The US famously has no official language, and federal courts in removal jurisdiction are required to apply state law (which applies equally to Puerto Rico—48 U.S.C. § 864).

Given that Puerto Rico's case law is primarily in the Spanish language, and that English has no official status, and that rules of court procedure are normally dictated by the courts, not by statute, why does 48 U.S.C. § 864 require not merely that all proceedings, but also that all documents (including Puerto Rican case law) be in English? Doesn't this effectively make English an official language, contrary to public policy?

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    I'm not sure that there's an on-topic question for Law.SE here. "Why did Congress decide to create such a law" is a question for politics.stackexchange.com. Whether the law has the effect of creating an official language is subjective, and even if you think it does do so, there isn't any legal problem with that. "Public policy" is whatever Congress decides it is - if they want to pass a law that diverges from existing policy, well, they're Congress and they can just do it. (Provided it's constitutional, which I don't see any reason to doubt here.) Commented Apr 24, 2021 at 21:11
  • @NateEldredge that's a tough one. While I agree with what you say in principle, if the answer (and I don't know that it is... I speculate) is that it is an effort to introduce ambiguities inevitable in translations and the fact that it would create a necessity to introduce a whole range of institutions to avoid such ambiguities in law, then it may be relevant to law. But I am not sure even then. It may still be a question on policy.
    – grovkin
    Commented Apr 24, 2021 at 22:18

1 Answer 1


Puerto Rico was a colony of Spain until Spain ceded it to the US after the Spanish-American war. After a brief period of military rule, the Foraker Act was passed by Congress, which made substantially modified Puerto Rico's legal and political system, to harmonize it with that of the US. For example, "books and pamphlets printed in the English language shall be admitted into Porto Rico free of duty when imported from the United States", but there was a 10 year limit on duty-free import of Spanish publications (the law does not clarify whether that refers to "from Spain" vs. "in the Spanish language"). This also includes 48 USC 864 and an analogous provision in §35 that cases originating in Puerto Rico taken to the Supreme Court must also be in English. One may presume that at the time (as is true today), fluency in Spanish is not a requirement for SCOTUS justices. Other provisions were that the elected resident commissioner must read and write English. Because of the potential that any legal proceeding could end up in the Supreme Court, Congress may have found such an assimilationist policy to be practically motivated.

Incidentally, the law only requires that "All pleadings and proceedings in the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico shall be conducted in the English language".

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