And you thought having to choose between Hillary and Donald Trump was bad!
The upcoming Republican run-off for the special election to choose a successor to Alabama previous GOP Senator Jeff Sessions, now U.S. Attorney General, is as bad as it gets. Whoever wins is certain to be elected in super-red Alabama over Democrat Doug Jones, but one GOP candidate is corrupt and absurd, and the other is absurd, a fanatic and a habitual scofflaw. Both can be counted upon to immediately lower the ethical and intellectual level of the U.S. Senate, and normally I would assume that only electing a horseshoe crab or some other lower species could do the latter, while nothing short of sending Hillary Clinton back there could accomplish the former. That Alabama voters would allow their state’s seat in the U.S. Senate to depend on a run-off between these two examples of the worst of the U.S. politics bestiary doesn’t merely show that the state is backwards, it shows that its voters deserve one of these jerks. The rest of us, however, do not.
Let’s look at the two contestants, shall we? First current Senator Luther Strange, whose best feature is his name. Allow me to save you a click by re-posting a substantial section from February’s post about him:
When the Senate confirmed Jeff Sessions as U.S. Attorney General in hearings that may be best remembered as the time Elizabeth Warren earned the fawning admiration of feminists by behaving like a mean-spirited jerk, it meant that Alabama’s Republican governor got to appoint his successor. There wasn’t much discussion in the news media about who this might be, because it’s hard for journalists to inform the public properly when it is concentrating on bringing down the President, per the orders of their Eldritch Progressive Masters—sorry, I’ve got Dr. Strange stuff rattling around in my brain now—but there was some interesting speculation in Alabama.
You see, Republican Governor Robert Bentley is fighting to avoid impeachment as the result of a sex scandal, and one that called his honesty into question as well.
An official fired by Bentley alleged that the Governor had engaged in an extramarital affair with his senior political adviser, Rebekah Caldwell Mason. An audio recording surfaced in which Bentley told a woman named “Rebekah” that he “worr[ied] about loving you so much” and that “[w]hen I stand behind you, and I put my arms around you, and I put my hands on your breasts […] and just pull you real close. I love that, too.” At a press conference, Bentley apologized for the comments but denied having an affair and stated that his relationship with Mason was purely platonic.
Bentley invaded the Ethics Alarms Rationalizations List, saying that he “had made a mistake” by saying “inappropriate things” to his aide, and apologized to Mason , her family and to the people of Alabama. On April 5, 2016, an impeachment resolution against Bentley was filed in the State Legislature, which appointed a special counsel to lead an investigation into the impeachment charges. Then, in November, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange asked that the investigation be halted pending “related work” by his office. This was widely interpreted to mean that Strange, also a Republican but not an ally of Bentley’s, was overseeing his own investigation of whether charges should be brought against Bentley.
Trump was elected President on November 8, and ten days later he announced his intention to nominate Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions as U.S. Attorney General. On December 6, 2016, Strange announced that he was a candidate for the soon to be vacant seat, meaning that he would run in the 2018 election, if he wasn’t appointed to fill the vacancy by Bentley.
With the wolves gathering at his door, however, that’s exactly what Gov. Bentley did. He appointed the man who was overseeing his current impeachment investigation to the U.S. Senate, thus creating a vacancy in the Attorney General’s post. Then he appointed a new AG named Steve Marshall (no relation), who many doubt will vigorously pursue an indictment against the governor.
Can you say, “Appearance of impropriety”?
I can’t imagine a better example of how the law can’t anticipate everything, making ethics indispensable. There is an Alabama law prohibiting a governor from appointing himself to fill a U.S. Senate vacancy, but nobody foresaw a situation where a governor facing impeachment would interfere with the investigation by appointing a political adversary and the Attorney General overseeing the investigation to fill the slot. This is entirely legal, and spectacularly unethical.
Some in the state wonder if Strange’s request to the legislature wasn’t part of a deal with the Governor, in anticipation of a Sessions departure. “He definitely slowed down the impeachment process, which put the governor in a place to actually appoint him. That’s the problem we have,” said Ed Henry, the legislator who brought the original impeachment motion to a vote. “He stopped an impeachment process and then in turn accepted the nomination to the Senate. I believe the damage is already done.”
