by Andrew Patner
(published in Chicago Magazine, 1982)
Just after “ANARCHY” and immediately before “ANATHEMA” in the card catalogue of the University of Chicago Law Library, a browser will find an entry labeled “ANASTAPLO,” which refers to three voluminous files marked “The Anastaplo Case.” They document the lengthy battle of George Anastaplo to become a lawyer.
Although thousands of decent people had their lives disrupted and their careers disturbed during the McCarthy era, Anastaplo’s story was, and is, quite different. He was at the top of his University of Chicago Law School class; at 17 he volunteered for the Army Air Corps in World War Two and was honorably discharged as a second lieutenant; he had excellent character references from his Downstate hometown and from his law school. And he was never a Communist, a radical, or a member of any left-wing, or even liberal, organization, and nobody has ever said that he was. Yet more than 30 years after he graduated from law school and 20 years after arguing his own case before the United States Supreme Court, George Anastaplo is still not a member of the Illinois bar.
Today, a few blocks northeast of the law library in Hyde Park, in a turn-of-the-century frame house squeezed in along the Illinois Central tracks, one can find George Anastaplo, a man as fascinating as his ease. Though effectively blacklisted from most colleges and universities, he has made a successful though unconventional career for himself as a teacher and scholar, and last year, at the age of 56, began teaching in a law school for the first time. This is a tale of an intelligent, stubborn, highly principled man who ran up against more expedient men bending to the winds of political paranoia and then against courts that proved as stubborn as he was, but far less principled.
Anastaplo, who was born in St. Louis in 1925 and grew up in Downstate Carterville, seemed destined for a career as a lawyer, and, considering his intelligence and indefatigable nature, he probably would have become an esteemed member of the bar. In the fall of 1950, he was at the threshold of his career. He had passed the Illinois bar exam, and awaited only graduation in December and a routine hearing by the Chicago panel of the Illinois Supreme Court’s Committee on Character and Fitness to begin the practice of law.
On the morning of November tenth, he and his boyhood friend J. William Hayton went down to the Chicago Bar Association offices on La Salle Street where the character hearings were held. Hayton went in and out of his session, answering some pro forma questions from the two committee members about his background and schooling. But 20 minutes later Anastaplo was still testifying and the line of applicants in the hall was growing. Finally, he stepped out of the conference room and spotted Hayton. “They asked me the question,” he said with a smile. “I wouldn’t answer it.”
Anastaplo had been asked if he was a member of the Communist Party. Today such a question would seem irrelevant, or even an invasion of privacy, but this was two years after President Truman started his loyalty oath program, eight months after Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin made his first speech charging Communist infiltration of the Federal Government, and less than three years before Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed as spies.
Because of his failure to answer that question and others about his political affiliations, because of his advocacy of the right of revolution as set down in the Declaration of Independence, because of his refusal to say whether he subscribed to the Daily Worker or the Chicago Tribune, George Anastaplo was denied a certificate to practice law.
Had he chosen to have his character hearing held in Downstate Carbondale — near his hometown — Anastaplo says, “it would have been very casual. I would have been greeted by the lawyers, and we would have exchanged pleasantries about my family or some other people they knew in Carterville, and that would have been the end of it.” But instead, circumstance transformed this episode into the beginning of a lengthy struggle against a gross injustice in the judicial system.
Once the issue was joined, Anastaplo decided to go it alone, serving as his own legal counsel, arguing his own case, and spending more than $5,000 of his own money on court costs. Former Alderman Leon M. Despres, who was then counsel for the Illinois division of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), recalls, “He wouldn’t permit us to handle the case. We would have introduced evidence about him and his views, demonstrating that he wasn’t a Communist. He just felt that if that was the way to get admitted, he didn’t want to be admitted. He raised the issue very clearly and now I appreciate his position.”
Anastaplo’s primary goal was never his immediate success, he later wrote, but was to “guarantee that one has not carelessly permitted fellow citizens to perpetrate an injustice.”
What made Anastaplo right the issue for 11 years? “Part of this is temperamental,” Anastaplo says now. And part of it might be upbringing. “There has always been the notion in my family that there were some things worth standing for.”
