“They need to see that the judiciary is a branch of government,” Moore said after a speech at Angel Grove Baptist Church Sunday evening. “We’re not just an agency of the Legislature.”
Moore, formerly the Republican chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, is running for the office again, facing Democratic Jefferson County Circuit Judge Robert Vance Jr. in November. The winner will take the helm of a cash-strapped state court system that laid off 270 employees last year, with some courthouses moving to a four-day workweek to save money.
Moore didn’t mention the state’s budget woes when he stood before a crowd of about 150 people at Angel Grove, a rural church west of Jacksonville. Instead, he outlined the legal argument he has become famous for – the case for acknowledgement of God in the courthouse.
“I will tell you without a doubt that this nation is was founded on the acknowledgement of God – the God of the scriptures,” he said.
Moore was removed from the Supreme Court in 2003, after placing a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the court and refusing a federal court order to remove it. It was his second time in the national spotlight: As an Etowah County circuit judge, he refused to move a Ten Commandments plaque from his courtroom. Both controversies made him a celebrity among social conservatives.
Using a Powerpoint presentation, Moore walked the Sunday night audience through the logic behind his position.
“God wants there to be separation between church and state, and between the state and the family, and between the family and the church,” he said. But for any of those institutions to work, he said, they must acknowledge God.
“Our government is under God, our church is under God, and our family is under God,” he said.
Moore said the speech wasn’t a campaign stop, but rather the sort of event he regularly conducts for the Foundation for Moral Law, the conservative nonprofit group. He didn’t mention the chief justice race in the speech, or ask the audience for their vote.
The low-key event – which didn’t completely fill Angel Grove’s pews or parking lot – is emblematic of a chief justice race that has so far produced little fanfare.
Moore ran few ads in the Republican primary, and defeated sitting Chief Justice Chuck Malone and Mobile Circuit Judge Charles Graddick. After the primary, he faced a general election fight with Harry Lyon, a Pelham Democrat with a reputation for controversial statements and a record of disciplinary actions from the state bar.
Democrats disqualified Lyon in August and nominated Vance, son of the late federal judge Robert Vance Sr., to represent the party. Vance’s campaign signs have begun to pop up only in the past few weeks, and Moore said he hasn’t launched his ad offensive yet.
Former Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb resigned before the end of her term in 2011, citing her concerns about funding of the judicial system. Cobb claimed the Legislature had placed tens of millions of dollars in unfunded obligations on the court system. Layoffs in 2011 cut the staffs of some courthouses by half. Both Moore and Vance say that’s a big problem.
“No one likes making the courts less accessible to the people of Alabama,” Vance said in a telephone interview. Vance said that any solution to the problem would come from working with the Legislature and other agencies – a job that he said should be done by a figure who “is less divisive.”
“It’s all about the attitude you bring to the table,” he said.
Moore said he has the experience to handle the money issue.
“I was in office the last time they did these big cuts,” he said. “I’ve done this already.”
Capitol & statewide correspondent: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.