Suspended Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore to run for U.S. Senate

Roy Moore, the Alabama judge best known for his position on placing the Ten Commandments inside state courthouses, abruptly resigned his position as Chief Justice yesterday in order to run for the United States Senate.  Moore’s resignation was essentially a technicality; he was suspended from his judgeship last year for a variety of ethics violations, and has not served on the state supreme court for months.

Moore is seeking the Senate seat currently held on an interim basis by former state attorney general Luther Strange.  Strange was appointed to the seat vacated by Jeff Sessions upon his confirmation as U.S. Attorney General.  In yet another twist, Strange was appointed by then-Governor Robert Bentley, who resigned in scandal just weeks ago.

Beyond the head-spinning number of scandals and vacancies, Moore’s decision to enter the race highlights a sometimes-overlooked aspect of judicial interdependence: many judges begin their careers as legislators, and many legislators begin their careers as judges.

Experience that transcends the legislative-judicial barrier can be beneficial for both branches.  Sandra Day O’Connor and Hugo Black began their illustrious legal careers in the legislature before moving to the courtroom, and their appreciation of legislative logrolling and the process of statutory development can be seen in their opinions.  In the other direction, judicial experience with the complexities of interpreting ambiguous statutes, discerning legislative intent, and so on can help legislators craft more thoughtful and precise laws.

Given the lightning rod quality of Judge Moore’s public career, one should not expect the Alabama Senate race to be filled with sober reflection on the benefits of experience across several branches of government.  But such experience is worthy of our attention, at least as it might apply in less intense political contexts.

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