The eldest of three sons of Greek immigrants, he worked long hours in his father’s restaurant and excelled in high school. As graduation approached, his eagerness to join the U.S. Army Air Corps grew. Chanute Field doctors told him that he was underweight and had a dangerous heart murmur, but he convinced them that the murmur was just nerves, and he gained weight by devouring bananas and milk. After flying with distinction in four theatres for nearly four years, he returned home, took some courses at Southern Illinois University, and awaited the start of classes at the University of Chicago.
In those days, the university, under the stewardship of Robert Maynard Hutchins, offered examinations to gauge each student’s abilities. Anastaplo “placed out” of almost half of his course work and elected to take all seven of the remaining classes he needed in one year. Anastaplo’s friends were astounded (the normal load was three or four courses), but he graduated with honors in June of 1948.
He began law school the next fall and continued to audit courses throughout the university, making his comprehensive notes freely available to his colleagues. Ramsey Clark, a classmate who later served as Attorney General under Lyndon Johnson, recalls Anastaplo as “gentle, thoughtful, and scholarly. George always operated from a moral foundation.” Another classmate, Federal Judge and former Congressman Abner J. Mikva, says, “For all of his resistance to orthodoxy, he was number one in our class, and it was a very bright class.”
In addition to his outstanding academic and military credentials, Anastaplo presented the character committee with glowing references. But there were hundreds of applicants with positive recommendations, so the committee had devised questions to be posed at random. Anastaplo’s hearing began with the following question from Stephen A. Mitchell:
“Have you an opinion as to whether or not a member of the Communist Party would be eligible to take the oath of office of a lawyer in the state of Illinois, honestly, and be admitted as a lawyer?”
“I should think so,” Anastaplo replied.
Looking back, Anastaplo says that others gave the same response. “But when they saw how seriously the committee members were taking it,” he says, “they allowed themselves to be persuaded.”
Anastaplo, however, stood his ground, and his “wrong” answer led to other, more specific inquiries: Is a belief in revolution consonant with support of the U.S. Constitution? What do you think of the Smith Act, outlawing the Communist Party? Anastaplo responded: The right of revolution is a fundamental principle of American political thought and history, and the Smith Act is unconstitutional. Upon further questioning, he said that such a rebellion could legitimately use force, citing the American Revolution as an example.
The questioning up to this point had been led by Mitchell, a well-established lawyer active in liberal politics in Illinois who went on to direct Adlai Stevenson’s campaign for President and to become chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 1952. He even made an unsuccessful race for governor as a reform Democrat the same year. But in regard to George Anastaplo, he rode with the times.
The other panelist, John E. Baker, Jr., then asked Anastaplo if he was a member of any organization on the Attorney General’s list of subversive organizations. Anastaplo responded by asking Baker whether he believed that to be a legitimate question. Suddenly, without any evidence or previous charge, Baker asked, “Are you a member of the Communist Party?” And Anastaplo refused to answer.
He told Mitchell and Baker that certain questions should be neither asked nor answered by American citizens and that there were periods in history when certain questions were used for unprincipled purposes. These were such times, he said, and such questions should be resisted. After a few formal questions, Mitchell adjourned the hearing.
“I do not now recall that I had any sense of what was going to happen,” Anastaplo now says. “There was nothing premeditated on either side. It was an unusual situation for the committee, too. They didn’t know what to expect.”
He went home that November afternoon and told his wife what had happened. “We were both somewhat subdued by it,” he recalls. They had been married for almost two years and had a six-month-old child. “It was not a happy prospect. There was something sobering about it, there was something challenging, and there was something just uncertain.”
Ten days later, Anastaplo received a letter from the secretary of the committee, Richard H. Cain, stating that the committee was not certifying him and that he would have to appear before the entire committee at a date to be determined. No explanation was given.
Anastaplo responded quickly with a letter on Thanksgiving Day reiterating his views: “The issues to which I speak are, I admit, rather insignificant when compared to the principal ones of the day. Still, they do mirror the hysteria that is prevalent elsewhere…. I consider that it is my duty to speak out…. I do not propose to add to the ranks of those who have acquiesced in such proceedings … for acquiescence in such times means encouragement and approbation.” He asked for an explanation and even a reversal. He received no reply. Even his request for a transcript was denied. Then, in December, he was told that he could purchase a 14-page transcript for seven dollars and that his new hearing had been set for the following month. In the meantime, the Loop law firms that Anastaplo had been talking with cut off their conversations. He went with his wife to her home in Dallas, where, still hopeful, he took courses in oil and gas law.
