The denouement of the weird saga of Robert Bentley is getting weirder yet. Bentley recently resigned the governorship of Alabama in a plea deal after years of fighting a losing battle against heavy evidence of an extramarital affair with a staffer that went over the line into misappropriation of state funds and attempted intimidation of witnesses. But before he left office the septuagenarian “Love Gov” had the opportunity to appoint a temporary U.S. Senate replacement for new U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He chose state Attorney General Luther Strange, ignoring rumors the new senator had given the Bentley scandal a wide berth in exchange for this supreme favor. Now the voters of Alabama will get to weigh in via a special election (the primary is in August and the general election is in December), and thanks to his Bentley connection, Strange is far from being a shoo-in.
This week the Alabama Senate race went from being overshadowed by peculiar things to being a peculiar thing in itself when Roy Moore, the twice-elected, once-removed, and once-suspended chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, and perhaps America’s most prominent theocrat, declared his candidacy. Moore pledged to help Donald Trump “make America great again” by first returning the country to fidelity to God and the traditional family. In case this left anyone in doubt that the man once called “the Ten Commandments Judge” had not changed, he offered this pithy observation:
“I know and I think you do too that the foundations of the fabric of our country are being shaken tremendously,” said Moore. … “Our families are being crippled by divorce and abortion. Our sacred institution of marriage has been destroyed by the Supreme Court, and our rights and liberties are in jeopardy.”
So Moore is not running on what you’d call an upbeat, “right track” message.
But he never really has. After a West Point education and some odd experiences as a kickboxer and an Australian cowboy, Moore settled into a reasonably quiet legal and judicial career in eastern Alabama. He first came to national attention in the 1990s as a state circuit court judge who was sued by the ACLU for posting the Ten Commandments in his courtroom and holding pretrial prayers. He eventually prevailed on appeal, but more important, was able to use his attempted martyrdom by godless liberals to get himself elected chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court in 2000 after winning a highly competitive Republican primary. In an early concurring opinion on a case involving a lesbian mother who was trying to win custody of her children from an allegedly abusive ex-husband, Moore threw down the gauntlet to the tyranny of sodomites everywhere:
Homosexual behavior is a ground for divorce, an act of sexual misconduct punishable as a crime in Alabama, a crime against nature, an inherent evil, and an act so heinous that it defies one’s ability to describe it. That is enough under the law to allow a court to consider such activity harmful to a child. To declare that homosexuality is harmful is not to make new law but to reaffirm the old; to say that it is not harmful is to experiment with people’s lives, particularly the lives of children.
Soon Moore became embroiled in a dispute with a federal judge over his continued display of the Ten Commandments — this time via a large monument he commissioned — and after defying the judge’s orders and arguing the “Judeo-Christian God” reigned over church and state alike, he was finally removed from his position by a state commission and became a national conservative evangelical martyr for real.
Moore inevitably entered electoral politics, but in part because of his poor fundraising skills, he fell short in two gubernatorial elections in 2006 and 2010. In 2012, though, after a brief feint toward a Republican presidential run, he made a triumphal return to the state Supreme Court, being elected chief justice again. True to form, by 2016 Moore managed to get himself suspended (a sanction just short of removal) for fighting implementation of the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage.
Quite a career, eh? And now Moore will take his virtually universal name recognition and his hard-core Christian-right base of support into a low-turnout multicandidate Senate race where almost anything can happen. At least one Alabama political observer, John Archibald of the Birmingham News, thinks Moore will at least make a runoff.
If he does even better than that, Moore would become a figure who might even stand out in Donald Trump’s Republican Party.
The one sure thing is that if Moore fails in his third statewide non-judicial race, he cannot follow it up with a third run for the Supreme Court and perhaps a third effort to get himself tossed off the bench. At the age of 70, Moore is under Alabama law too old to run for that position. So this Senate race could be his last hurrah, praise the Lord.