For this to have been a pre-arranged quid pro quo would have required that Strange and Bentley both believe that Trump would win, however. Hmmmm. Maybe they were in league with the Russians too…?
Yet it requires no conspiracy theory to conclude that for Strange to accept Bentley’s appointment makes him complicit in a sequence of events that appears corrupt. It is too redolent of the Roland Burris affair, when now jailed former Illinois governor Rod Blagojavich was caught selling a Senate appointment. Burris swore in an affidavit that he had no contact with the governor prior to his appointment to a Senate seat he had no qualifications for, and then as soon as he was safely on office, suddenly remembered that he had met with “Blago.”
The newly minted Senator Strange, had he been an ethics hero—and shouldn’t we be able to expect our elected officials to be ethics heroes?—could have foiled Bentley, inspired Alabamans, and proved that he would be a worthy Senator when he ran in 2018, if he had simply turned down the appointment, saying,
‘I am grateful and honored that Governor Bentley felt that I was qualified to represent the citizen of Alabama in the U.S. Senate. However, I feel I would betray the trust of those same citizens if I were to accept the post under these circumstances. As the lawyer for the people, I am obligated to undertake and oversee a fair and objective investigation of serious allegations against the Governor, and this raised a conflict of interest for me, pitting my personal political ambition against my duties in my current position. Moreover, should I accept the Governor’s offer, it would raise doubts regarding the functioning of the legal system as well as my personal integrity. Therefore I must decline the appointment.’
Now, however, the Senator has proven himself unworthy of his new job by accepting it.
Now normally I would say that anyone—Kathy Griffin, Jimmy Kimmel, Dormammu—is a preferable U.S. Senate choice than this shameless, ambitious hack. Roy Moore, however, is a piece of work. The one-time kickboxer and full time fundamentalist Christian fanatic first warranted Ethics Alarms notice as an Incompetent Elected Official in 2014, and his recognition came that late only because I viewed his stand-off over displaying the Ten Commandments in his court room and trying to turn Alabama justice into a theocracy too ridiculous to write about (and Ethics Alarms didn’t exist then.)
Judge Moore began court sessions with a prayer beseeching Divine Guidance for jurors in their deliberations, and once even asked a clergyman to lead the court’s jury pool in prayer. The American Civil Liberties Union threatened a lawsuit if such prayers did not cease. Alabama had been allowing such prayers for decades (Guess who started them? George Wallace!) but the practice is unconstitutional. However, Moore used the controversy to get elected as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, (he was initially appointed as a judge to fill the slot of another judge’s death between elections) in a landslide, because too many Alabama voters could be typecast as the anti-Darwin yahoos in “Inherit the Wind.”
Moore defied multiple judicial orders to cease the prayers and take down the Ten Commandments. In 2001, as Chief Justice, he doubled down on Moses spectacularly: he had a monument, tax-payer funded, placed inside the state judicial building. It was a 5,280 pound granite block, three feet wide by three feet deep by four feet tall, covered with quotes from the Declaration of Independence, the national anthem, and several Founders, and dominated by two large carved tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments. Moore had the completed monument transported to the building and installed in the central rotunda. In his speech following the unveiling, Moore said in part,
“Today a cry has gone out across our land for the acknowledgment of that God upon whom this nation and our laws were founded. … May this day mark the restoration of the moral foundation of law to our people and the return to the knowledge of God in our land.”
This was, to say the least, inappropriate.
Also historical and legal nonsense.
The ACLU and other organizations sued, and at trial produced evidence that non-Christian lawyers had changed their work practices, and in many cases were avoiding visiting the court building to avoid the monument, which created a religious atmosphere. Many citizens prayed around it.
Moore lost the suit. On November 18, 2002, federal U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson ruled that the monument violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and was thus unconstitutional, writing in his opinion,
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. 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..”
Judge Thompson ordered Moore to remove the monument from the state judicial building. After several rounds of appeals. the order stood, and Moore defied it, inspiring huge demonstrations in his support. Moore was then suspended for breaching the judicial ethics canons, and removed as a judge by his own Supreme Court.