When the full committee convened on January fifth, it again interrogated Anastaplo about the right of revolution and the Communist Party. Again, he refused to answer, as he did when they asked him if he was a member of the Ku Klux Klan, or the Silver Shirts of America.
The committee then heard Anastaplo’s former dean Wilber G. Katz, who affirmed his belief in Anastaplo’s character and told the committee that its procedures and methods were debatable. Katz, who was called by the committee, was the only witness to appear on Anastaplo’s behalf throughout the case. Anastaplo himself consistently refused to produce witnesses and deliberately provided no more than the requisite number of affidavits. Only a handful of Anastaplo’s law-school faculty gave their top student any support, then or later. Malcolm P. Sharp was to become his strongest advocate and the two formed a close friendship that lasted until Sharp’s death at 83 in 1980. Harry Kalven, Jr., Roscoe Steffen, Katz, and Stanley A. Kaplan also backed him in his right.
Notably silent was Edward H. Levi, then dean of the law school and later president of the university and U.S. Attorney General. Levi called Anastaplo into his office and warned him not to jeopardize his career. Later he met Anastaplo’s wife, Sara, and reminded her that the law school would give her husband no support in his embarrassing battle with the bar authorities.
Levi was not to support Anastaplo in his teaching career, either. On several occasions, Anastaplo was to find that appointments to the college faculty at the university had been held up by the administration. Once he had even taught his first class (on the Declaration of Independence) when he found out. On another occasion, Levi discouraged a series of lectures Anastaplo was to give on the First Amendment at the university’s downtown center.
In 1975, Attorney General Levi told The New York Times, “I thought Anastaplo’s case was ill-timed…. I thought to raise the non-Communist oath issue with the Character and Fitness Committee was the wrong way to do it and because of the timing of the thing he would lose and hurt himself, and he did. We were all trying to help him, whether he knows it or not.” Levi refused to be interviewed for this story. Says Anastaplo, “You could argue that what I did was just what was needed at the time.”
At the conclusion of the second hearing, Anastaplo reminded the committee that “the point is not whether or not you agree with the position I have taken; the point is whether you disagree so violently with the position that you do not give me the right from within the bar to hold that position.”
And that is essentially where the matter rested. Only on the day after the Supreme Court handed down its decision in the Dennis case, upholding the constitutionality of the Smith Act, did the committee rule. (The Court later reversed itself.) On June 5, 1951, it told Anastaplo that he did not possess “such qualifications as to character and general Fitness” as would justify his admission to the bar of Illinois.
When Anastaplo asked if this was the “final action” in his case, what the grounds for the decision were, and whether he might receive a copy of the transcript and learn what vote, if any, was taken, he received a terse reply from the committee’s secretary that it would take “no further action of its own volition,” nor “make known the grounds on which its decisions are based,” nor provide “rejected applicants with a copy of the record.” The letter ended: “A formal decision has not been made up [in your case] and I doubt that one will be made up. There is nothing more regarding the decision of the committee which I am at liberty to tell you.”
His legal career blocked, Anastaplo found a job with the Industrial Relations Center of the university preparing management training programs. He continued to audit courses, mostly in political philosophy. In 1953, with the assistance of Malcolm Sharp, he began his appeal. The lengthy document took more than a year to prepare, in large part because the committee had refused to issue a report of its 1951 decision, and also because so few applicants were rejected that an appellate procedure had not been established. In fact, in a six-year period during Anastaplo’s dispute, only 16 applicants out of 3,000 were rejectcd, and they were largely felons or perjurers.
Anastaplo argued that his rights to free speech and due process had been ignored, that constitutional prohibitions against ex post facto (after the fact) legislation and bills of attainder (depriving an individual of his civil rights) had been violated, and that no evidence against his character had ever been introduced.
