Dear Candidate: Are you a Communist?

Of the 78 candidates for various Cook County Circuit court seats in next March’s election, all but five took a curious oath:

They swear they are not members of the Communist party, nor of a Communist front organization.

That pledge is part of the loyalty oath distributed to every Illinois candidate for office, under a state law that is of dubious legality and doubtful value. The form, which is labeled “optional,” includes a promise not to back the violent overthrow of the United States.

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Back in the cold war era, amidst fear of conspiracies to overthrow the United States, such oaths were common, and often a mandatory requirement for jobs for teachers and for jobs in government agencies.

Listen: Former U.S. Representative Joseph McCarthy uses the House Un-American Activities Committee to find communists in America.

But starting in the 1960s, courts gave such laws closer scrutiny, and in 1972, a divided panel of the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled the mandatory oath required for Illinois candidates to be illegal.

In many states, after similar rulings, the states ended the requirement.
In Illinois, officials made the oath “optional” for candidates.

Legal experts question why the oath has survived this long. “You don’t have to say you’re not a member of the Boy’s Club or any other organization,” said Richard Kling, professor at Illinois Institute of Technology – Chicago-Kent College of Law. “It’s plainly illegal for candidates to have to say they are not a Communist.”

Ed Yohnka, director of communications and public policy for the American Civil Liberties Union-Illinois, said the organization does not doubt the law is illegal. But, Yohnka said, the question is how to challenge the issue.

Edward King loyalty oath

Illinois State Board of Elections

Cook County Judge Edward King added a flag to his loyalty oath this November.

Required or not, clearly most judicial candidates in the current race were happy to sign the oath. One, Edward J. King, who already is serving by appointment as a Cook County Circuit judge, added an American flag to the loyalty oath he submitted for his candidacy for a judicial post from the western suburbs.

One who did not sign the form was Chelsey Robinson, who is running for a vacancy in the subcircuit on Chicago’s south side and surrounding suburbs. Robinson said she considered the oath “outdated,” adding, “I don’t think it’s relevant.”

If a terrorist is running for office, said Robinson, she doubted they would freely admit being one in the candidate form.