Suspended From Alabama's Supreme Court, Roy Moore Resigns to Run for U.S. Senate

by | April 27, 2017

By Brian Lyman

Suspended Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore said Wednesday said he will seek the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, sounding themes of social conservatism and originalism he has struck for years.

"As United State Senator, I will continue to stand for rights and liberties not only of this state, but of the people as well," Moore said in a brief announcement and the Alabama State Capitol steps Wednesday.

Moore's brief kick-off speech sounded like many speeches Moore has delivered over the past 20 years, blending strong opinions against abortion and LGBT rights with a detailed and sometimes minute discussion of constitutional issues. But he added a new ingredient to his speech: President Donald Trump.

"I know I share the vision of our President Donald Trump to make America great again," he said. "Before we can America great again, we've got to make America good."

Rich Hobson, a longtime aide to Moore, said after the speech that Moore had submitted his retirement papers as chief justice, allowing him to run. Age limits prevent Moore from seeking another position on the bench.

Moore's strong stands on religion and against LGBT rights have earned him a devoted following within the Republican Party. But they have also made him a divisive figure who often struggles to reach voters beyond his base.

The chief justice, 70, first vaulted into the spotlight when, as an Etowah County Circuit Judge, he hung the Ten Commandments in his courtroom, bringing legal challenges. Elected state's chief justice in 2000, he installed a granite monument depicting the Ten Commandments in the Heflin-Torbert Judicial Building in Montgomery. The move led to controversies and additional legal action. When U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson ordered the monument removed, Moore refused to obey. That led to charges against Moore and, eventually, his removal from the bench in 2003.

After two unsuccessful campaigns for governor, Moore won re-election as chief justice in 2012. In Jan. 2016, Moore circulated an order telling probate judges not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The order, largely ignored, flew in the face of the U.S. Supreme Court's 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges striking down state bans on same-sex marriage.

Following complaints, the Judicial Inquiry Commission filed charges against Moore last May, leading to his automatic suspension from the bench. Moore accused LGBT groups of conspiring to remove him, but his attorneys in court took a more moderate tone, arguing Moore's order was meant as guidance and did not change the status quo on same-sex marriage. The Court of the Judiciary disagreed, and suspended Moore for the remainder of his term in September.

After the sentence was affirmed last week, Moore accused "certain transgender and homosexual groups" of conspiring against him. Wednesday he said he had no regrets, saying "what I did I did for the people of Alabama."

"I stood up for God," he said. "The great majority of people in this state believe in God . . . unless you understand what God has to do with the Constitution, you don't understand the Constitution."

Moore reiterated his commitment to state powers against federal powers, saying education from that level was "indoctrination."

"When we see education continually being pushed on the state in what we teach our children, it's absolute phenomenal to think the people of Alabama can't teach their children," he said.

On other issues, Moore breaks with Republican orthodoxy. As chief justice, Moore penned two opinions opposing arbitration rulings, which earned him the lasting enmity of the Business Council of Alabama. The BCA's political action committee supported Moore's bid for chief justice in 2000 but sat on its hands in 2012, when Moore faced a strong challenge from Jefferson County Circuit Judge Bob Vance, a Democrat.

Moore has also shown an interest in sentencing reform, and been critical of the state's habitual offender act. During a meeting of the Alabama Prison Reofrm Task Force in 2015, the chief justice joined with more liberal members of the panel in pushing for studies of the impact of the law on prison overcrowding, saying not doing so was like "putting a Band-Aid on a major injury."

"There's a lot of people in there serving 99 years and life for sentences that two or three years in prison might address," Moore said at the time.

But Moore has always defined himself first and foremost as a social conservative. In a statement distributed after his public remarks Wednesday, Moore said the United States was "founded on the firm rock of conservative Christian values."

"Those values are worth fighting and sacrificing for, and no judge or government can take them from us," the statement said.

Moore's release also outlined a conservative platform that called for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act; a national sales tax to replace the income tax and a call to allow states to enforce laws against undocumented immigrants. It also reaffirmed his opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage.

The GOP Senate field includes incumbent Luther Strange; Rep. Ed Henry, R-Hartselle and former Christian Coalition of Alabama chairman Randy Brinson. Other Republicans are likely to jump in. Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said Tuesday he had "made his decision" about the race, but was not ready to announce it.

U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Haleyville and Sens. Slade Blackwell, R-Montevallo and Trip Pittman, R-Montrose are also considering the race. Moore has higher name recognition than most of his opponents, but historically has struggled to raise money or attract more moderate Republicans to his banner. Despite leading early polls, Moore finished a distant second to Gov. Bob Riley in the 2006 GOP primary for governor. He finished fourth in the 2010 GOP primary, a race eventually won by Robert Bentley.

Henry said in a phone interview he welcomed Moore's entry into the race.

"I believe it's a better day for Alabama, the more choices they have to represent them in DC," he said.

Ron Crumpton, a medical marijuana advocate and the only Democrat to declare his candidacy, blasted Moore's campaign in an email relased shortly after Moore's announcement.

"Moore's views on Christianity are unconstitutional," the statement said. "The Constitution expressly prohibits the making of laws respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise of religion."

The primary for the U.S. Senate seat is Aug. 15. Runoffs would take place Sept. 26, with the general election Dec. 12.

(c)2017 the Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Ala.)