Required by the Illinois Supreme Court to make a report, in April 1954 the committee unanimously endorsed its previous decision. Anastaplo’s appeal also elicited a memorandum from Stephen Love, the only member of the original committee to support Anastaplo: Anastaplo, he wrote, had “faced the denial of his ambitions, his hopes, and his potential legal career…. A man capable of taking and maintaining such a position as a matter purely of principle, is, it seems to me, just the kind of man who should be admitted to the bar.” Four lawyers filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the ACLU: Despres; Mikva; Alexander L. Polikoff, now executive director of Business and Professional People for the Public Interest (BPI); and Bernard Weisberg, who was to serve as a delegate to the 1970 Illinois Constitutional Convention. “Inhibition of freedom of thought and action on the spirit of lawyers,” the brief argued, “destroys the free play of the spirit which all lawyers ought especially to cultivate…. Not disloyalty but dissimilarity” had prevented Anastaplo’s admission.
But in September of 1954, the Illinois Supreme Court unanimously upheld the committee’s ruling, saying that Anastaplo must answer the questions to gain admission. The following February the United States Supreme Court, with Justices Hugo Black and William O. Douglas dissenting, refused to review the Illinois action and, six weeks later, denied both his petition for rehearing and his novel motion that the Court admit him directly to its bar.
His case apparently closed, Anastaplo continued his work at the Industrial Relations Center and began to drive a cab to pay his court costs and to support his family and his graduate studies. That November, when he happened to pick up Justice Joseph E. Daily of the Illinois Supreme Court, he reminded him that he had appeared before him in Springfield. “But you’re not admitted to the bar?” Daily asked incredulously. “That’s the idea: I lost the case,” Anastaplo replied. “And what’s more, you wrote the opinion.”
“You are not Anastaplo, are you?” the justice exclaimed. “Why don’t you just answer [their questions] ? No one ever thought you were a Communist.” He left Anastaplo with a 50-cent tip and assured him, “It’s all right; you’ll be admitted someday.”
Two years later Anastaplo applied for a rehearing after the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled on two other bar admission cases, but his application was denied. He appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court and in September the committee was ordered to re-examine him. He presented new character references. Attorney Angelo G. Geocaris: “His personal code of ethics is unexcelled by any practicing attorney I have met in the state of Illinois.” Maurice F. X. Donohue, then dean of the University College of the U. of C.: “For our current culture, [his standards of integrity] are perhaps overrigid.” Alexander Meiklejohn, former president of Amherst College, noted his “high devotion to the principles of freedom and justice.”
In six hearings, over a four-month period in 1958, Anastaplo was quizzed for a total of 20 hours about his personal and political philosophy, about his belief in the Deity, and about a decision on religious freedom that had been dead law for almost a century. And again he was asked if he was a Communist.
Anastaplo replied that if he were a Communist, all he would need to do was lie. “Your approach,” he said, “is inherently ineffective for the purposes a reasonable man may claim for it. But your approach is all too effective in discouraging your applicants to stand by principles, to speak truthfully to you, to take seriously constitutional government, personal integrity, and the rule of law.”
The committee’s chairman, D. Robert Thomas, had to admit at one hearing that there was no suspicion of Anastaplo’s being a Communist or a member of any other such group. Why, then, in 1959, when the “red scare” had abated, did the committee, many of whose members held liberal views, deny Anastaplo admission?
“My own opinion,” says Calvin P. Sawyier, a member of the committee who supported Anastaplo, “is that there was a feeling that George should have gotten down on his knees and asked to be admitted to the bar as if it were some sort of fraternity. George just would not kowtow.”
Malcolm Sharp thought that the committee members were in “a frame of mind familiar to teachers who have faced students brighter than they.”
“Anastaplo always conducted himself before our committee as if he was better than us,” one member said at the time. Anastaplo could be difficult, and twice he told the committee that “the Illinois bar needs me more than I need the Illinois bar.”
As executive director of the Chicago Bar Association, Richard Cain, now a lawyer in Wisconsin, was ex officio secretary to the committee throughout the entire period. “If he became testy,” Cain says, “it’s because he was baited. His behavior was always very professional. They should have admired his courage and his ability. But you could predict a vote before a vote was ever taken. When I think about it, I get mad all over.”
