Roy Moore has done this before.
The former Alabama state Supreme Court chief justice has won the Republican senate primary runoff in Alabama, so he stands a good chance of becoming the next US senator out of Dixie, despite running up against a heavily funded Republican establishment pick in the primary and now facing Democrat Doug Jones in December.
Even with President Donald Trump asking his backers to cast a ballot for Sen. Luther Strange, who was appointed to the in-demand seat after Jeff Sessions left to take over the Justice Department, the heat down South was with the firebrand. On Monday night, Breitbart boss Steve Bannon joined the candidate for a rally in Fairhope. He also has the support for a right-wing favorites Sarah Palin and Sebastian Gorka.
But Moore is hardly a product of the present political moment. In fact, he’s something of a throwback to a different era of conservative rule – the George W. Bush years, when his virulent anti-gay, right-wing views made him a national figure.
Roy vs. Rove
“For Mitch McConnell and Ward Baker and Karl Rove and Steven Law, all the instruments that tried to destroy Judge Moore and his family, your day of reckoning is coming,” Bannon said at the Monday night campaign rally.
This particular round of animosity is tied to McConnell’s efforts, through the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC, to beat back Moore’s Senate bid with a flurry of attack ads. But Rove and Moore go further back.
During the 2000 race for the chief justice seat on the Alabama state Supreme Court, Moore’s establishment competition, Associate Justice Harold See, drafted in Rove to help his wealthy but increasingly unhealthy campaign. To no avail. Moore won the Republican primary, avoiding even a run-off, with 55% of the vote. He defeated the Democratic nominee in the fall and began his first term in 2001.
Roy, the “Rock” and gay marriage
Moore is most famous for the fights that twice led to his departure from the state’s high court.
In the 1990s, Moore had done legal battle over over a wooden “Ten Commandments” plaque in his courtroom. But after taking over as chief justice, he escalated – planting a granite monument to the commandments, weighing in at more than 5,000 pounds, inside the state supreme court building.
A series of legal challenges, successful ones, eventually left Moore with a choice: either follow federal orders and remove the rock, or be removed himself. And so he was, in November 2003, by a judicial ethics panel.
Moore ran and won again in 2012. But again, he defied a federal court decision – this time striking down state laws banning same-sex marriage – and found himself facing off with the same ethics body that effectively ousted him nearly a decade earlier. In April of this year, he resigned his post to pursue Sessions’ vacated seat.
Roy takes on same-sex parents
The controversies that marked Moore’s brief tenure, the first of two abbreviated terms, on the Alabama Supreme Court were not limited to his decorating tastes. A child custody case in 2002 was less of a national cause célèbre, but Moore used the outcome, and his concurrence, to author a vicious attack on same-sex parents.
“I write specially to state that the homosexual conduct of a parent – conduct involving a sexual relationship between two persons of the same gender – creates a strong presumption of unfitness that alone is sufficient justification for denying that parent custody of his or her own children or prohibiting the adoption of the children of others,” he said in one of the opinion’s more tame passages.
In others, Moore labeled “homosexual conduct” by parents as being “detrimental to the children,” writing that it “is, and has been, considered abhorrent, immoral, detestable, a crime against nature, and a violation of the laws of nature and of nature’s God upon which this nation and our laws are predicated.”
Roy plans a constitutional convention
Moore’s second term as Alabama’s chief justice coincided with the dying days of the fight against marriage equality. So in 2014, he sent letters to governors from all 50 states asking them to support a constitutional convention (which, under Article V, can be convened by two-thirds of the state legislatures) that would seek to define marriage as being between “one man and one woman.”
In an interview with the Associated Press, Moore declared, “The moral foundation of our country is under attack,” and that the “government has become oppressive, and judges are warping the law.”
Alas, there was no convention.
Moore has often spiced up his political rhetoric with live renditions of original verse.
Here’s a snippet from one widely quoted poem. It begins, ruefully:
America the beautiful, or so you used to be.
Land of the Pilgrims’ pride; I’m glad they’ll never see:
Here it gets graphic:
Babies piled in dumpsters, Abortion on demand,
Oh, sweet land of liberty; your house is on the sand.
And so on. He goes on to weave in a message in favor of capital punishment:
Too soft to put a killer in a well deserved tomb,
But brave enough to kill that child before he leaves the womb.
If you want to read more, this October 2015 feature from The Atlantic includes an extended recollection of a poem Moore recited during a convention of Southern Baptists.
Roy’s take on Sharia Law … and Obama
Vox’s Jeff Stein interviewed Moore over the summer. He emerged with a handful of brow-raising nuggets, but this excerpted exchange stood out. Both for its weirdness and the insight it provides into the kind of senator Moore, should he prevail, figures to be.
Stein begins by asking if Moore believes that “Sharia law is a danger to America?” Here’s what follows:
“There are communities under Sharia law right now in our country. Up in Illinois. Christian communities; I don’t know if they may be Muslim communities. But Sharia law is a little different from American law. It is founded on religious concepts.”
“Which American communities are under Sharia law? When did they fall under Sharia law?”
“Well, there’s Sharia law, as I understand it, in Illinois, Indiana – up there. I don’t know.”
“That seems like an amazing claim for a Senate candidate to make.”
“Well, let me just put it this way – if they are, they are; if they’re not, they’re not.”