Ordering the Courts: Right Wing Attacks on Judicial Independence in 2000


Shortly after Judge Roy Moore was appointed Etowah County Circuit judge in Alabama in 1992, he hung a homemade redwood tablet of the Ten Commandments behind his bench and instituted a policy of inviting “preachers or ministers to offer a prayer during jury organizational sessions.”8 Calling the prayers “voluntary,” Moore said that anyone who objected was free to leave the courtroom. In 1995, Moore was sued by the ACLU and others. A circuit court ordered Moore to remove the tablet from his courtroom and cease opening his court sessions with prayer, both of which he ignored. His defiance immediately garnered him hero status among social conservatives and ultimately earned him praise and awards from such right-wing leaders as Alan Keyes, D. James Kennedy, and Dr. James Dobson, among others. After three years of legal wrangling, the state Supreme Court threw out the lawsuit on technical grounds, without resolving the issue.

At the urging of local conservatives, Moore sought election as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court in 2000 and promised to take his tablet with him if he won election. Though all four Republican primary candidates were viewed as solidly conservative, Moore secured 55 percent of the vote and avoided a runoff. His reputation as a Christian crusader distinctly shaped the campaign, as nearly all of Moore’s opponents competed in their professions of personal faith, with one candidate assuring voters that she had the Ten Commandments posted in her chamber to remind herself of “God’s rules,” while another proclaimed that his Christian faith played a formative role in his work and that he routinely sought guidance through prayer.9 Moore’s main opponent, Associate Supreme Court Justice Harold See, ran an ad touting his participation on a volunteer legal team that defended Moore during his legal fight with the ACLU.

Moore’s candidacy was supported by the Christian Coalition of Alabama, which promised to be “fully engaged” in the November election by distributing over one million voter guides to churches the Sunday before the election. Controversy arose when Alabama’s Judicial Inquiry Commission issued an advisory opinion urging judicial candidates not to answer the questionnaire the Coalition used to create its voter guides. The Commission stated that answering the questions “would clearly violate” the Canon of Judicial Ethics, which asserts that candidates “should not make any promise of conduct in office” and that they “should abstain from public comment about a pending or impending proceeding in any court.”10 The Christian Coalition sued the Commission, claiming that such an order violated the candidates’ First Amendment rights. A federal judge ruled in the Coalition’s favor, leaving it less than a month to rush 1.2 million voter guides to print.

For his part, Moore campaigned throughout the state, mainly in churches and Republican gatherings, avoiding any meetings with his opponent, Alabama Court of Appeals Judge Sharon Yates. Moore’s campaign centered on his promise to restore the “moral foundation” of American law. He said, “There is an absolute truth, and the truth is in the Bible.”11 The Campaign for Working Families, an “unapologetically profamily, pro-life, and pro-growth” organization founded by Gary Bauer, as well as the support of the Christian Family Association and the Alabama Christian Coalition’s 2000 voter guide endorsed Moore.

Moore won election to the Alabama Supreme Court in November, a victory celebrated by the Alabama Christian Coalition and D. James Kennedy’s Center for Reclaiming America. This time around, Moore has chosen to hang his plaque in the chief justice’s reception area rather than the main courtroom, a decision for which he is now being criticized by his own supporters. Dean Young, executive director of the Christian Family Association and former spokesman and top fund-raiser for Moore, accused him of reneging on his campaign promise and complained that hanging the plaque in his office “is all the ACLU wanted all along.”12

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