The committee deliberated for nearly a year before issuing its decision and, according to one member, was first split 9 to 8 against Anastaplo’s admission, “but once it was clear that there was a majority against him, two members switched” and made the final vote 11 to 6. In April 1959, the group announced its finding. Central to the decision was the majority’s feeling that Anastaplo’s refusal to answer questions about “possible Communist or other subversive affiliations” reflected on his “good moral character and general fitness.”
In November 1959, the Illinois Supreme Court again rejected his appeal, this time 4 to 3. Justice George W. Bristow, a Downstate Republican, wrote a dissenting opinion after examining the record, chastising the committee and praising Anastaplo for his stand. But the majority, led by Anastaplo’s taxi passenger Justice Daily, backed the committee without even looking at the briefs.
In May of 1960, the U.S. Supreme Court permitted Anastaplo to argue his own case before the Court. He did so in December, but the following April his appeal was denied, again by one vote. The majority, led by Justice Harlan, found that he would not be excluded from the bar “any longer than he continues in his refusal to answer…. In short, petitioner holds the key to admission in his own hands.”
That key, of course, was the rejection of his principles, something Justice Black did not see as a legitimate possibility for Anastaplo. In an opinion joined by Chief Justice Earl Warren and Justices Brennan and Douglas, Black wrote, “This case illustrates to me the serious consequences to the Bar itself of not affording the full protections of the First Amendment to its applicants for admission…. To force the Bar to become a group of thoroughly orthodox, timeserving, government-fearing individuals is to humiliate it and degrade it…. We must not be afraid to be free.” Excerpts from this opinion were read at Black’s funeral service in 1971, at his request.
In October 1961, Anastaplo petitioned the Supreme Court for a rehearing. As a legal step, his motion wasn’t noteworthy — such petitions rarely move the Court to reverse itself — and, predictably, it was denied. But Anastaplo’s document was both unusual and remarkable, for it contained an articulate denunciation of the profession he had hoped to join and an eloquent defense of his position. The merit of his “resistance to such bullying,” he wrote, “is that it forces eventual consideration of the kind of bar and even the kind of citizen America wants.” He could not “hope, at a time when submission and self-interest are exalted above principle and civic virtue, to be more truly a lawyer than by reconciling himself to permanent exclusion from what he had once thought would be his profession.
“Perhaps it is true that petitioner [in the words of Justice Black] ‘took too much of the responsibility of preserving [his country’s] freedom upon himself.’ But he was young enough to hope that Americans who would not heed old precepts might yet learn from new examples….
“Petitioner is satisfied he acted as one ought,” he concluded. “[He] leaves in the hands of the profession-lawyers, law teachers, and judges alike-the career he might have had.”
Four days later, Anastaplo addressed a “farewell letter” to the Illinois Supreme Court, stating, “I do not anticipate any further attempt, on my own initiative, to secure admission to the bar of any state.” It concluded with an invitation: “Should my position or temperament ever be recognized as useful to the administration of justice in this state, I trust the Illinois Supreme Court will not hesitate to call on me for any further contribution I might honorably make to constitutional government and the rule of law.”
That’s the way things have stayed. In 1966 a petition to the character committee, from several prominent lawyers and a judge, in Anastaplo’s behalf was denied. In April 1976, the Chicago Council of Lawyers offered to intervene. Anastaplo politely refused its help on the grounds that his exclusion should stand as an instructive reminder of how the bar could err.
The following year, Richard James Stevens, whose brother John Paul Stevens is a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, was to become chairman of the committee, and he, too, suggested that Anastaplo reopen his case, but again he declined, replying, “What the Court and its character committee have done to me heretofore, they can surely undo on their own if so determined.” He told Stevens that he felt the best way to proceed would be for the Court to act on its own motion and “spread on its records” an unconditional invitation to him to take the oath of an attorney. “Someone who has been condemned in public for a quarter of a century,” he wrote, “should not be rehabilitated only in private.”
When Calvin Sawyier did introduce a petition, Anastaplo wrote, “I have long since had to abandon the notion that my own fortunes depend on whether I happen to be admitted to the bar of any state. The considerable damage done … to my academic, as well as legal, career is not likely to be undone now by anything the Illinois Supreme Court may be prevailed upon to do.”
