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Sunday, July 31, 2005
PoliColumn I: Moore Politics
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 7:35 am

From today’s Birmingham News:

High court rulings give Moore exposure
Sunday, July 31, 2005

As the Supreme Court finished this year’s session, it issued two rulings on a topic quite familiar to the politics of the state of Alabama: the public display of the Ten Commandments.

In two 5-4 decisions, the court ruled on the ability of state governments to have public displays of the Ten Commandments on public land. In Van Orden vs. Perry, the court ruled that a display on the grounds of the state capitol in Texas could remain, because it served a primarily historical/nonreligious function. In McCreary County vs. ACLU, the court ruled the displays in Kentucky were not constitutional because their primary purpose was the promotion of religion.

As such, the court maintained what has become an established, if somewhat muddy, standard: that the use of religious words and symbols by government is only permissible when such usages are largely devoid of religious meaning. Analysts of the opinions have noted that the court continues to fail to provide a consistent standard on these matters.

Among those analysts is former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who, not surprisingly, was asked to respond in print to the court’s rulings, including in an essay published in The News earlier this month. In that defense, Moore correctly noted that the justices didn’t exactly provide clarity on the question of when and where governmental units in the United States may display religious symbols and/or texts.

However, Moore’s views on this topic are not any surprise, especially to Alabamians. Of interest in the essay, aside from Moore’s re-statements of his view of the role of government in acknowledging God, are his more general views on the Supreme Court and his prescriptions for solving the problem of the courts and religion.

In the essay, Moore notes not only the issue of acknowledging God, but also abortion, the Schiavo case, and the ruling this session of eminent domain powers (which the court expanded in the Kelo vs. New London case).

He further argues for the usage by the Congress of its powers to dictate the jurisdiction of the federal court with the “Constitution Restoration Act of 2005,” a bill unlikely to pass the Congress.

Nonetheless, all of these topics together help give us at least a partial idea of a Moore candidacy for governor of Alabama, should he seek to run against Gov. Bob Riley for the GOP nomination. If Moore runs, at least two major prongs of attack will be government promotion of religion and actions of the courts. If Moore tosses in steadfast opposition to tax increases of any kind, he will have hit on a trifecta of Alabama politics: All three topics are quite popular with many voters.

That we are a religious state is certainly true, and that Moore has a gift for appealing to that religious nature is similarly uncontestable. Indeed, Moore engages in a particular brand of populism that attempts to combine seemingly complex legal arguments with common-sense appeals.

For example, Moore notes something he has asserted for some time in his arguments for display of the Ten Commandments: that the First Amendment says “Congress shall make no law establishing religion” and that a monument obviously isn’t a “law.” This is, of course, true, but misses the rather obvious point that many things that are produced by government aren’t laws, either, like aircraft carriers. However, just as any concrete manifestation of government goals, laws did have to be passed to have that aircraft carrier built. So, too, did some governmental agent somewhere have to decide that a Ten Commandments monument was to be erected.

Alabamians also have a great deal of distrust of the courts. Whether it was the removal of prayer from schools or the legalization of abortion, there are a number of issues which are of profound significance that the court has decided in a way that does not comport with the predominate views held in our state. There is further the fact that a couple of generations back, desegregation and busing orders given by federal courts were viewed as outside interference. Despite more enlightened view of race relations in the minds of most Alabamians today, there still is a vague recollection of interference by courts in the minds of many, even if they don’t fully recall why.

Certainly the idea that the courts in general are “out of control” is strong among many conservatives. As such, there is a well from which Moore can draw. Resentment well tapped can be a powerful tool for a gifted politician.

Precisely what Moore could actually do about these issues as governor is a wholly different question. Indeed, if he wants to affect the composition, and thereby, the behavior of the federal bench, he should run for the U.S. Senate or the presidency. Still, just because a politician can’t change something doesn’t mean that he can’t score political points by raising the issue.

At a minimum, the Supreme Court’s recent foray into the Ten Commandments issue allowed Moore to yet again obtain exposure which will help propel him to the next level should he decide to seek elective office once again.

Filed under: US Politics, My Columns, Alabama Politics | |Send TrackBack

Politics In Alabama linked with Riley Leads Republican Vote for Gov.


  1. “Whether it was the removal of prayer from schools or the legalization of abortion, there are a number of issues which are of profound significance that the court has decided in a way that does not comport with the predominate views held in our state.”

    You don’t have to go that far back to find reasons for Alabamians perfectly justified distrust of the courts. Just go as far back as the Education lawsuit so you can see the pictures of a Federal judge sitting there deciding how many rolls of toilet paper it is reasonable for one school to have before it creates a “disparity” with schools that don’t have as many rolls.

    Comment by Terry — Sunday, July 31, 2005 @ 7:56 am

  2. Riley Leads Republican Vote for Gov.

    In a studey done by the Birmingham News, 72% of polled Republicans would vote for Gov. Riley for the govenor position.

    Gov. Bob Riley is the clear choice among Republican leaders for re-election over former Chief Justice Roy Moore, a Birmingham News …

    Trackback by Politics In Alabama — Sunday, July 31, 2005 @ 5:30 pm

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