded within the school district. Mr. Huppenthal rejected that finding, issued his own finding, which essentially mirrored that of Mr. Horne. And ultimately, in January of 2012, the school board was forced—they were compelled to ban the program.
AMY GOODMAN: So, can you talk about what’s happening in court right now and the significance of this case, not only for Arizona, but for the country?
RICHARD MARTINEZ: Well, this court—you know, this challenge to the statute has significance in different ways. You know, the Equal Protection challenge focuses on the issue of the motivations of these state actors, both the Legislature and their role in enacting this statute with respect to the racial motivations. With respect to—probably the more novel and important aspect of the case is the First Amendment claims. And there, we’re challenging the motivations, again, of these state actors with respect to not only their racial motives, but their partisan and their political viewpoints. So, essentially, it’s a viewpoint discrimination claim against the prohibition from these—from the state of disallowing these viewpoints.
And the Mexican-American studies curriculum was innovative. It was cutting-edge. It was based on very solid research. And it was found to being—you know, having significant progress with the students who were attending. We were closing the achievement gap in Tucson, Arizona, for Mexican-American studies. We were graduating more students. We were taking students at risk and keeping them in school and helping them develop academic identities. So, it was significant in terms of not only what the program was accomplishing, but the state’s then reaction to shutting it down. And so, if successful—and certainly we come into this litigation very positive about the potential outcome—then I believe that it will be significant in terms of the precedent set that the states cannot act in the manner which occurred here in Arizona.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And the importance in terms of Arizona, of changing demographics of Arizona, increasingly a Latino and Native American state, and yet these centers of reaction continuing to try to hold back the growing population there?
RICHARD MARTINEZ: Yeah. You know, certainly, Arizona is one of those battleground states where demographics are in conflict. This is a state that has a significant Mexican-American population, Latino population. It’s a segment of the community that is predicted to be over 50 percent, you know, by the middle of the century, if not sooner. And it’s certainly part of the both national and local efforts to try and curb or hold that back. So, we’ve had such characters as, you know, Joe Arpaio, Russell Pearce. And, you know, certainly within that group of individuals, that kind of leadership from the right, you know, you have Tom Horne and John Huppenthal.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Richard Martinez, we want to thank you for being with us, attorney representing the families challenging the Arizona law that resulted in the closing of the Mexican-American studies program in Tucson High School. We’ll continue to follow what comes out of court.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, “Tobacco: A Deadly Business.” What is its role in the Trump administration? Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: “Whispers in the Deep” by South Africa’s Stimela. Member Ray “Just Now” Phiri passed away last week at the age of 70. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.