Matt Hale's Law License


Case Type:

Actual.

Exigence:

Matt Hale's application to practice law was denied by the Illinois Supreme Court's Committee on Character and Fitness. He has appealed the decision to the Illinois Supreme Court.

Audience:

The Illinois Supreme Court; you, the general public.

Possible
Constraints:

Matt Hale is an avowed racist. The "World Church of the Creator," which he founded, is a white supremacist organization. In early July 1999, church member Benjamin Smith murdered several people ­ all of whom were of minority racial descent ­ before committing suicide. Although Hale was not charged in the incident, he has been repeatedly accused of advocating the use of violence. For more information on Hale, see the related case: Matt Hale at Northwestern.

Before anyone may practice law in Illinois, they must meet three requirements. First, an applicant must graduate from law school. Hale graduated from Southern Illinois Universityıs law school in 1998. Second, an applicant must pass the state bar examination. Hale did so shortly after graduating from law school. Third, the Illinois Supreme Courtıs Committee on Character and Fitness must approve an applicant to practice law. This committee denied Hale a law license for "gross deficiency in moral character."

Most applications received by the Committee on Character and Fitness are approved immediately. When an application is flagged (not immediately approved), the applicant is interviewed by a committee member. If that committee member rejects the applicant, the applicant can appeal to a three-member panel. If the three-member panel rejects the applicant, then the full five-member committee reviews the application. Finally, the applicant may appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court. The Committee on Character and Fitness rejected Hale at each step.

Hale argues that the denial of his law licenses infringes upon his first amendment right to free speech. He said, "If you are a racist, as am I, then they're saying you don't have the right to say what you believe and be a lawyer. That's a denial of free speech." The full, five-member Illinois Supreme Court Committee on Character and Fitness said in its report denying Hale a law license, "Mr. Hale cannot wrap himself in the First Amendment and avoid any inquiry into his character and fitness. He is absolutely entitled to hold these beliefs, but at the same time the public and the bar are entitled to be treated fairly and decently by attorneys."

Decision:

The Illinois Supreme Court upheld the committeeıs decision. The United States Supreme Court refused to reconsider the case.

Related
issues:

Harm to society
Offense
Illinois


Notes:

This case was prepared by the Justice Holmes group, 2001, for their final project.


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Copyright © 1998 Jean Goodwin. All rights reserved.
jeangoodwin@nwu.edu
Last updated 1 Mar 2001
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