Korematsu center joins fight to preserve ethnic studies in Tucson, Arizona

April 18, 2012

Professor Robert S. Chang and Anjana Malhotra of the Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality are among a team of lawyers seeking to have declared unconstitutional the Arizona statute that has led to the elimination of Tucson's Mexican American Studies Program and the removal of books from its classrooms. They have filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice.

Since October 2010, Richard M. Martinez has represented a group of teachers and students of Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) in their legal struggle against HB 2281's attack on TUSD's Mexican American Studies (MAS) Program. HB 2281, passed in the same session as SB 1070 and signed into law by Governor Jan Brewer, has been used to target a highly successful ethnic studies program that had a proven record of promoting educational achievement.

Chang, executive director of the Korematsu Center, and Malhotra, a clinical teaching fellow, have worked with students from the law school's Ronald Peterson Law Clinic when they launched a new civil rights clinic.

"This important case fits with Seattle University School of Law's social justice mission and advances the legacy of Fred Korematsu, who fought in our courts during World War II against the injustice of Japanese American internment," Chang said. "The Tucson students are fighting in the courts against the injustice of a law that has discriminatorily targeted them."

Malhotra notes, "We have asked the Department of Justice to intervene because HB 2281 may, like SB 1070, invite copycat legislation that will have a chilling effect on curricular innovation and programs to promote educational equity. In addition, the involvement of the Department of Justice might help bring about a quicker resolution, which is especially important with TUSD students returning to school on August 2."

A motion for summary judgment is currently before Judge A. Wallace Tashima.

Also joining the case is Sujal Shah, who grew up in Tucson and attended Canyon Del Oro High School, and now works in the San Francisco office of Bingham McCutchen. Shah and Bingham joined the effort last month.

"The growing legal team reflects the national importance of this issue - it is not just a Tucson or an Arizona or a Mexican American issue," Martinez said. "The suppression of ideas and the discriminatory restriction on the perspectives we make available to our students is of paramount importance if we are to remain true to our finest democratic ideals."