Alabama elects its judiciary, including its Supreme Court justices. This election cycle presents a strong case for doing otherwise. In fact, Alabama in general, from the George Wallace’s segregation stands, to the recently-passed immigration law, reveals the glaring deficiencies of governance by representative democracy. Democratic governance inevitably yields to the least common, yet most compelling, denominator, thus politics in Alabama always turns on base emotional impulses. The population is not, on average, smart enough to engage any sort of enlightened impulse. It is generally incapable of thinking through the implications of its choices. Alabama’s electorate is instinctive, like a dog chasing a squirrel that doesn’t notice the bus barreling down the street until too late, leaving its judicial and legislative imperatives lying flat in the street as the bus rumbles by. So it was with segregation, as it will become with immigration, and had already been with one of its more ridiculous imperatives, public display of the Ten Commandments.
There are nine Supreme Court justices in Alabama, so none are, individually, all that important, such as is the case with a Circuit Court judge (the trial court level in Alabama), who employs singular discretion in issuing rulings affecting people’s liberty and property. The Supreme Court itself is powerful, capable of striking down the occasional ridiculous antics of trial court judges, but its power is apportioned among nine justices. It operates as a judicial legislature, a sort of senate of judges. Which is fortunate. Because Alabama’s gone and done it again.
In last Tuesday’s election, the Republicans nominated Roy Moore, the infamous former Chief Justice, who was impeached a few years back for refusing a federal judge’s order to remove a granite copy of the Ten Commandments from the judicial building in Montgomery where he had installed it, just as promised, upon election. The Democrats nominated Harry Lyon, a gadfly serial candidate that’s never won an election, who ran unopposed in the Democratic primary. Unless something happens between now and then to change things (maybe the Democrats could find a better candidate, and convince Mr. Lyons to abdicate), the choice is between crazy and crazier.
Fortunately, whomever is elected will be only one-ninth of judicial oversight body, not independently capable of doing much harm. Maybe the Alabama people get this, and cast their votes for the Ten Commandments judge as a symbolic gesture, knowing that Supreme Court justices are quite impotent individually, and that Roy Moore already should have learned his lesson about his stupid antics standing up for the Ten Commandments, as if God needed his help in implementing his kingdom on earth. But really, I doubt it. Dogs don’t chase squirrels into oncoming traffic, except by accident.