The activist judge conservatives love

Posted

For some time now conservative Republicans have been screaming about activist judges who put their own political opinions above the law. And they've been right to complain. But now, thanks to socially conservative voters in Alabama, we learn that they didn't really mean it. What bothered them weren't activist judges in general - but liberal activist judges in particular. Conservative activism by a judge who gets his marching orders from the Bible is apparently fine.

Republican primary voters in Alabama, many of them evangelical Christians, just elected Roy S. Moore, a former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, as their nominee to run in December for the United States Senate seat held by Luther Strange, a conservative Republican who in their view wasn't conservative enough.

And it didn't bother those who voted for Mr. Moore that when it comes to activism on the bench, he not only makes no apologies for his disrespect for the rule of law, he pretty much brags about it.

In 2003, Mr. Moore was ousted as chief justice by the Alabama Court of the Judiciary for refusing an order from a federal judge to remove a monument to the Ten Commandments from the grounds of the state judicial building - a monument Judge Moore himself had commissioned.

Did the judge learn a lesson about going too far, about brushing aside a higher court's order simply because he didn't agree with it? You tell me.

In 2012, he was elected chief justice again. And again was removed from the bench. In 2016, he directed county officials in Alabama to ignore a ruling - this time by the Supreme Court of the United States - on same-sex marriage. The high court had ruled that banning gay marriage was unconstitutional. Justice Moore disagreed, so he told county officials not to issue any same-sex marriage licenses. This time the Court of the Judiciary suspended him for the remainder of his term, which ends in 2019.

It's understandable that many social conservatives think that government property is the perfect place to install a monument to the Ten Commandments and that same-sex marriage is immoral and therefore should also be illegal. But we don't live in a theocracy. We live by the rule of law, which is what those same social conservatives have been preaching for many years.

But Roy Moore is their folk hero, so he's the kind of activist judge they cannot only live with, but also want to be their next United States senator.

We've apparently come to a point in this country where the purists on both the extreme right and extreme left seem incapable of holding two opposing thoughts in their head at the same time. For those on the right, it may be virtually impossible to believe that Mr. Moore is right about religion but at the same time wrong to flout the law. It may be equally as impossible for people on the left to understand that while white supremacists hold horrid views, they also have the right to express them without being shouted down, or worse.

And for the many Americans who believe that football players who kneel during our national anthem are showing disrespect to the flag and what it stands for: Should it be so hard to also realize that President Trump isn't helping matters when he tosses gasoline on every bonfire - as he did when he denigrated players who kneel and said they should be fired?

It's no secret that we're a deeply divided nation and have been for a while now. We are more polarized than we've been in a very long time. The realist in me worries that it's going to get worse before it gets better. That is, if it does get better.

Bernard Goldberg is a reporter for HBO's "Real Sports" and the author, most recently, of "A Slobbering Love Affair."