In October of 1978, the committee, after hearing the supporting testimony of Sister Candida Lund, chancellor of Rosary College and Anastaplo’s employer, and of David Grene, professor in the Committee on Social Thought at the U. of C., decided to reconsider the application. In November, 28 years after Anastaplo first applied, the committee voted 13 to 4 to certify him as satisfying the character and fitness requirements of the Supreme Court.
But when Stevens notified the court of this decision, Chief Justice Joseph Goldenhersh replied that the committee’s action might be improper because Anastaplo himself had not initiated the proceedings.
Stevens responded that the committee had the right to reconsider the matter. “For myself,” Stevens wrote, “I believe that the past actions of the Committee … have caused a significant impairment in the credibility in the entire Character and Fitness Procedure.”
Nevertheless, in March 1979, Goldenhersh wrote back that “it would be inappropriate to consider the matter” on the basis of committee action taken 17 years after the Supreme Court’s decision. He suggested that Anastaplo reapply.
In April, Barbara Flynn Currie, a South Side Democratic state representative who had known Anastaplo for some time, introduced a resolution in the House calling on the court “to recognize their error” and admit him to the bar. The resolution was passed unanimously.
Of the four members of the 1950-51 committee still living and in Chicago, only one would comment. Herbert C. DeYoung and William A. McSwain didn’t remember the case. Henry A. Gardner, Jr., says, “The committee acted very fairly. Mr. Anastaplo was trying to be a smart aleck. We have too many lawyers already; we didn’t need a smart aleck.” Len Young Smith, who has been a member of the committee and opposed to Anastaplo’s efforts since 1950, had nothing to say.
George E. Leighton, now a Federal district judge, says that he “voted to admit him in 1959 to the bar, and I would do it today. He took the hard line and had a lot to do with the decision himself. It was a bad period, and I hope to God that it will never happen again. We’re left with this ugly result, and I hope that people will be instructed by it and guided by it.”
Charles A. Bane, who led much of the questioning and voted against Anastaplo. says, “He’s wrong. I don’t want to go through that again. I’ve given about five interviews and nothing that I have said has appeared anywhere in print.”
One of the city’s most respected lawyers, Edmund A. Stephan, chairman of the policy committee of Mayer, Brown & Platt and the first lay chairman of the board of trustees of the University of Notre Dame, presided over the 1958 hearings as chairman of the investigative subcommittee. “Looking back,” he says, “I had a feeling that George was not a Communist in any shape or form. But at that time, ‘Communist’ meant somebody who would overthrow the government. It wasn’t something to be trifled with. He was arguing a principle and we were, too. I always had a very high regard for him. He was a very brilliant young man; he’s a splendid person. He’s made great social contributions. He’s mellowed and he’s a very effective teacher. He’d be a real addition to the bar. I wish he’d just reapply and get over his hang-up.”
When the conclusion of the majority report, which asserted that the committee could not judge Anastaplo’s fitness unless he answered its questions, was read to him, Stephan said, “That does seem a little overdrawn, doesn’t it? He was disrespectful of the authority of the committee, but that’s a little overstated. I knew his view was sincerely held. It’s a little too bad the way things went.”
Anastaplo found his career as a teacher and a scholar, once his way to practicing law was barred. He has published two books, on American constitutionalism and on Greek classical thought and modern political problems, and his third book, The Artist as Thinker: From Shakespeare to Joyce,will appear in January. “He is one of a handful of leading historians of the Constitution,” says Stanley N. Katz of Princeton University. “But he writes about so many different things. He is a Renaissance man in a society that on the whole does not recognize Renaissance men.” He has written more than 100 articles, including the one on Greece in the current Encyclopaedia Britannica. He served as research director and adviser to the Governor’s Commission on Individual Liberty and Personal Privacy in 1974 and 1975, and was asked by the Department of Health, Education and Welfare to study government support of parochial schools.
He is a teacher of rare ability. Because of his difficulties with the bar, his work was confined originally to adult education. This year is his 25th anniversary with the Basic Program of Liberal Education for Adults at the University of Chicago. He has developed a large following there that includes many lawyers and judges. “I’ve studied under some of the very best practitioners of Socratic discourse,” says attorney Ellis A. Ballard, “and he is equal to any of them.”
