Partisan politics does strange things to human minds. I continue to see Twitter, Facebook, and my email inbox light up with the most bizarre comparisons. Roy Moore is like Martin Luther King Jr. Moore is like General George S. Patton. Moore is like Thomas Jefferson. In other words, Americans have a long history of tolerating sexual indiscretions for the sake of larger and more important causes. Great men can have feet of clay and still be great men.
There does exist a fascinating moral question, here: To what extent should we honor undeniably brilliant and important men even after we learn of their profound moral failures? The short answer is that we can certainly honor their accomplishments while still recognizing and condemning their failures. The Declaration of Independence is one of the great documents in world history, yet that doesn’t make Jefferson’s reported treatment of his slaves acceptable or tolerable.
But the question of how we remember men like Patton, Jefferson, and King — men whose greatness was known well before many of their sins were disclosed — is completely separate from the question of the day. That question is not whether the people of Alabama should vote for a great man with a serious flaw, but whether the people of Alabama should vote for a terrible man who lacks any redeeming virtue. In fact, Moore is so terrible that the most likely outcome of his elevation to the Senate is direct and important harm to the causes most Alabama Republicans claim to support.
Before Americans learned one single thing about Moore’s alleged mistreatment and sexual assault of young girls, they had more than enough information to know that he was unfit for higher office. This was no mystery. He’d been tossed from office twice before, and his record of vicious constitutional ignorance was well known.
Let’s review the facts:
Moore believes he’s a law unto himself. For those unfamiliar with Moore’s history, let’s take a quick walk down memory lane. He’s been removed from the Alabama Supreme Court twice. The first time, in 2003, he defied a federal court order requiring him to remove a granite Ten Commandments monument — a monument he’d commissioned — from the Alabama Supreme Court building. The second time, he was suspended without pay after issuing an order to Alabama probate judges declaring that they had a “ministerial duty” not to issue same-sex marriage licenses. He issued this order six months after the U.S. Supreme Court decided, in Obergefell v. Hodges, that the Constitution protected a right to same-sex marriage.
There are multiple ways to lawfully protest federal court orders. There are even lawful ways to change or reverse odious Supreme Court precedents. But the very instant that we permit any judge to actively defy the constitutional order simply when he — in his subjective wisdom — believes a superior court has overstepped its bounds is the instant we begin to lose the rule of law.
Ironically enough, those who support Moore because they hate “judicial supremacy” are endorsing the most dangerous form of judicial supremacy possible: a judge who actively defies controlling authority on the basis of his will alone.
If you accept Moore’s behavior on the bench, you must accept that any judge can defy the Supreme Court whenever he sees fit.
Do Moore’s defenders not realize the extent to which religious freedom in this nation depends on a host of progressive judges and government officials complying with lawful court orders? For example, the ability to hire and fire pastors according to the dictates of the church and not the federal government was only recently reaffirmed by the Supreme Court. What if some state judge, somewhere, disagrees? If you accept Moore’s behavior on the bench, you must accept that any judge can defy the Supreme Court whenever he sees fit.
I spent most of my career securing court order after court order protecting the most basic religious-freedom rights for people of faith in the most hostile of environments — places, for example, where government officials believe that Christian student groups are no better than the Klan. I suppose, following the Moore precedent, those officials should be celebrated and promoted if they defied court rulings they despised.
I remember Moore’s first expulsion vividly. I remember Christian talking heads celebrating his grandstanding even as the most serious and most effective Christian lawyers were quietly (too quietly, it turns out) disgusted. With so many critical cases pending in court, were Christians sending a message that the rule of law applied only to our opponents?
Indeed, Moore’s actions as chief justice were so brazen and so egregious that they should disqualify him from the Senate on their own. Yet they don’t even come close to constituting the totality of his sins.
Moore is a vicious constitutional and historical illiterate. One could write thousands of words on Roy Moore’s countless stupid and vile statements. Let’s consider only a few. For a man who professes to be a student of the Constitution, he’d happily violate its express terms. In a 2006 op-ed, he wrote that Muslim representative Keith Ellison “cannot swear an oath on the Quran and an allegiance to our Constitution at the same time.” Article VI of the Constitution directly, unequivocally, and unambiguously says otherwise. It prohibits any “religious test” as a “Qualification to any Officer or public Trust under the United States.”
Keep in mind, this is a man who’s built his entire public personae around the false idea that he’s a guardian of the original meaning of the Constitution.
Moving on from Moore’s broken conception of the law, let’s look at his understanding of history. In September, a man asked him when he thought America was great. “I think it was great at the time when families were united — even though we had slavery — they cared for one another,” he responded. “Our families were strong, our country had a direction.”
This is bizarre. In the antebellum South, black families were ripped apart constantly and intentionally. Husbands, wives, sons, and daughters were bought and sold, as Clint Smith pointed out on Twitter:
I *really* think people need to understand how ahistorical & morally egregious Roy Moore’s comments were when he said, “I think it was great at the time when families were united — even though we had slavery.”
This is what slavery did to black families: pic.twitter.com/JNUM4DPrwE
— Clint Smith (@ClintSmithIII) December 10, 2017
Yes, to no one’s surprise, Gloria Allred’s extraordinary incompetence helped complicate one accuser’s story, but the fact remains that now two women have come forward with remarkably similar inscriptions from Roy Moore that appear to date back to their teen years. Other evidence — like court dates, contemporaneous, corroborating witnesses, and widespread knowledge of Moore’s dating habits — bolsters the stories of Moore’s multiple accusers. Simply put, the evidence is so strong that no meaningful number of Republicans would give Moore the benefit of the doubt if he were a Democrat.
Moore will hurt the pro-life cause. Given everything outlined above, it’s hard to imagine a worse ambassador for the cause of life than Roy Moore. The battle to end abortion is every bit as much cultural as it is political or judicial. For the sake of electing a single junior senator (a man who’s not even a swing vote) to serve one-half of a Senate term, pro-life Republicans would make it more likely that Republicans lose the upper chamber in 2018. In 2012, the Left hung Todd Akin around Republican necks like a millstone. Moore makes Akin look like a gentleman and a scholar.
The GOP will enjoy its majority in the short term with or without Moore. It will confirm judges between now and 2018 with or without Moore. It cannot, however, continue to drift toward vile, malicious ignorance and hope to remain the majority party. Moore won’t overturn Roe, but he will continually embarrass its pro-life opponents.
The choice isn’t binary. Anyone who tells you that your choice is limited to pro-abortion Doug Jones or an incompetent, unfit apparent child abuser like Roy Moore is simply lying to you. If you are a faithful conservative, you can write in a different name or stay home. You can reject the choice served up by the plurality of Alabama GOP primary voters and simply say, “If you want my vote, you have to do better.”
Doing so would send a message to both parties. Democrats can’t win over voters with their own warped version of the “lesser evil.” The Democratic party knows full well that Alabama has an overwhelming pro-life majority, but its progressive core is so committed to abortion rights that it won’t move one inch — and then it sits back and condemns GOP voters for holding true to their most important principles. You can’t refuse to compromise and then condemn your opponent for inflexibility.
There is no comparison between Moore and men like Patton, Jefferson, and King. Their legacies are complicated by their flaws. Moore’s candidacy is unambiguous. There is no positive political legacy to “complicate.” There is only a sordid, ignorant, and revolting reality.
No party or politician is entitled to your vote. Every man or woman who seeks public office has to earn the public’s trust. Roy Moore has earned nothing but its contempt.