In Re George Anastaplo

            George Anastaplo is not Slovak, but his experience with government regulating what opinions are and are not acceptable to hold is akin to Slovak experience with the same, especially during the twentieth century. Anastaplo was prevented from becoming a lawyer in Illinois because he quoted the Declaration of Independence in response to a “character and fitness” question about whether he believed in the overthrow of governments.

It was the 1950’s, McCarthyism was about to become the rage, and Anastaplo stood firm against the idea that he ought to be made to answer questions about his political beliefs as a prerequisite to practicing law. Surely you can argue that this was the work of the Illinois Bar Association and not the work of the Illinois government, but the bar association is given a monopoly to determine the fitness of an attorney, which would implicate the government in this censoring of opinions.

His law school classmates who did not stand firm went on to have flourishing careers, as did Anastaplo, but he was never allowed to practice. Ohio University Press has a good brief biography of Anastaplo:

George Anastaplo teaches constitutional law and jurisprudence at the Loyola University of Chicago School of Law and is also a lecturer in the liberal arts at the University of Chicago. In 1950, he was denied admission to the Illinois bar because of his principled refusal to answer questions about his political associations. He took his case to the Supreme Court and lost in 1961. Justice Hugo L. Black, in his celebrated dissenting opinion, wrote, “We must not be afraid to be free.”

This has been the theme of Anastaplo’s career, which he has devoted to education and public service. He is the author of Human Being and Citizen: Essays on Virtue, Freedom, and the Common Good, The Artist as Thinker: From Shakespeare to Joyce, The Constitutionalist: Notes on the First Amendment, and The Constitution of 1787: A Commentary. In 1992 he was honored by the publication of a two-volume work, Law and Philosophy: Essays in honor of George Anastaplo. Anastaplo has been nominated annually since 1980 for the Nobel Peace Prize. Andrew Patner has said of him that he “remains the most challenging American essayist.”

It’s important to remember that cases like Anastaplo’s are part of the sordid history of the United States too and not just Slovakia. I’d be a hypocrite to point out the oppression of the communist government in Slovakia while leaving my own state’s government unmentioned for an egregious and topical wrong like that done to Anastaplo.

Once, as an undergraduate, I took a trip to meet Anastaplo in downtown Chicago, after having read about him. Another time, I approached him and his wife at a federal trial and struck up a conversation. Both times, Anastaplo sent me away with thick packets of reading. In my time teach English literature in Slovakia, Anastaplo’s work has come into the classroom several times. Men and women who can take a step back from their environment and assess the appropriateness of what is happening are always impressive to me.


Amazon sells books by George Anastaplo. This website offers writing by and about George Anastaplo.


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