In 1964, when Anastaplo received his doctorate from the university’s Committee on Social Thought, a fellow student, Sister Candida Lund, became president of Rosary College in River Forest, and she needed a replacement for her own position in the school’s political science department. After he had been unable to teach at a college or law school for nearly 15 years, Anastaplo’s name was finally off the blacklist.
“We knew we were getting a superb professor,” Sister Candida says. “He teaches students how to think but not necessarily what to think.
“George Anastaplo has something of St. George and the Dragon about him,” she adds. “I would typecast him as St. George. There may be others who might think the Dragon the more appropriate role.”
A dozen years ago, he declined to join the University of Dallas’s Politics and Literature program but instead flew to the Irving, Texas, campus every other week to conduct marathon seminars on Aristotle, Shakespeare, and other classic authors. Dallas is an unusually conservative campus, yet its faculty has only the highest praise for him.
In Chicago, Anastaplo often appears to be a profound conservative. “George as a person has a great virtue,” says Bernard Weisberg. “He did not allow himself to be defined by his case.” When he was honored by the Chicago Council of Lawyers in 1980, for instance, he spoke critically of abortion, of busing, and of tolerant views toward obscenity and pornography.
“In a way he has always behaved as some kind of gadfly,” says Laurence Berns, an old friend and colleague and a tutor at St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland. “When the conventional opinion goes overboard in one direction, he tends to move in the other. It goes beyond the rather shallow distinction between liberals and conservatives.”
Despite his years of experience and his numerous publications, Anastaplo still was rebuffed by the law schools. One dean told him candidly that his appointment to the faculty would cause an uproar. In the fail of 1980, however, Loyola was looking for someone to teach constitutional law, and William Braithwaite, a faculty member who had been a student of Anastaplo’s, proposed him. As visiting professor, Anastaplo teaches first-year constitutional law and conducts seminars on First Amendment and jurisprudence, challenging students to come to terms directly with the documents.
“He is the best classroom teacher I have seen anywhere,” says Braithwaite. “Ten or 20 years from now, I will regard my bringing him here as the single most important thing I will have done at Loyola.”
For Loyola dean Charles W. Murdock, Anastaplo’s case was “water under the bridge. He probably would have been teaching in a law school long ago if not for the case.”
Anastaplo continues to teach seminars at colleges and universities across the country and conducts summer sessions for adults at the Clearing in Door County, Wisconsin.
He has had other run-ins with irresponsible authorities. He was expelled from the Soviet Union in 1960, for asking too many questions at a police investigation, and from Greece, under the colonels in 1970, for his public criticism of their tyrannical regime. These encounters prompted C. Herman Pritchett, a former president of the American Political Science Association, to observe, “As W. C. Fields might have said, any man who is kicked out of Russia, Greece, and the Illinois bar can’t be all bad.”
The case has given Anastaplo an unusual position from which to address the bar, his students, and his readers. He has gained respect without sacrificing his principles, and he has enjoyed his life. His son is doing graduate work in Europe in the history of science, his eldest daughter is a member of the Illinois bar, and he has a second daughter in college and another entering medical school. A law-school classmate wrote Anastaplo several years ago, recalling their last meeting: “It seemed to me that you had more peace of mind, more confidence in who you were and what you wanted than any lawyer I had ever known.” Says his friend Laurence Berns, “When he reads in Plato and Aristotle that the greatest pleasures come from doing what one thinks is good, that has practical meaning for him.”
Is the case truly closed? Anastaplo believes that it is and that “a good deal can be said in favor of the proposition that things are now left pretty much as they should be.” Far from regretting his actions, he believes that he has gained a unique education from the experience. But as one close observer of the court notes, “A case is closed only when four votes say that it is closed. It’s open when four votes say that it’s open.”
“His case is a blot on the shield of the bar,” says Calvin Sawyier, “and Illinois stands infamous until it is corrected.” Between “ANARCHY” and “ANATHEMA” falls “ ANASTAPLO,” and therein lies a great lesson in true character and fitness.