When U.S. Sen. Steve Daines endorsed Roy Moore for the U.S. Senate last week, Daines said, “Judge Moore is a principled conservative.”
That’s three errors in just six words. Moore is no longer a judge, having disqualified himself through his own actions, nor is he principled, and he certainly is no conservative. He is a scofflaw, unfit for public office, who believes only in the Rule of Moore.
With exquisite timing, Daines endorsed Moore just before allegations surfaced that Moore had sexually assaulted a minor in the 1970s. But set that aside. In fairness to Daines, he did not know about the allegations when he made the endorsement, and he has since withdrawn it.
Let’s also set aside the other odd quirks in Moore’s political career. Oh, what the heck, just for fun, here are a few:
♦ As late as December 2016, even after Donald Trump had abandoned that fantasy, Moore still argued that Barack Obama was not a U.S. citizen.
♦ Moore wrote a column in 2006 holding that U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., should not be seated in Congress because he is a Muslim.
♦ Moore has said that kneeling during the National Anthem violates federal law.
But crazy talk isn’t what distinguishes Moore from scores of other political candidates. What makes him different is his utter contempt for the rule of law. That’s what resulted in his removal two times as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.
The first time, in 2003, he lost his job because he refused to remove a monument engraved with the 10 Commandments that he had placed in the Alabama Judicial Building. The courts ruled that this violated the constitutional ban against the government establishing a religion.
“If all Chief Justice Moore had done were to emphasize the Ten Commandments’ historical and educational importance … or their importance as a model code for good citizenship … this court would have a much different case before it,” the court ruled. “But the Chief Justice did not limit himself to this; he went far, far beyond. He installed a two-and-a-half ton monument in the most prominent place in a government building, managed with dollars from all state taxpayers, with the specific purpose and effect of establishing a permanent recognition of the ‘sovereignty of God,’ the Judeo-Christian God, over all citizens in this country, regardless of each taxpaying citizen’s individual personal beliefs or lack thereof. To this, the Establishment Clause says no.”
If you follow the links in this column, you can read Moore’s arguments in defense of the monument. But they don’t matter. What does matter is that he lost his case at every level, from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to the Alabama Supreme Court. Even when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear his final appeal, he still refused to obey the law.
Alabama’s Court of the Judiciary, which considers violations of the Canons of Judicial Ethics, wrote, “This court has found that Chief Justice Moore not only willfully and publicly defied the orders of a United States district court, but upon direct questioning by the court he also gave the court no assurances that he would follow that order or any similar order in the future. … Under these circumstances, there is no penalty short of removal from office that would resolve this issue.”
At that point, Moore might have honorably concluded that his future lay not in upholding the law but in rewriting it. He could have run for the Senate then.
Instead, he ran again for chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, winning election in 2012. There, he again ignored the law, ordering probate judges to disregard court decisions and a federal injunction making same-sex marriages legal.
The Court of the Judiciary charged him with six violations of the Canons of Judicial Ethics. In 2016, the court found that Moore had never expressed remorse for his actions but “continues to engage in semantic gamesmanship to convince this Court that he never counseled defiance of the federal injunction, while simultaneously, his attorney at the Liberty Counsel mounts an aggressive public relations campaign about ‘standing up to the federal judiciary.’”
The court ruled that Moore’s “continued flouting of our system of constitutional justice regrettably leaves this Court only one suitable response. The Court must remove Chief Justice Moore from office.”
The court found, “This is the second time Chief Justice Moore has caused himself to be brought before this court for taking actions grossly inconsistent with his duties as Chief Justice and in violation of the Canons of Judicial Ethics. The result in both instances has been a lengthy, costly proceeding for this court, the JIC [Judicial Inquiry Commission], and, most unfortunately, the taxpayers of this state.”
The courts repeatedly emphasized that their decisions had nothing to do with Moore’s opinions about the 10 Commandments or about same-sex marriages. In fact, some members of the Alabama Supreme Court agreed with him that the U.S. Supreme Court case allowing same-sex marriage was wrongly decided.
“It is not a case about taking sides in a public debate about a controversial issue,” the Court of the Judiciary held. “This is a case about the rule of law and Chief Justice Moore’s continued flouting of our nation’s foundational principles.”
Or as the U.S. Supreme Court has put it, “No man in this country is so high that he is above the law. No officer of the law may set that law at defiance with impunity. All the officers of the government, from the highest to the lowest, are creatures of the law and are bound to obey it.”
Moore’s lawlessness is what Daines terms principled conservatism. Now that Moore has been accused of assaulting teenage girls, Daines has withdrawn his endorsement. So long as Moore was merely assaulting the rule of law, Daines had no problem.
David Crisp is a longtime Billings journalist and college professor who writes a weekly column for Last Best News.