Arizona high court: Limited-English candidate won't be on ballot

Alejandrina Cabrera, a candidate with limited English skills, will not be on the upcoming City Council ballot in San Luis, Ariz., the state's Supreme Court decided Tuesday.

Cabrera, who was born in Yuma, Ariz., but raised in Mexico, had spent 10 years working as a political activist in San Luis, an agricultural border town of 25,000, and decided to run as a City Council candidate there.

But Mayor Juan Carlos Escamilla filed a lawsuit in December challenging Cabrera's fluency in English.

In a case that involved the testimony of an Australian linguist from Brigham Young University, Yuma County Superior Court Judge John Nelson ruled that Cabrera's grasp of English was not strong enough for her to hold public office.

Cabrera and her lawyers argued that she knew enough English to represent San Luis residents. Almost 99% of the town's residents are Latino, and Spanish is spoken virtually everywhere. 

The Arizona Supreme Court took up the case over the weekend. The court didn't hear oral arguments,  but instead based its decision on briefs submitted late last week. The initial deadline to print San Luis' ballots passed last week but was extended through Tuesday to await the court's  ruling. 

Many said the legal challenge to Cabrera's candidacy was motivated by the town's fierce political infighting. Cabrera has twice filed unsuccessful recall petitions against Escamilla. 

Another candidate, Juan Castillo, who is backed by Cabrera supporters, has already declared his intent to replace Cabrera on the ballot.


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Photo: Alejandrina Cabrera speaks with reporters in San Luis, Ariz., after her attorneys filed their appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court. Credit: Ricardo Lopez / Los Angeles Times

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Rene Lynch has been an editor and writer in Metro, Sports, Business, Calendar and Food. @ReneLynch

As an editor and reporter, Michael Muskal has covered local, national, economic and foreign issues at three newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. @latimesmuskal

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