For years, Alabama has been a regressive state with little national influence, but President Donald Trump’s rise and the elevation of former Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions to U.S. attorney general have changed everything. These regressive voices are now shaping national policy and have ensured that originalist justices dominate the Supreme Court.
Enter Roy Moore.
The controversial Alabama Republican Senate nominee once described the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage as “worse” than Dred Scott v. Sandford—a ruling most legal scholars regard as the worst decision in the history of the court—“because it forces not only people to recognize marriage other than the institution ordained of God ... and make it between two persons of the same gender.”
Moore also provided an explanation of the Dred Scott decision that demonstrates an obtuse and flippant understanding of the law, one that glosses over the horrors of slavery and the war waged by the South to defend it.
“I was simply pointing out that in 1857, the United States Supreme Court did rule that black people were property,” Moore said in 2016 on the Here I Stand podcast. “And of course that contradicted the Constitution, and it took a civil war to overturn it.”
Moore appeared on the podcast to discuss his ousting as Alabama’s chief justice, which stemmed, in part, from him ordering Alabama judges to defy the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized gay marriage.
The Dred Scott decision aimed to perpetuate and entrench the institution of slavery and the injustices of the past, so the hypocrisy of Moore’s statement as he doggedly worked to deny rights to the LGBTQ community because of a legal precedent grounded in the dehumanization of an oppressed group should not be lost on anyone.
Further, his commitment to patently false and dangerous rhetoric exposes his unfitness to serve in Congress; it also represents the alarming normalization of oppressive interpretations of so-called U.S. democracy that thrives in the South—especially in Alabama.
Moore’s popularity in the state—recent polls have him leading Democrat Doug Scott by as much as 8 points, though a Fox News poll had the candidates tied at 42 percent—and his support within the Steve Bannon and Ted Cruz factions of the GOP show that his regressive and hypocritical ideology has become more mainstream, though no less familiar.
Alabama, it is clear, remains a breeding ground for this toxicity.
As Alabama’s chief justice, Moore enforced a document whose purpose has always been to oppose the federal government’s attempts to extend and protect the civil rights of American minorities. Alabama’s current Constitution was created in 1901 and forged during the era of Redemption that sought to undo all of the racial-equity progress of Reconstruction and return the state to a pre-Civil War status quo.
Alabama’s constitution is the longest operable constitution in the world—it is over 310,000 words and has over 900 amendments—and it was created with the explicit purpose of disenfranchising African Americans. It created poll taxes and literacy exams to prevent blacks from voting, and black voter participation dropped by over 95 percent (pdf) in the first election after its ratification.
For more than a century, the federal government has continued to find provisions of Alabama’s constitution unconstitutional: poll taxes and segregation are two examples. However, Alabama’s constitution still contains language defending poll taxes and segregation—Section 256 says that black and white children must be educated in separate schools. Moore has fought against the removal of this language.
In addition, Alabama has frequently amended its constitution to evade federal authority. In response to Brown v. Board of Education, Alabama changed its constitution to state that no student had the right to a free public education. The amendment allowed Alabama to defund black schools and fund white schools, and state lawmakers called it the “freedom of choice law.”
Moore’s gun-wielding, law-flouting persona may seem inconceivable to some, but it has deep roots in oppressive Southern and American beliefs.
His relevance indicates the unfortunate and growing Alabamafication of American democracy.
Barrett Holmes Pitner is a politics and race-and-culture journalist and an assistant adjunct professor in the department of environmental studies at SUNY-College of Environmental Science and Forestry. He is based in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter.