Ten Commandments Judge Battles Bomb Victim’s Son in Alabama Race

Mail Bomb Scion Battles 10 Commandments Judge in Alabama Race
Roy Moore testifies at a Senate Constitution, Civil Rights and Property Rights Subcommittee hearing, entitled "Beyond the Pledge of Allegiance: Hostility to Religious Expression in the Public Square." on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Photographer: Matthew Cavanaugh/Getty Images

Roy Moore, the Republican candidate and leading contender for chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, delivered a speech this week on some of his favorite topics: God, greed, guns, lust, hypocrisy and the Constitution.

The U.S. Constitution “is a restriction of the fallen nature of man,” Moore, 65, said. “And when you have a fallen nature, you succumb to greed and lust, which you can see in our government.” Following the speech at the Birmingham Kiwanis Club, which received 10 seconds of scattered applause, audience members declined to speak about Moore’s candidacy.

Alabama attracted international attention nine years ago after Moore was ousted as chief justice for defying a court order to remove a five-ton granite monument of the Ten Commandments from his courthouse. Despite the notoriety, Moore is poised to win back his old job, even absent the kind of business donations that have made Alabama Supreme Court races the most expensive in the U.S. The race exemplifies the grip the Republican Party now has on the country’s Deep South.

In Alabama and much of the region, even a disgraced Republican is now better than none, Natalie Davis, professor of political science at Birmingham-Southern College, said in a phone interview.

“I don’t think we’ll see another Democrat elected statewide for the next 30 years, unless Nick Saban runs as one,” Davis said, referring to the coach of the reigning national champion University of Alabama football team.

Republican domination in Alabama is so complete that the Democratic Party didn’t originally field candidates for any of the five Alabama Supreme Court seats on the ballot November 6.

Assassinated Judge

Moore now will face Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Robert Vance Jr., 51, the son of a federal judge assassinated by a mail bomb in 1989. The Democratic Party added him to the race just two months ago.

Moore said he is running on his respect for the U.S. Constitution and opposition to gay marriage, which he called “the ultimate destruction of our country” at a rally last week. Party officials say they support him. “Most people see him as a godly man with strong convictions,” Republican state party Chairman Bill Armistead said in a phone interview.

Vance said he’s campaigning on his competence and the belief that Alabamians don’t want the kind of international attention that Moore drew to the state in his first term. “We really don’t need any more embarrassments like we had when he the chief justice,” Vance said in a phone interview.

‘Crazy Things’

The race has become one of the strangest in the U.S., said J. Adam Skaggs, senior attorney with the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. “There have been some crazy things happening in judicial races around the country this year,” he said in a phone interview. “Alabama is in a class by itself.”

Vance became the Democratic nominee in August after party leaders forced Moore’s original challenger, Harry Lyon, off the ballot. Lyon ran unopposed in the Democratic primary in March after the party put up no other candidate. Lyon once suggested that illegal immigrants should be hanged in public. He also used his Facebook page to accuse Moore of devil worship.

Moore surprised both parties by winning the Republican primary. “Both sides wished they’d paid more attention,” said Jere Beasley, an Alabama trial lawyer who has won multi-million-dollar verdicts.

By August, Democratic officials concluded Lyon was fit neither to be a judge nor a Democrat, party chairman Mark Kennedy said in a phone interview.

Outside Donors

Vance has raised more than $450,000 in his two months as a candidate, including from the pro-business BizPac and an employee political action committee of Alabama Power, a subsidiary of Atlanta-based Southern Co.

“The donation speaks for itself,” Alabama Power spokesman Michael Sznajderman wrote in an e-mail, of the $5,000 contribution.

More than 80 percent of Moore’s donors are from outside Alabama. His biggest is Michael Peroutka, a Maryland lawyer and 2004 presidential candidate for the Bible-based Constitution Party, who donated $125,000 of the $640,000 Moore raised for both the primary and general election. Peroutka didn’t return calls for comment.

Trial lawyers also gave some of their money to Moore.

“Roy Moore was a very good judge for the victims we represent,” said Beasley, a Democrat.

The Alabama Supreme Court became the nation’s top battleground between Democratic trial lawyers and Republican business leaders more than a decade ago, said Charlie Hall, deputy executive director of Justice at Stake in Washington, which opposes special interest money in the judicial system.

$44.1 Million

Studies by the group and the Brennan Center found Supreme Court candidates in Alabama raised more campaign money than those in any other state between 2000 and 2010, despite its relatively small population of 4.8 million.

The candidates in Alabama raised $44.1 million in that period. The closest competitors were Pennsylvania, with $26.7 million and Ohio, at $24.1 million. Both states were more than twice as populous as Alabama, which also holds the U.S. record for the most money raised for Supreme Court races in a single year: $13 million in 2006.

Hall said the spending arose from Republican campaign strategist Karl Rove’s discovery that civil liability was a potent political issue for his party. Alabama was one of Rove’s early laboratories, transforming what had been low-profile, low-budget campaigns, he said in a phone interview. Rove “was hired in 1994 by a group of Alabama business leaders who had seen the success of the court reform efforts in Texas,” Sheena Tahilramani, chief of staff for Washington, D.C.-based Karl Rove & Co., wrote in an e-mail.

All the court justices are now Republican.

Poet and Kick Boxer

Moore, a writer of poetry and a Vietnam veteran, briefly earned a living as a Texas kick boxer and Australian ranch hand before returning to practice law in Alabama in 1985. Seven years later, he was appointed circuit judge in Gadsden, where he put a wooden plaque with the Ten Commandments in his courtroom, prompting a 1995 suit by the American Civil Liberties Union. In 2000, with evangelical Christian support, he won the chief justice seat and ultimately brought a granite version of the monument to the Supreme Court building in Montgomery. The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama ordered its removal in 2002 and Moore, who didn’t comply, was ousted the following year.

‘Homosexual Lifestyle’

The monument was only part of the problem with Moore, said Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, which sued with the ACLU and does not take a stand in political races. One Moore opinion said the state could use its power to levy physical penalties, including execution, to protect children from the “homosexual lifestyle,” he said. The opinion included a legal citation to Leviticus in the King James Bible.

A video of Moore being cross-examined still circulates on the Internet. “I must acknowledge God,” he says in the video, shortly before he is stripped of his job by an Alabama judicial panel.

Moore spent the years since as president of The Foundation for Moral Law in Montgomery, which advocates against abortion rights and gay marriage. He also ran for governor but was defeated in primaries in 2006 and 2010.

Moore said he’s been misunderstood. “I don’t think I’m a radical,” he said, before beginning the Kiwanis speech that included a history of the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance and remarks by World War II General Douglas McArthur.

If elected, Moore will not bring back the Ten Commandments monument, he said. “I won’t do it because it would confuse people,” he said in an interview.“They would think it was about my ego or willfulness or a monument or rock. It was never about that. It was about the sovereignty of the Judeo-Christian God.”

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