More Than Hale's Views Might Be in Question

Bob Van Voris

The National Law Journal

February 11, 2000

The effort of self-proclaimed white racist Matthew Hale to become an Illinois lawyer seemed to raise a good, clear issue: Can someone's racial and religious views make him unfit to practice law?

Now the issues aren't so clear. Hale didn't just deride blacks and Jews as subhumans and "mud people." He also had a string of run-ins with law enforcement and the courts, some of which he didn't disclose on his bar application -- grounds for bar membership rejection.

Still, his case might be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. His lawyer filed a petition on Feb. 10 asking the court to review a decision by the Illinois Committee on Character and Fitness that effectively prevents him from becoming a lawyer.

But some lawyers who support Mr. Hale's right to promote his racist beliefs feel duped by Illinois bar admission officials who, they believe, falsely couched the Hale case solely in free speech terms.

"We were all shooting our mouths off, saying this was a classic First Amendment vehicle" said William Hodes, emeritus law professor at Indiana University, now in private practice. "But this is also a racist who leaves things out on his bar application. This is a racist who also happens to be a convicted felon."

The distinction is important. Critics of the decisions in Illinois say that the Supreme Court will likely not take the Hale case if the First Amendment issues are muddied by other reasons for denying Hale's admission. Among the reasons they point to:

In 1990, he was fined $50 for distributing handbills, which he failed to disclose in his application. Failure to be candid in a bar application can be serious, even if the violation is not. Also in 1990, he was arrested for violating a local ordinance by burning an Israeli flag. In 1991, Hale's brother drew a handgun in a confrontation with some black men. Hale was convicted of felony obstruction of justice for falsely telling a police officer that he did not know the identity of the man with him. The conviction was overturned on the ground that the police violated Hale's Miranda rights, but ethics experts say bar officials are supposed to take the conduct into account anyway. In 1992, he was arrested for assault and battery in a confrontation with a mall security officer. In 1999, an ex-girlfriend persuaded an Illinois court to issue an order of protection against him, alleging that he had called her a "mongrel" and a "bitch." Hale failed to disclose that he was the subject of a disciplinary hearing in college, the result of his calling someone a "Jew boy."

Hodes says that he hopes the Supreme Court will repudiate what he considers a terrible First Amendment precedent. But he thinks Hale's record will convince the Supreme Court that there are too many extraneous issues to take the case.

"I think Hodes is wrong," says Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who once offered to represent Hale. "But for his ideology, he would have been admitted."


Hale is untroubled by what appears to be a conflict between his representation and his church's Seventh Commandment: "Phase out all dealings with Jews as soon as possible. Do not employ niggers or other coloreds."

The lawyer who filed his petition for a writ of certiorari, Robert Herman, is Jewish, as is Dershowitz. Herman's co-counsel, Chicago lawyer Anita Rivkin-Carothers, is black.

"Our teachings have always been practical," Hale says in an interview. "The ends justify the means. It shows that you can separate your personal views from your professional representation."

Herman, a partner at Schwartz, Herman & Davidson in St. Louis, says that the blemishes on Hale's police and court record result from his advocacy of controversial but protected racial views. He says that the two written opinions of the bar fitness committee support his argument to the Supreme Court that the rejection "turned on his religious and political beliefs."

"I'm going to make them eat their own words," Herman promises.

Hale, 28, is the leader, or "pontifex maximus," of the World Church of the Creator, an anti-Christian organization based in his father's house in East Peoria, Ill. It uses "RAHOWA," short for "racial holy war," as its battle cry and the everyday greeting of its members.

Articulate and unfailingly polite to the press, Hale claims that his church is opposed to violence, although it calls for the eventual deportation of all blacks, Jews and other "mud races." He graduated from the Southern Illinois University School of Law in Carbondale in 1998, then passed the Illinois bar exam on his first try.

As part of the admission process, he was interviewed by a member of the Committee on Character and Fitness, which must determine whether applicants possess "the requisite character and fitness for admission to the practice of law."

The committee member declined to recommend Hale's admission. A three-member inquiry panel was then appointed to interview Hale a second time. He was again rebuffed, in an 18-page opinion that seemed to beg for a review on constitutional grounds.

Over the dissent of one member, the panel quickly dispensed with Hale's arrests and said that the advocacy of his racial opinions establishes "a gross deficiency in moral character." The panel said that Hale is free "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."

Hale appealed, and the five-member Committee on Character and Fitness held a fact hearing in April. Ruling unanimously against Hale, the members said that the case "is not about Mr. Hale's First Amendment rights."

But it concentrated most of its fire on an offensive letter he wrote to a woman who supported affirmative action and his disruption of a prayer breakfast while in college.

"The question before this panel is whether Mr. Hale can put aside his beliefs and comply with the Rules of Professional Conduct," it said. The Illinois Supreme Court refused, with one dissent, to hear Hale's appeal.

"If the committee hadn't gotten excited about his opinions, they might have been looking more closely at his record and his character," says George Anastaplo, a professor who teaches constitutional law at Loyola University Chicago School of Law. Anastaplo was himself denied Illinois bar membership in the 1950s on character grounds, when he refused on principle to say whether he was a Communist.

Hale acknowledges that his bar battles have provided him with opportunities for presenting his racial theories in what he has called the "Jews' media."

According to Hale, if his appeals are successful, he expects to use his law license to promote his church's ideology by taking on high-profile racial cases. If he is unsuccessful, he will have an example to argue to the public that American justice is stacked against white people.

"Either way this thing turns out, we win," says Hale.

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