by Glynn Wilson –
OXFORD, Ala. — The Ten Commandments Judge now has a worthy opponent and the people of Alabama have a chance to be spared more self-serving religious craziness in the race for Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.
While all three branches of government in Alabama are now controlled by a coalition of tea party socialists, religious fundamentalists and corporate Republicans, Jefferson County Circuit Judge Bob Vance is running against Moore as a Democrat.
According to political experts and public opinion pollsters, even though Vance only jumped into the race in August with less than four months to go before the Nov. 6 election, it appears he has a viable chance of winning and preventing Moore from further embarrassing the state. The latest survey has him up more than 3 points.
I caught up with Vance in Oxford Thursday night at a local Democratic Party fund raiser and asked him the question I asked Judge Roy Moore after the federal court in Montgomery ruled against him in 2003 and ordered his hand-carved, granite monument of the Ten Commandments removed from the state judicial building, which resulted in him being from removed from office.
I asked Judge Moore how he and former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, both lawyers and Sunday school teachers from Alabama, “could come to such dramatically different interpretations of the First Amendment to the United S. Constitution?” In 2003, Moore had his public relations representative remove me from the press conference for simply asking that question. Vance answered it with grace.
“There can be no official establishment of religion in our country,” Vance said. “I am a firm believe that there is a wall between church and state. Thomas Jefferson espoused that 200 plus years ago.”
In commenting on Judge Moore being kicked out of the very office he now seeks again, Vance emphasized, his removal from office “did not result from his religious convictions. It resulted from the fact that he put himself above the law. He disobeyed a valid court order, and we can’t have that.”
“That’s the bind, the problem that he created back then,” Vance said. “My belief is, regardless of your personal convictions, when you’re ordered to do something by a court, you’ve got to do it. It doesn’t matter whether you are a homeless man on the street or the president of the United States. You’ve got to follow the law.
“That’s the concern I have with my opponent,” Vance said. “He failed to meet that obligation he has as an American citizen.”
In speaking to a room full of mostly Calhoun and Cleburne County Democrats at the Hilton Garden Inn just off of Interstate 20 between Birmingham and Atlanta, Vance said he got to the point where he could not take the race anymore the way it was being conducted and decided to “step up and try to make a difference.”
“I saw a campaign going on that was beneath the office,” he said. “My opponent, as he has done throughout his career, focuses only on the social wedge issues to divide us … to pit one group against another.”
Then, all the while, Vance said, Moore “trumpets the fact that he is a man of god, proclaiming that god is on his side. With due respect, my opponent needs to do a little soul searching on the question of whether he is on god’s side.”
Vance is the son of a Robert Smith Vance, a federal judge who was involved in the civil rights movement and at one time headed the Alabama Democratic Party. But he was killed by a mail bomb on Dec. 16, 1989. Walter Leroy Moody, Jr. was later convicted of that crime, which is still described by historians as an assassination.
“Dad fought the good fight,” he said. “His fight, his battles, his efforts left a great impression on his little boy back in the 1960s.”
He also praised his mother, Mae Smith Vance, for being the “moral authority” in the household. She was also injured in the mail bomb attack, and she taught him the difference between right and wrong, he said, including “the incredible importance of respecting the civil rights, the basic humanity, of all of god’s children. Having parents like that shaped who I am.”
He acknowledge that people in Alabama are suffering just like people all over the country after going through a bad recession.
But “we have no hope of solving those problems if we are at one another’s throats,” he said. “While my opponent seeks to make political hay out of our worst emotions, my campaign seeks to touch the better angels in our nature, as Lincoln once said.”
“My opponent has proven that he is only driven by his personal beliefs, rather than by the law,” Vance said. “He will put himself above the law and he’s willing to ignore the law for his own personal benefit. For such a man to run as chief justice, the highest law official in this state, is simply unbelievable.”
Vance said he embraces the “value of law as the foundation of this great country” and said he “recognizes the solemn duty that each one of us as Americans has to follow the law.” He said the chief justice should always serve as an “ambassador” of all the state’s people, no matter what their gender, race, national origin or sexual orientation.
Vance said he was optimistic in his campaign because he doesn’t believe the mainstream majority of normal working people, as opposed to the highly charged partisans on the political right, will no longer fall for the kind of divisive politics offered up by candidates such as Judge Moore.
“I’m convinced people simply want honest, reasonable, serious-minded people to serve as their representatives,” he said, “to do the job they were elected to do.”
© 2012, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.