White Supremacist Takes Law License Fight to D.C.

Matthew Hale claims free speech being attacked

Law News/February 11, 2000
By Molly McDonough

Avowed white supremacist, Matthew F. Hale, is appealing the Illinois Supreme Court's refusal to let him have a law license and, therefore, to practice law in the Land of Lincoln.

In a petition for a Writ of Certiorari filed Thursday with the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., lawyers for Hale are pleading with the high court to accept the case because their client's constitutionally-protected right to free speech, equal protection and due process have been violated in Illinois.

But, there's even more at stake in this case insisted Hale's lawyer. The importance of this case "reaches out to all of our protections from punishment by the government for speech unacceptable to political majority," said St. Louis attorney Robert Herman, the First Amendment advocate representing Hale.

According to Herman in his legal brief, "The attempt" by the Illinois bar "to enforce political orthodoxy" also "presents a danger to the vitality and independence of the bar" itself.

The petition for Certiorari argues that Hale "met his burden to establish his good moral character" in the course of applying for an Illinois law license by calling witnesses who could vouch for his integrity, honesty and candor, as well as by vowing he could uphold both federal and Illinois constitutions and abide by laws respecting the rights of minorities. All that, despite his views.

Hale, supreme leader of the World Church of the Creator, has fought to obtain his law license since earning his Juris Doctor in 1998 from Southern Illinois University School of Law, and subsequently passing the Illinois Bar exam.

His efforts were thwarted, however, by a bar admission requirement that Illinois lawyers have the requisite moral character and fitness to be licensed attorneys in the state.

The Committee on Character and Fitness, part of the Illinois Board of Admissions to the Bar, has refused to certify Hale, reasoning his extreme views would render him incapable of abiding by the state's professional conduct rules. Hale's U.S.

Supreme Court petition comes after the Illinois high court refused to hear the case, thus letting stand the committee's decision to bar Hale from becoming an Illinois lawyer.

On Thursday Character and Fitness lawyer Robert Cummins maintained, as has the committee, that this is not a First Amendment case.

"The case is about Mr. Hale's failure to meet his burden to establish that he is of good moral character and fit to practice law," said Cummins, of Chicago's Cummins & Cronin LLC. "My view on all of this is that this case has as much to do about the First Amendment as Mr. Hale's doctrine has to do with racial equality."

Hale's World Church of the Creator adheres to a belief in "Creativity," that "what is good for the white race is the highest virtue and what is bad for the white race is the ultimate sin." Hale says he wants to be a licensed attorney so he can work within the system to reach his organization's goal -- a separation of the races and eventual deportation of all "mud races" from American soil.

A five-member panel of judges and lawyers, which heard testimony on the matter during an April 10, 1999, in Joliet concluded, "It is axiomatic that an applicant who will not or cannot abide by the Rules of Professional Conduct, would not be admitted to the bar. Such a person will quickly run afoul of these rules, often leaving a victim in his wake." In re the Application of Matthew F. Hale.

In hindsight, many viewed that latter statement as an ominous prediction. Two days after Hale received the decision, his associate Benjamin Smith embarked on a racially motivated shooting spree July 4th weekend through Illinois and Indiana, leaving two dead and nine wounded.

Killed were former Northwestern University men's basketball coach Ricky Byrdsong, who is black, and Won Joon Yoon, a Korean Indiana University graduate student. Smith shot himself as police were closing in on him. Hale initially had broad support in his quest for a law license, mostly from those who feared denying him a license based on his views would curtail the free speech rights of others with unpopular or politically incorrect views. Famed Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz considered taking his case and the American Civil Liberties Union and Greater Chicago Anti-Defamation League issued statements opposing the Committee on Character and Fitness findings.

But the support waned after the shootings and after Hale attempted to link the violent tear to the hearing panel decision. Hale said at the time that Smith, who had testified for Hale at the hearing, may have been upset by the decision.

Hale's World Church of the Creator later issued a statement suggesting there may be more violence if the state Supreme Court didn't admit him to the Illinois bar.

"Reverend Hale is certain his admonitions to his followers against violence will be harder to instill if the Illinois Supreme Court fails to give him a license to practice law," the release stated. The Character and Fitness Committee attempted to supplement the record with Hale's statements and the information about the shooting spree, but the Supreme Court rejected the request.

However, Illinois Supreme Court Justice James Heiple disagreed with his colleagues, issuing a strong dissent that a case of "such significant constitutional magnitude" should have been heard.

"I believe this court should address whether it is appropriate for the Committee to base its assessment of an applicant's character and fitness on speculative predictions of future actionable misconduct," Justice Heiple wrote.

Despite the dissent, legal experts are pessimistic this case will be accepted by the nation's highest court.

"The chance of getting Cert is quite remote," said Loyola University Chicago School of Law Professor George Anastaplo, who endured a 1954 Character and Fitness rejection because he refused to answer questions about the Communist Party. A 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court upheld that decision in 1960. Prof. Anastaplo, who has never joined the bar even after the committee reversed its decision in his case in 1978, said Hale's case has become too convoluted for the U.S. Justices.

"The issue is too compromised by the violence," he said. "If there are people who want to say something about bar admissions, they'll probably say to themselves that this is not the case to do it in." If the U.S. Supreme Court doesn't grant the petition for Cert, Hale's next step will be to file suit in federal court.

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