Tag Archives: Alabama

Alabama: Why Judges Shouldn’t Be Elected

He’s baaack!

Roy Moore, the infamous “Ten Commandments” theocrat, is serving a second stint as Alabama’s chief justice. Moore was first elected to that position in 2000, but was removed after refusing to move a Ten Commandments monument he had installed at the entrance to the courthouse. Carved into a five ton boulder. In a July 2003 ruling, the appeals court compared Moore’s actions to the

“position taken by those southern governors who attempted to defy federal court orders during an earlier era,” citing the actions of former governors Ross Barnett of Mississippi and George C. Wallace of Alabama in trying to block campus integration and protest marches during the height of the civil rights movement.

“Any notion of high government officials being above the law did not save those governors from having to obey federal court orders, and it will not save this chief justice from having to comply with the court order in this case,” the appeals court wrote.

In November 2003, the state ethics panel unanimously voted to remove Moore from the bench. He was reelected in 2012, narrowly defeating a candidate who didn’t join the race until August after Democrats disqualified their original candidate. (What was that old saying?–you can’t beat something with nothing.) When it became apparent that he’d won, he told supporters

“Go home with the knowledge that we are going to stand for the acknowledgment of God.”

Now, Moore has told the state’s probate judges–who evidently issue marriage licenses in Alabama– to ignore a federal judge’s ruling that same-sex marriages could proceed, and a majority of them have been complying.

Interestingly, Alabama does not require probate judges to have any sort of legal education. It’s also one of thirteen states where probate judges are elected in partisan primaries and general elections.

The U.S. Constitution made federal judges independent precisely in order to avoid this sort of assault on the rule of law. Congress and the Executive Branch are supposed to answer to the voters; courts of law are supposed to answer to the Constitution.

In best-case scenarios, judicial elections give rise to the appearance of impropriety– did campaign contributions influence the administration of justice? In the worst-case scenarios, judicial elections give you a Roy Moore.

Politics at the Bed and Breakfast

We took our grandchildren to Williamsburg and Jamestown (where they were fascinated by the muskets), then came to Washington, D.C. so that they could experience the nation’s capital. Yesterday was the Museum of the American Indian (pricey buffalo-burgers in the cafeteria!) and the Air and Space Museum with a planetarium show narrated by Whoopie Goldberg.

We are staying in a Bed and Breakfast, the Aaron Shipman house, located in the Logan Circle area. It’s a lovely residential neighborhood,with excellent public transportation. (I’ve been VERY  jealous of the transportation on this trip! It makes any place more livable and civilized. Too bad the Indiana legislature doesn’t consider livability important…)

There are seven bedrooms rooms in this house, and we met the other travelers at breakfast yesterday. We went around the table making introductions. Five were traveling together from Alabama, and after the (wonderful!) breakfast, we were making small talk. One woman, a retired second-grade teacher, said “You teach law. How can Roy Moore be considered eligible to run again for the Alabama Supreme Court? Didn’t his previous behavior and contempt for Separation of Church and State disqualify him?” Roy Moore, you may recall, was the zealot who had the Ten Commandments carved on a five-ton stone and placed at the entrance to the Alabama Supreme Court. Apparently, his opponent is genuinely mentally ill, so voters have no reasonable choice in this election, and she was agitated.

“Everyone will look at Alabama and think we actually wanted this creep! We don’t!”

That led to a more general discussion of the political environment and the extremism of today’s GOP. The owner of the B and B opined that Republican Senators and Representatives who had opted to put politics before the national interest and simply say NO to anything and everything that might make Obama look good should be expelled from office. The rest of the short discussion was similar. (And for the record, I didn’t start it!)

I’m hesitant to draw large conclusions from this anecdote: I remember a friend from law school who was absolutely certain McGovern was going to win the election that year because everyone in his neighborhood was a McGovern supporter. He lived in Greenwich Village. But it was interesting to see a group from Huntsville, Alabama–hardly a “blue” location–so utterly disgusted with the radicalism that characterizes today’s GOP.

I believe the acronym young people use these days is FWIW–for what it’s worth.

The New “N” Word

I learn a lot from my friends on Facebook.

Yesterday, a couple of people linked to a Slate Magazine report of a poll of Republican electorates in Mississippi and Alabama. The results were eye-opening, in more respects than one: by considerable margins, GOP voters in both states rejected evolution (66% in Mississippi, 60% in Alabama), and believed that President Obama is a Muslim (in Mississippi, only 12% said he was Christian, while 52% said Muslim and 36% were unsure; in Alabama, 14% said Christian, 45% Muslim and 41% unsure).

My first reactions were predictable. 1) A country that rejects science is a country in decline; 2) People who insist that Obama is a Muslim are probably are many of the same people who criticize him for attending a church where Rev. Wright was pastor–i.e., intentionally ignorant people; and 3) So what if he were Muslim? Being Muslim shouldn’t be any more out of the American mainstream than being Mormon or Jewish or Unitarian.

But of course, this isn’t about the comparative merits of different theologies. This is about pathology. It’s about the hate that dare not speak its name.

Another friend’s post hit that proverbial nail on its head. “Muslim” he wrote “is the new “N” word.”

We’ve come far enough in America to make the use of the original “N” word unacceptable, even among people who harbor very racist beliefs. We come far enough to actually elect a black President, and by a pretty substantial margin. That’s progress, and I don’t mean to diminish its significance.

But to dismiss the immediate and irrational response to that election and this President–to insist that every criticism of Obama is grounded in policy differences–is to ignore the elephant in the room.

The “birthers” and their ilk–the folks who insist that the President was born in Kenya, or that he is an adherent of a religion they have also demonized–are intent on labeling Obama as alien, as Other. But they don’t want to admit to themselves–or betray to others–the true source of that Otherness, or the real reason for their animus: the color of his skin.

At least they are true to their own beliefs: they haven’t evolved.