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The Supreme Court on Monday let stand an Illinois ruling that denied a license to practice law to avowed racist Matthew Hale. The Court’s action avoids what could have been a contentious exploration of the free speech rights of lawyers and potential lawyers who run afoul of state licensing standards because of their views. Hale challenged the denial as a violation of his First Amendment rights in the case of Hale v. The Committee on Character and Fitness of the Illinois Bar. It arrived at a Court that is generally sympathetic to free speech rights. But many justices have expressed concern about the lack of civility and professionalism among lawyers. “This is the kind of case the Supreme Court exists to resolve,” said Robert Herman, a partner at Schwartz, Herman & Davidson in St. Louis and lead lawyer for Hale. “It goes far beyond a bar issue.” Herman was clearly disappointed, not only with Monday’s result, but with the lack of written comment. He said he is ready, if Hale wants, “to pursue other avenues.” Hale certainly wants to. “As far as I’m concerned the Constitution is dead,” Hale said while vowingto file suit in federal court to challenge Illinois’ character and fitnessprocedures. Though he declined to name which ones, Hale said he is lookingto surrounding states for admission to one of their bars. Hale discussed the irony of the denial of cert, saying that to release the decision around the 4th of July is a “slap in the face.” And while Hale claims he has advocated nonviolence all his life, he said he can no longer. “I can’t tell my people ‘Obey the law’ when the law doesn’t protect them,” Hale said. “It’s just completely tragic that the Supreme Court has decided to move this country toward a police state where the only way people can express their opinions is through a barrel of a gun.” Hale’s rhetoric, as well as extreme viewpoints, is nothing new. By the time Hale graduated from Southern Illinois University’s law school in Carbondale in 1998, his views were widely known on campus. He was leader of the Worldwide Church of the Creator, which promulgated “The Sixteen Commandments of Creativity.” Among them: “Your first loyalty belongs to the white race,” “Phase out all dealings with Jews as soon as possible,” and “Do not employ niggers or other coloreds.” The church admires Adolf Hitler and advocates the deportation of blacks, Jews and other “mud races.” After Hale passed the state bar exam, his application for a law license was referred to an inquiry panel to determine if he met the requirement of “good moral character” for admission to the bar. The panel held a hearing at which Hale advocated the repeal of the 14th Amendment and said that the precept “all men are created equal is an “idiotic notion.” He said he could protect and defend the Constitution, but would continue to espouse his views as a lawyer. The panel refused to certify Hale as a lawyer. “The balance of values that we strike,” the panel agreed, “leaves Matthew Hale free, as the First Amendment allows, to incite as much racial hatred as he desires and attempt to carry out his life’s mission of depriving those he dislikes of their legal rights. But in our view he cannot do this as an officer of the court.” The panel also said, “this case is not about Mr. Hale’s First Amendment rights.” Based on the panel’s report, the full committee on character and fitness denied Hale a law license. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the denial, but one justice, James Heiple, dissented. He said the panel’s decision was based on Hale’s “open advocacy of racially obnoxious beliefs,” which raises First Amendment concerns. The Illinois bar committee, in its brief before the high court, insisted that its rejection of Hale does not violate the First Amendment, because it was based on factors unrelated to Hale’s speech. It cited run-ins with the law that Hale has had, including several arrests in college and a protection order entered against him at the request of a former girlfriend. Hale also made misleading statements to the bar panel, calling into question his fitness as a lawyer, the bar committee said. “We all hate to think about what we did in college,” said Herman in dismissing the bar committee’s assertions. The bar panel’s decision was clearly based on his First Amendment-protected speech, Herman said. As an example, Herman noted the protection order was based, not on any allegation of violence, but on the fact that Hale had called the woman a “mongrel” and a “bitch.” Asked Herman: “Isn’t that speech-related?” The Hale brief invokes several past Supreme Court decisions on lawyer speech and bar admission that stand for the proposition that lawyers retain their First Amendment rights. In the 1957 case Konigsberg v. State Bar of California, Justice Hugo Black wrote that a bar admission requirement of “good moral character” is “easily adapted to fit personal views and predilections, (and) can be a dangerous instrument for arbitrary and discriminatory denial of the right to practice law.” But the Illinois bar brief argued that another line of precedents gives states broad power to set standards for the practice of law. In Goldfarb v. Arizona in 1975, the Court said, “The interest of the States in regulating lawyers is especially great since lawyers are essential to the primary governmental function of administering justice, and have historically been ‘officers of the courts.’” Molly McDonough contributed to this report.

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