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Inside Politics

Ten Commandments case looms large in Alabama primary

Judge's supporters on ballot

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America Votes 2004
Roy Moore

MONTGOMERY, Alabama -- Bounced from office and not listed on any ballots, Alabama's "Ten Commandments judge" could nonetheless be a major player in the state's primary June 1.

Supporters of former Chief Justice Roy Moore have lined up to run for one congressional seat and all three state Supreme Court seats up for election.

"The public is tired of politicians professing certain beliefs and not acting on those beliefs," said Tom Parker, Moore's former legal adviser, who now is trying to unseat Justice Jean Brown in the Republican primary. "They want elected officials who have the moral courage to do what they will say they will do when they're running for election."

It is unclear whether Parker and other conservative Christians can ride into office on a bandwagon built for Moore, who became a hero to the religious right last summer for defying a federal court order to remove a 2 1/2-ton granite monument of the Ten Commandments from the rotunda of the Alabama Judicial Building. Moore eventually was thrown off the bench by a judicial ethics panel last November because of his refusal.

"Judge Moore doesn't have very large coattails," said Larry Powell, a political pollster and professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. "He went too far when he refused to obey the court order, and that was sort of a turning point and his popularity has been dropping ever since then."

Carl Grafton, a political science professor at Auburn University Montgomery, is less sure.

"I have to think that the Moore acolytes are better organized" than their opponents, Grafton said. "In the primaries, where the turnout is so low, intensity of feeling and organization often trumps numbers on the other side."

The other side is generally thought to be the state's business community.

The Alabama Civil Justice Reform Committee, made up of a couple of dozen business groups, has endorsed Brown and two other Republican judicial candidates in races against Moore followers. But even those candidates are reluctant to brand the race as the GOP's business wing vs. its religious wing.

"I reject the notion that this is the Christians vs. the non-Christians here or Christians vs. the business community because I have been a Baptist Sunday school teacher for almost 20 years," Brown said.

She has been targeted by some Moore supporters because she and the seven other associate justices voted to overrule Moore and comply with the court order to remove his monument.

"My faith is a very important part of my life," the first-term justice said.

Birmingham lawyer Phillip Jauregui, who represents Moore and argued the chief justice's so-far unsuccessful appeal of his ouster, is challenging an entrenched congressman in the GOP primary, six-term Rep. Spencer Bachus, a steadfast conservative in his own right.

Moore has attended a rally for Jauregui, and he may do more campaigning before the election. While Jauregui said his campaign is not about Moore, he echoes Moore's call for restraining the power of federal courts.

"The biggest issue that we're dealing with in America today is that the most important decisions policy-wise ... are not being made by policy makers. They're being made by judges," he said.

Moore has issued statements of support for Parker, Jauregui and two other Supreme Court candidates.

"I can't predict the future, but I can tell you that people are very upset over the past actions of state officials, to include the governor and justices of the Supreme Court, who have chosen to blindly follow a federal court order to remove the acknowledgment of God from Alabama," Moore said in a statement.

Moore is guarded about his own political future -- he has been mentioned for governor in two years -- though some observers said his decision may hinge on the success of his followers in the primary.

"If the Moore faction wins three or four of those seats, and especially if Parker beats Brown, I think the perception will be ... that the church faction of the Republican Party is now more powerful at the ballot box in Alabama than the business faction of the Republican Party," said Jess Brown, a government professor at Athens State University.

But if all four lose, Brown said, "I think you're going to have to conclude that Chief Justice Moore has more political baggage than political advantage, and that his political fortunes in Alabama might not be too good."

Grafton, the political science professor, said the outcome will have a large bearing on the GOP's future in traditionally conservative Alabama.

"I hate to use a cliche," he said, "but this is a battle for the soul of the Republican Party."

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