Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Ruth McGregor stirred up a hornet's nest by endorsing a demand from the Hispanic Bar Association to censor words and phrases such as "illegal aliens" and "illegal immigrants" and substitute "foreign nationals" in court documents.
Then, when a blog at Judicial Watch reported on the instructions, court officials threatened to sue the government-watchdog organization, prompting its release of a statement defending the story.
The original report said the chief justice had agreed to forward to judges the Hispanic Bar's demands to alter the language in court opinions and documents.
Judicial Watch said, "In a strongly worded letter to the chief justice, Los Abogados' [Hispanic Bar Association] president says attaching an illegal status to a person establishes a brand of contemptibility, creates the appearance of anti-immigrant prejudice and tarnishes the image of courts as a place where disputes may be fairly resolved."
The letter, according to Judicial Watch, criticized the state's high court for using the term "illegals" in at least two opinions and the term "illegal aliens" in dozens of others.
Judicial Watch said the letter concludes with a list of acceptable and unacceptable terms relating to illegal immigration. Among the terms the group wants banned are "immigration crisis,' "immigration epidemic,' "open borders advocates", "anchor babies" and "invaders."
Acceptable terms are "foreign nationals," "unauthorized workers" and "human rights advocates," Judicial Watch said.
The report almost immediately was followed with a response from the court, Judicial Watch reported.
"The Arizona Supreme Court has threatened to sue Judicial Watch for revealing that its chief justice agreed to enforce a Hispanic Bar Association demand to ban the terms 'illegal' and 'aliens' in all of the state’s courtrooms," the organization said in a statement late today.
"In a threatening phone call to Judicial Watch today, a spokesperson for Arizona's Supreme Court denied that Chief Justice McGregor had banned anything and accused Judicial Watch of 'slander.' Judicial Watch, however, stands by its story," the organization said.
The letter, to which Judicial Watch provided a link, said McGregor took several steps to notify judges of the concerns raised by the bar association.
She confirmed she had provided copies of the demands to judges and concluded, "If Judge Song Ong has not already done so, I request that the Commissionon on Minorities in the Judiciary consider whether any further distribution of your request would be helpful."
The request from the Hispanic Bar Association, signed by Los Abogados President Lizzette Alameda Zubey and president-elect Salvador Ongaro, said it wanted McGregor to communicate "these points to all judges and court employees in Arizona so that none of these hurtful terms are used in Arizona court documents or proceedings again.
"Putting this in greater perspective, even a convicted murderer is never referred to as an 'illegal' because of that conviction," the bar association letter said.
"Those that use the terms as an instrument of hate know that it insults and incenses those that oppose their views," said the letter, which cited several court document uses of the terms.
"We believe it essential to ongoing public dialogue to eliminate hate speech in all forms and to strip away all vestiges of perceived bias," the group said.
It said acceptable terms are "undocumented immigrants," "foreign nationals," "persons without legal immigration status," "unauthorized workers" and "alleged or suspected undocumented immigrants."
However, the association said "illegals," "illegal aliens," "aliens," "resident or non-resident aliens," "illegal immigrants," "scratchbacks or wetbacks," "armies of immigrants," "invaders," "reconquistadores" and "anchor babies" should be banned.
On the Judicial Watch forums page the arguments included the technical.
"Yes, the concept of citizen implies that it can be legal or illegal, based upon the laws that confer citizenship in any particular jurisdiction. If members of a Supreme Court do not understand this, we are in a lot of trouble as a nation. God help us," wrote Gianni.
Others exhibited less patience with the request.
"If the Hispanic Bar likes that, then let's call drug dealers undocumented pharmacists, and home robbery suspects physical property adjusters," said the commenter. "I know a moron when I hear one."
They also got personal, "She must have gotten her law degree out of a box of Cracker Jacks," said another. "Calling an ILLEGAL ALIEN an 'undocumented immigrant,' 'unauthorized worker,' 'or 'human rights advocate' not only is nondescriptive of the individual, it is the same as calling a burglar an 'unwanted house guest.' Get real!"
"How about felonious foreigner," suggested another.