Jewish World Review Feb. 3, 2004 / 11 Shevat, 5764
John H. Fund
Moore Trouble: Alabama's former chief justice may challenge Bush for the Religious Right vote
A big threat to President Bush's
re-election could come if his
conservative base chooses not to turn
out and vote in large numbers this fall.
That's one reason he told a
congressional Republican retreat on
Saturday that he supports spending caps
on the exploding federal budget. But the
president could also still face a challenge
from a social conservative running as a
In the past such candidacies have
fizzled. But Roy Moore, the ousted
Alabama Supreme Court justice who
made headlines last year by refusing to
remove a Ten Commandments monument
he placed on public property, could make
a difference in a close race. And just last
week, he refused to rule out a
A lot of people want him to run. Last
Saturday, Mr. Moore was a featured
speaker at the Christian Coalition's
"Family and Freedom" rally in Atlanta.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
reported he was "treated like a rock star,
signing autographs and getting
thunderous standing ovations." The week
before that, Mr. Moore was the speaker
at a dinner in Lancaster, Pa., sponsored
by the Constitution Party, which has the
third-largest number of registered voters
in the U.S. and whose presidential
candidate, Howard Phillips, was on 41
state ballots in 2000.
During a question-and-answer period, Mr.
Moore was asked if he would run for
president. "Not right now," he said,
noting he is still appealing his dismissal
from office for violating a federal court's
order to remove the monument from the Alabama Supreme Court building. "I have to
wait till all these things are done to decide my future." His friends say he is undecided
about whether to run for president or to wait two years and seek Alabama's
Mr. Moore installed the Vermont granite monument honoring the Ten Commandments in
2001, shortly after he became chief justice of the state's highest court. Federal courts
ordered him to remove it, saying the monument was an unconstitutional endorsement of
religion. When Mr. Moore refused, an Alabama judicial committee kicked him out of
office, saying his defiance brought his court into "disrepute." A special court has been
seated to hear his appeal and will probably render a decision in the next month or so.
For now, Mr. Moore is barnstorming the country giving a speech that uses a mix of
constitutional theory and biblical citation to defend his decision. I watched him excite a
crowd at a convention of Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum activists last year in St. Louis.
"I am tired of judges who won't let us pray at high school graduations, football games
and in public buildings pushing people of faith around," he thundered.
Mr. Moore's critics say that his behavior in the monument case showed he was more
interested in manufacturing a political cause or candidacy than in having a lawful
display of religious values. Friends of Alabama's Attorney General Bill Pryor and other
state officials who opposed Judge Moore note that they have long been on record in
favor of religious displays within appropriate, constitutional settings. Mr. Pryor felt he
had no choice but to oppose Judge Moore when he decided to disregard a federal court
order. But now a group of ministers who back Mr. Moore want President Bush to
withdraw Mr. Pryor's nomination to a federal appeals court. Mr. Moore himself told me
at the Eagle Forum convention that "Bill Pryor made a decision on who he would side
with and I'm disappointed it's not with the people."
There is no doubt that Mr. Moore's civil disobedience struck a chord with some
elements of the population, but are they enough to sustain a presidential candidacy? "If
he can get on talk shows and stir up conservative voters he could easily get
significantly more than the usual third-party vote totals," says Richard Winger, a
leading authority on independent candidacies and editor of Ballot Access News. He
notes that while the Libertarian and Green parties are much better known, the
Constitution Party has 320,000 registered voters around the country and guaranteed
ballot access in large states such as California and Pennsylvania. Its national
convention won't be held until June 22, giving Mr. Moore time to exhaust the appeal of
his dismissal before the Alabama courts.
There are also signs that Mr. Moore's issue the public display of Scripture and religious
themes isn't going away. Local officials are seeking to remove a Ten Commandments
monument from a public building in Everett, Wash. Last month, a similar monument was
placed in a public building in Winston-Salem, N.C., by Vernon Robinson, a city
councilman who is running for Congress. It has since been removed. Media outlets seem
to love a good controversy and will likely publicize more of these stories is Mr. Moore
runs for office.
Reporters who want to see President Bush face a tight race this year will be particularly
interested in spilling a lot of ink on Mr. Moore, should he decide to run for president.
That's why Republican strategists are trying to talk him into campaigning this year for
GOP candidates who agree with his stance rather than mount a quixotic campaign for
the nation's highest office. "He can get a lot of attention this year for his themes," one
told me. "The question is whether he does it in a way that will help conservatives or
whether he tries to do it in a way that could make him the Ralph Nader spoiler of the
right in 2004."
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©2001, John H. Fund