In December 2016, Republican judge Roy Moore spoke to a national meeting of party leaders in Huntsville.
Only it wasn’t Republicans Moore was addressing. It was the Constitution Party, the right-wing third party that has long been a staunch Moore ally.
“We’ve forgotten the God of our forefathers,” Moore said in a speech at the party’s 2016 national committee meeting. “We’ve forgotten the relevance of God in our Constitution. The Constitution Party, we’d better know it.”
Moore, the famed social conservative who was twice disciplined as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court for his positions on same-sex marriage and the Ten Commandments in the courtroom, is the Republican nominee for Alabama’s special election to U.S. Senate. On Dec. 12, voters will choose between him and Democrat Doug Jones.
Moore has been an icon among Alabama Republicans for two decades. But he has a long-running affiliation with the Constitution Party as well – an ill-defined affiliation that has sometimes irked his fellow Republicans, though few discuss it now.
Moore’s spokesman John Rogers, in a prepared statement released Friday, seemed to characterize Moore’s relationship with the Constitution Party as a series of speaking engagements and nothing more.
“As a writer and scholar on the history and meaning of the Constitution, though the years Judge Moore has often spoken to a variety of civic and political groups that respect and venerate the Constitution,” Rogers’ statement read.
Attempts to reach Constitution Party leaders and Alabama Republican Party chairwoman Terry Lathan were unsuccessful.
Founded in 1991 as the U.S. Taxpayers Party, the Constitution Party holdsa platform that often overlaps with Moore’s stated positions. Moore has said he won’t support sending troops into “large-scale conflict” without a declaration of war; the Constitution Party calls for a withdrawal from Afghanistan on the same grounds. Both Moore and the party support impeachment for what they term “activist” federal judges. Both say the federal governmentshouldn’t have any role in education.
Moore first came to national prominence in the 1990s, when as an Etowah County circuit judge he was sued over a Ten Commandments plaque in his courtroom. From the start, he crossed paths with the Constitution Party in high-profile ways:
— He spoke to the party’s national convention in Pittsburgh in 1998.
— The party tried to draft him as a presidential candidate in 2003, though his spokeswoman said he had “no current plans for switching parties.”
— In 2004, an election year, he made at least six public appearances with Michael Peroutka, the party’s presidential candidate.
— In 2006, when Moore failed to win the Republican nomination for governor, the Constitution Party tried to promote him as a write-in candidate. Moore said he was “not involved in anything” related to the write-in push.
— Peroutka gave at least $50,000 to Moore’s 2012 campaign for chief justice.
Attempts to reach Peroutka, now a Republican county councilman in Maryland, were unsuccessful.
Third-party dalliances aren’t that uncommon in American politics. Greens and other third parties, unable to field their own candidates, often endorse favorites among major-party candidates. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who for decades held office as an independent, was contender for the Democratic presidential nomination last year.
Matters can be more complicated, however, for Alabama Republicans. In order to qualify to run for a Republican nomination here, candidates must sign a statement declaring “I am a Republican and I endorse and will actively support the principles and policies of the Republican Party.”
Democrats have sometimes derided the statement as a “loyalty oath.” Party-loyalty challenges to candidates seem to be rare, but they do happen. In 2004 – the same year Moore traveled the state with the Constitution Party’s presidential candidate – Mobile County Republicans booted radio talk-show host Kelly McGinley from the ballot in a state school board race. McGinley’s stated support for the Constitution Party was part of the GOP’s argument for challenging her.
McGinley took the state Republican party to court, but the Supreme Court of Alabama eventually upheld her removal – citing, among other things, a New York Constitution Party website that listed her as a party member.
Moore, by contrast, hasn’t left any explicit record of endorsement of the Constitution Party over GOP candidates.
Still Republicans have sometimes noticed. In 2006, Moore criticized President George W. Bush for traveling to Alabama to appear with then Gov. Bob Riley. Moore was running against Riley, and said the visit was “political payback in exchange for (Riley’s) complete cooperation with George W. Bush.”
Riley’s spokesman fired back.
“Instead of supporting our Republican president, Roy Moore traveled the country in 2004 campaigning for Michael Peroutka, a fringe third party candidate,” said Josh Blades, then Riley’s spokesman, in a 2006 interview.
Eleven years later, the Senate primary between Moore and sitting Sen. Luther Strange was interpreted by many as a battle for the soul of the Republican Party. The question of party loyalty never came up. Political science experts say it isn’t likely to matter in the future.
“I’d say the time for anyone to raise that issue has passed,” said William Stewart, and emeritus professor of political science at the University of Alabama. “Roy Moore now has the endorsement of every Republican in the House delegation, and the endorsement of the state Republican Party chair.”
Jess Brown, a retired political science professor from Athens State, said the party-loyalty issue could never have been an issue in a GOP primary.
“Just the sheer name alone is a problem,” he said. “Is someone really going to attack Roy Moore for being part of a Constitution Party?”
Brown said party leaders aren’t in a position to quibble with Moore’s outside affiliations even if they did object to them. Moore won the primary, he said, largely because a large portion of the Republican base feels a loyalty to Moore. Getting that base to turn out will be important for Republicans in December, he said.
“I guess Republicans would say Moore has paid his dues,” Brown said.