Alabama exists sort of the way East Germany did back during the Cold War, governed by a monolithic party controlling virtually every aspect of society’s political life. East Germany had its system of governance imposed upon it. We voted ours in.
The Republican Party in Alabama currently enjoys the kind of sway the Democratic Party used to, from local precincts all the way up to the state Supreme Court. The party has meticulously consolidated its control, to the point that many office holders elected as Democrats have switched affiliations for fear of not being elected again.
The most recent flip-flopper is one JerryFielding of Sylacauga, who jumped ship last week to become the 23rd Republican in the state Senate. He says he didn’t switch just because the GOP legislature redrew his district to make it easier for a Republican to get elected. Rather, he blames this year’s national Democratic Party platform, which he seemed to think was too liberal. “You don’t have to ask me if I want God to be included in my party’s platform,” Fielding said at a news conference in Montgomery.
George Wallace appointed our newest Republican a district judge back in 1978, the same year that a former Republican named Fob James ran as a Democrat to become governor. Fielding remained a Democrat through the national platforms of 1980 (Jimmy Carter), 1984 (Walter Mondale), 1988 (Michael Dukakis), the Clinton years of 1992 and 1996, plus Gore and Kerry in 2000 and 2004. If he said anything was wrong with the Democratic platform in 2008, the first time Barack Obama ran, it went unremarked by the popular press.
Perhaps Fielding’s was an instantaneous conversion along the lines of Saint Paul’s on the road to Damascus, only in this case the vision Jerry saw was Jabo Waggoner dangling the promise of an appointment to the Senate Judiciary Committee in the next legislative session.
The ugly fact no one wants to discuss out loud is the Alabama GOP’s attempt to draw a color line between themselves and the Democrats. In district after district, the most recent apportionment maps created by the supermajority in the legislature have reconfigured boundaries to create white-majority conclaves more likely to vote Republican.
Another color strategy was employed to dominate state courts, and it was green. As is usual in Alabama, big business interests found that buying judges was cheaper than renting them. A report from the Center for American Progress cited Alabama as one of the states where corporations, having contributed heavily to judges’ campaigns, have benefited from rulings by those courts in their favor 71 percent of the time.
There’s less money being poured into our state Supreme Court races this year, now that Republicans sit in all the seats. Only one race is attracting much attention, and that’s probably because zombie Roy Moore is back on the ballot.
He is the candidate even Karl Rove couldn’t kill. Roy Moore has a colorful background—West Point grad, MP in Vietnam, kick boxer, cowboy and, even more exotically, once a Democrat—but his love affair with the Ten Commandments was what got him noticed. After he was appointed circuit judge in Etowah County in 1993, the hand-carved plaque of the Decalogue he hung and the prayers he led in his courtroom got the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union, which sued in 1995 to have his religious trappings removed from the court of law.
A good bit of legal wrangling ensued, to no particular end, but Moore’s refusal to take the Commandments down in the process made him a national figure. In 1999, with a boost from the Christian Family Association, he announced his intention to become the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.
The GOP establishment and the companies that bankroll it were behind Associate Justice Harold See, but Moore’s refusal to separate church and state trumped even the guile of Karl Rove, who was hired by the See campaign as a strategist. Moore won the Republican primary and the November general election handily.
After taking office in January 2001, Moore became more outspoken about his personal beliefs. His disapproval of the “criminal lifestyle” of homosexuality was written into his legal decision in the case of D.H. v. H.H., eliciting protests around the country, but his installation of a two-and-a-half-ton granite monument to the Ten Commandments in the state judicial building was the capper to his curious career.
Outraged by the overt disregard for traditions separating church and state, the ACLU, joined by other advocacy groups, sued Moore anew in federal court. The Chief Justice went all-in on the sovereignty of the Christian God over all citizens, and that resulted in a 2002 order to haul out the monument.
Moore refused to obey. Rallies brought thousands to the courthouse, but the Constitution prevailed. The judge who thought himself above the law was removed from office by law. However, he didn’t go away quietly.
Beloved of the Christian Right, Moore continued to speak out against the secular. He ran for governor twice, losing by larger margins each time. He wrote for the right wing website World Net Daily, opining that Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota shouldn’t be allowed to serve because, as a Muslim, he couldn’t legitimately take the oath of office. This spring, he doubled down, telling a talk show that secular government opened the way for Sharia law. Just the other day, he told a rally in Fort Payne that not terrorism, not economics, but gay marriage will destroy the United States.
Roy Moore embodies everything that’s wrong with the Republican Party today. He’s running for Chief Justice again this year. Thankfully, you have an alternative for whom to vote: Judge Robert Vance, a jurist so highly regarded to lead the Supreme Court that he’s been endorsed by two of Roy Moore’s fellow Republicans.
For Chief Justice in 2012, a demagogue or a Democrat. Choose wisely.