Roy Moore, the Republican candidate to fill Jeff Sessions’s Senate seat, is best-known for his extreme religious right views. In 2003 he was removed from the Alabama Supreme Court for refusing to take down a monument to the Ten Commandments after he was ordered to do so by a federal court. In 2016, he was suspended from that same position because he told lower court judges to defy the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision that made marriage equality a reality in all 50 states.
It turns out that the white, 69-year-old, ultra-conservative has also fought for racial segregation.
In 2004, a bipartisan coalition of state politicians led by then-governor Bob Riley (R) were trying to remove parts of the state constitution that enshrined racial segregation. The Alabama constitution was written in 1901 and codified Jim Crow. For example, it includes the sentence: “Separate schools shall be provided for white and colored children, and no child of either race shall be permitted to attend a school of the other race.”
Most of what Riley wanted to remove in 2004 had already been overturned by federal and state courts, so the measure was largely symbolic.
“Federal and state court rulings have struck down a lot of these [clauses] as unconstitutional, but it was viewed by many as a black eye for the state,” Riley’s former chief-of-staff Tim Roth said. The bill was approved by the state legislature and had to go to a state-wide vote.
After Moore was removed from the state supreme court in 2003, he became something of a local celebrity and a martyr for conservatives. He was also preparing to run in the Republican primary for governor in 2006, in which he would challenge Riley.
So when the state legislature passed the bill to remove the segregationist language from the state constitute, Riley seized the opportunity and became a spokesperson for the campaign to defeat that ballot measure.
While the majority of the language addressed by the bill had no legal power, it removed an amendment that said that people in Alabama had no “right to education or training at public expense.” This amendment was passed in 1956, just two years after the Supreme Court ruled segregation unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education.
A lower court in the 1990’s ruled this amendment unconstitutional, but the state supreme court in 2002 struck down that ruling. And, of course, Moore was on the state supreme court at the time.
Moore’s polite argument for a “no” vote was that removing that amendment would increase taxes. He told the Birmingham News in 2004 that the ballot measure would “open the door to an enormous tax increase.”
Opposition to state funding for public schools in Alabama entrenches racism in two ways. First, many white people pulled their kids out of public schools to avoid integration, decreasing tax money for a disproportionately African American population of students.
Second, predominantly white neighborhoods of cities often secede and incorporate as towns, which means that they can start a predominantly white school district and not share local tax dollars with other, predominantly African American, neighborhoods. This practice is still happening today.
The TPM article quotes several conservatives who argued that Moore wasn’t really racist, he was just ideologically opposed to public schools, as if ideology is something that just pops into someone’s head. They also found other people who said that Moore isn’t racist himself, he’s just using racism for personal gain, which is a distinction without a difference and a pointless debate – the only way to find out the truth on that question is with telepathy.
Moore’s side won that fight even though he would go on to lose his primary race against Riley. The measure to remove the segregationist language lost by 2000 votes, and lost again when put on the ballot in 2012.
This isn’t the first time Moore has supported racism. In 1995, he addressed a conference of the Council of Conservative Citizens, a white supremacist organization that “oppose[s] all efforts to mix the races of mankind.”
Moore has also refused to denounce his biggest donor Michael Peroutka, a neo-confederate who spent years on the board of the League of the South. That organization is designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and is devoted to creating a new nation of Southern states led by an “Anglo-Celtic” elite.
The Foundation for Moral Law, an organization led by Moore, hosted “Secession Day” events in 2009 and 2010, which promoted the idea that the Civil War was a “war of Northern aggression” that had nothing to do with slavery.
Moore’s office is adorned with a portrait of Confederate president Jefferson Davis and busts of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. He said that has nothing to do with the Confederacy, he just wanted to honor fellow West Point graduates Lee and Jackson… and no other West Point graduates.