George Anastaplo, RIP

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I have just learned of the death of George Anastaplo, a 1951 graduate of the University of Chicago Law School. He was 88 years old when he died. George was best known for his refusal to answer, to the Illinois state bar examiners, whether he was a member of the Communist Party. Anyone who knew the man was aware that he was about as far removed from being a communist as one could be. His objection to answering this question was a principled one: the government had no business inquiring into the beliefs of anyone. (Bear in mind, this occurred during the peak years of McCarthyism.) George took his case to the U.S. Supreme Court (In re Anastaplo) where he lost. Justice Hugo Black – long a defender of First Amendment freedoms – wrote a dissenting opinion in this case, observing that Anastaplo “took too much of the responsibility of preserving that freedom upon himself.”

I met George while I was still in law school at the U. of Chicago. He and I were friends of the greatest professor of anything under whom I had studied, a master of the Socratic method of learning, Malcolm Sharp. George once told me that, being unable to get licensed to practice law in Illinois, he took a job driving a taxi-cab. On one occasion, he had a passenger who was an official of the Illinois State Bar who, upon learning that George had been an honor graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, inquired why he was driving a cab. George responded by suggesting that he ask his colleagues at the bar association, and then introduced himself. The bar official then told George that nobody believed that he was a communist.

A number of years later – and the last time I spoke with George – he was a speaker at a conference in Los Angeles sponsored by the law school at which I teach. He told me that the Illinois Bar Association treated this infamous denial of his bar license as an embarrassment, and urged him to reapply for membership which would be quickly granted. George declined the offer.

George’s refusal to help the state bar remove this stain from its image is but one of the reasons I long ago placed him among my group of “heroes,” a list that continues to grow today. Stains of this sort should remain visible to the public. George was one of the most polite, intelligent, well-read, liberty-loving persons (along with a good sense of humor) I have ever known. He had the kind of integrity (i.e., internal sense of wholeness) that is all too missing in today’s culture, and he will be missed.

5:13 pm on June 2, 2014