So Alabama voters elected him as Chief Justice again.
Flush with victory and his conviction that he was above the law, Moore made a series of inflammatory statements, asserting, among other fanatic theories, that because the U.S. was originally settled by Christians, “freedom of worship” as guaranteed in the First Amendment only applies to Christianity:
“Buddha didn’t create us, Muhammad didn’t create us. It’s the God of the Holy Scriptures. They didn’t bring a Qur’an over on the pilgrim ship Mayflower. Let’s get real, let’s go back and learn our history, let’s stop playing games.”
Yes, Roy Moore is an idiot.
It’s not that being religious and being a judge are incompatible. They are vary compatible, if one has respect for the duties and ethics of one’s profession, and possesses the brains of the average marmoset. Moore, unfortunately, has neither.
I should also mention, as it is germane to Moore’s next misadventure, that in 2002, as Alabama Chief Justice, Moore wrote in an opinion that the State should use its powers to punish “homosexual behavior.” He also wrote,
“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.”
When Moore says “old” he means Old Testament. Presumably we have learned some things since then—well, most of us. One thing we have learned is that homosexuality harms nobody, though people like Roy Moore still try to harm homosexuals.
Of course, nothing stops Moore from properly using his authority to allow the licenses to be issued, avoiding the train wreck. But that’s not how Moore rolls. In 2003, Alabama’s Court of the Judiciary removed then-Chief Justice Moore from his post because he refused to obey a federal court order requiring his removal of a statue of the Ten Commandments from the State Judicial Building. The voters of Alabama promptly elected him again. Once again, as he has made clear, a bias in favor of religious doctrine is guiding his decisions, making his conduct an example of an arguably ethical act (making a principled stand in favor of following process) being done for unethical reasons. A judge, as an agent of the state, should not impose his religious beliefs on others.
His actions in support of his stand are clearly a violation of judicial ethics, as the ethics complaint filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center correctly asserts. Judges are prohibited by their ethics rules, in Alabama and elsewhere. The Alabama Canons state, “A judge should abstain from public comment about a pending or impending proceeding in any court . . . .” Moore has been all over the media…
On May 6, 2016, the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission forwarded a list of six charges of ethics violations by Moore to the Alabama Court of the Judiciary, and Moore was suspended from the Alabama Supreme Court pending trial.
The charges included:
- Violation of the Alabama Canon of Judicial Ethics, for disregarding a federal injunction.
- Violation of the Alabama Canon of Judicial Ethics, for demonstrated unwillingness to follow clear law.
- Violation of the Alabama Canon of Judicial Ethics, for abuse of administrative authority.
- Violation of the Alabama Canon of Judicial Ethics, for substituting his judgement for the judgement of the entire Alabama Supreme Court, including failure to abstain from public comment about a pending proceeding in his own court.
- Violation of the Alabama Canon of Judicial Ethics, for interference with legal process and remedies in the United States District Court and/or Alabama Supreme Court related to proceedings in which Alabama probate judges were involved.
- Violation of the Alabama Canon of Judicial Ethics, for failure to recuse himself from pending proceedings in the Alabama Supreme Court after making public comment and placing his impartiality into question.
After his various machinations failed to persuade his colleagues to allow him back on the bench, Moore resigned, since he was suspended for the rest of his term anyway.
And those are his qualifications for the U.S. Senate!
Who would you support? President Trump has endorsed Strange, which is slightly better than endorsing Moore—I think. Nothing short of waterboarding could make me endorse either of them. Ben Carson, our unqualified Secretary of HUD, has endorsed Moore. Of course he has. Ben Carson is a fool.
Of course, ethical Republican leaders could refuse to endorse Strange or Moore, and ask ethical GOP voters in Alabama to cross party barriers and elect Doug Jones.
I could also sprout grasshopper legs and hop to Madagascar…
Neither Strange nor Moore are qualified to be members of the Senate, and this race makes one long for a process whereby an act of Congress could reject elected representatives who are unequivocally corrupt, untrustworthy, and pollutants to the Legislative branch.
Fun Fact: the first ABA legal ethics rules were based on the voluntary ethics rules of…Alabama.