Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Protestors march through the Oregon State campus in 2010 in response to recently passed laws in Arizona including the ban on ethnic studies classes as well as the notorious SB1070. (Photo: Oregon State University/flickr/cc)

Educators Celebrate as Arizona's Racist Ethnic Studies Ban Ruled Unconstitutional

"This is a win for what is right, for children."

Andrea Germanos

In a development one observer calls a "win for what is right," a federal court ruled Tuesday that Arizona's ban on ethnic studies classes was enacted with discriminatory intent and is unconstitutional—violating students' First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

"Both enactment and enforcement were motivated by racial animus," wrote federal appeals court Judge A. Wallace Tashima of the district court in Arizona.

"We won on all points," said Richard Martinez, one of six lawyers defending the student plaintiffs. "It speaks to the importance of the judiciary and protecting everyone against racial discrimination."

Many educators celebrated the news on social media:

The case stems from the state's 2010 law that prohibited classes that promote "the overthrow of the United States government," "resentment toward a race or class of people,” "are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group," or "advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals." At its heart, it was an "attempt to silence stories that unsettle today's unequal power arrangements," as Bill Bigelow, curriculum editor of Rethinking Schools and co-director of the Zinn Education Project, put it.

The law forced the suspension of Tucson Unified School District's Mexican-American Studies (MAS) program—which has been linked to academic success. Tashima noted the cognitive dissonance of supposed education advocates axing such a successful program, writing:

given that the MAS program was an academically successful program, the decision by each of these two Superintendents of Public Instruction [Tom Horne and his successor John Huppenthal] to eliminate it was a departure from the substantive outcome that one would expect. One would expect that officials responsible for public education in Arizona would continue, not terminate, an academically successful program. Horne himself admitted that he did not enforce the statute against the Asian-American studies program in Tucson because he "was told that it was academically an excellent program." Although Horne and Huppenthal were told that the MAS program was academically excellent, they refused to believe it.

Horne and Huppenthal "were pursuing these discriminatory ends in order to make political gains," Tashima wrote, and also pointed to blog comments by Huppenthal that "provide the most important and direct evidence that racial animus infected the decision to enact" the law. The comments included: "The Mexican-American Studies  classes use the exact same technique that Hitler used in his rise to power"; "The books aren't the problem. The infected teachers are the problem;" and "MAS = KKK in a different color."

Grassroots group UNIDOS, created in response to the MAS program closure, said following the ruling: "Today was a major victory in our struggle, and we hope that it leads to many more."

"As a community we celebrate this victory with all those who have supported and pursued the dismantling of this racist act against the Mexican-American community. With this accomplishment we must remember that the fight is not over. UNIDOS and the community of Tucson will continue to resist any injustice that plagues our community. We would like to thank all our allies and those who never lost hope in the fight," the group said on its Facebook page.

The Associated Press adds that "Tashima said he doesn't know a remedy for the violation and has not issued a final judgment."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

'Tipping Point of No Return' Feared as Amazon Rainforest Fires Surge

"Up to now, the Biden administration has only legitimized the Brazilian government's anti-Indigenous and anti-environmental agenda," said Greenpeace USA.

Jake Johnson ·


Biden Urged to Embrace Windfall Tax as Exxon Says Profits Doubled in Second Quarter

"It's time for the president to demand that Congress pass a windfall profits tax on Big Oil and use the revenue to provide rebates to consumers NOW!" wrote Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Jake Johnson ·


Texas Supreme Court Allows Century-Old Abortion Ban to Take Effect

"Extremist politicians are on a crusade to force Texans into pregnancy and childbirth against their will, no matter how devastating the consequences."

Jake Johnson ·


'What's There to Even Discuss?' Omar Says Free, Universal School Meals Should Be Permanent

"We have an opportunity to prove that a government of the people, by the people, and for the people can still deliver big things. And we can feed tens of millions of hungry kids while we do it."

Jake Johnson ·


'Stark Betrayal': Biden Administration Floats New Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling

"This is the third time since November the Biden administration has announced new oil and gas leasing plans on the Friday before a holiday," said one climate advocate. "They're ashamed, and they should be."

Jake Johnson ·

Common Dreams Logo