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There is an interesting question on the Law stack exchange: "If Congress [of the United States of America] passed a bill written in Spanish, would it be valid?" (the answer appears to be 'yes, but it would cause problems').

Presumably, there is also no general prohibition on a state of the USA from making a law in a language other than English - has any state ever done so?

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    Does legalese qualify as another language?
    – EvilSnack
    May 13 at 11:35

1 Answer 1

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Louisiana's civil code was originally (before statehood) written in French and translated into English. Even after statehood, however, the code was bilingual for several decades:

The first Louisiana civil code, Digeste de la Loi Civile, was written in French by attorneys James Brown, Louis Moreau-Lislet, and Edward Livingston and subsequently translated into English as The Digest of the Civil Laws now in Force in the Territory of Orleans, or more commonly the Digest of 1808. The main drafter Louis Moreau-Lislet was a French colonial who originally hailed from Saint-Domingue (modern Haiti) but obtained his law degree in Paris just before the French Revolution of 1789.[15] Enacted on March 31, 1808, the Digest proved problematic when in 1817 the Louisiana Supreme Court, composed of Pierre Derbigny, George Mathews (Chief Justice), and François Xavier Martin, found in Cottin v. Cottin that the Spanish law in force prior to the Digest’s enactment had not been repealed and was therefore still in effect insofar as it did not contradict the Digest.[16] This provoked a legislative response by the General Assembly who tasked Justice Derbigny and attorneys Moreau-Lislet and Livingston with drafting a new, fuller code written in French and English and which formally repealed prior existing law. This code, the Civil Code of 1825, was enacted on April 12, 1824.

For many years legal practitioners in the state made great effort to ensure that both versions agreed. Despite those efforts some clauses were found only in one version or the other. Due to modern legislative enactments which repeal and reenact Louisiana's civil code articles as any other collection of statutes, the differences between the original French and the English translation are now primarily of historical interest.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_of_Louisiana

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    Similarly for New Mexico - see languagepolicy.net/archives/….
    – Jon Custer
    May 13 at 20:35
  • What about Hawaii? Not sure how to look that up, but I'd imagine some law was written in Hawaiian before it was standardized to English? May 13 at 20:50
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    I did find some hints of early Hawaiian law being written in Hawaiian, but it was before it became a US territory, let alone a state, so not sure if it qualifies? May 13 at 21:09
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    @DarrelHoffman then you could argue much of the US based on any written Indian law, so probably doesn’t count.
    – Tim
    May 13 at 21:59
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    @Tim but no US state based its legal system on Indian law, at least not in any way close to the degree to which Hawaii explicitly retained Hawaiian law as an exception when it adopted English common law.
    – phoog
    May 14 at 4:29

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