To anyone who’s been following Roy Moore for the past 15 years, there’s a single question that won’t go away: Why are we here?
Given that Moore, as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court defied federal court orders and was removed from office — not once but twice! — it seems astonishing and outrageous that Republican voters chose him as a U.S. Senate candidate, leading to the current wave of sex-related allegations against him.
If you sense frustration in my tone, you’re not wrong. The point of a free press is to inform the public about the character and the beliefs of the people they will be voting for. And to me, at least, it has seemed clear since 2003 that Moore is unfit to hold public office.
In fact, there is something deep about the reality that Moore’s public career wasn’t ended by his earlier defiance of the rule of law yet now appears likely to be ended by his sexual conduct. The lesson is this: To bring down a politician, it’s not enough to show that he has violated your principles. You have to show that he’s violated his own.
To his supporters, Moore’s defiance of the federal courts on issues of church and state and on gay marriage were acts of principled civil disobedience, not dangerous threats to the very notion of legality.
In contrast, no one really thinks it’s OK for a 32-year-old man to make sexual advances on a 14-year-old girl. That includes evangelical voters, notwithstanding lame attempts to invoke religion in Moore’s defense.
Consider the conduct that got Moore expelled from the Alabama chief justiceship on two occasions. The first time, he had erected a 5,200-pound granite statue of the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of the Alabama Supreme Court courthouse. This was a rather obvious violation of the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution, and a federal district court so held. When Moore was ordered to take it down, he refused. To almost any lawyer and most non-lawyers, it seems obvious that defying a federal judicial order is wrongful conduct, especially for someone who’s elected position makes him the chief partisan of the rule of law in his state.
To Moore’s supporters, however, the whole point of the exercise was to show that God’s law — literally in the form of the Ten Commandments — trumped the Constitution made by man. According to their values, Moore was in the right, his actions not hypocritical but consistent.
Seen from that standpoint, Moore’s extended and unlawful resistance to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage was similarly principled. Never mind that it is well-supported law that the U.S. Supreme Court, not the state supreme courts, has the last word on the meaning of the U.S. Constitution. Never mind that Alabama of all places shouldn’t be a venue for state resistance to federal authority when it comes to equal rights. As far as Moore’s supporters were concerned, he was standing up for God’s law, which he and maybe they take ahead of the law of the United States.
The fact that I and others like me consider it a violation of the oath of office to defy the Constitution was not, in the end, very important to the people who voted for Moore. That’s because they don’t share my values on this point, or at least they were prepared to forgive Moore because they care so much about the Ten Commandments and the immorality of gay marriage.