By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—If Roy Moore is elected Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, he will have to figure out how to operate a court system that is inadequately funded while trying to beg, borrow or convince the GOP supermajority to give the court more money.
Moore says the courts have been underfunded for many years and that the state legislature has “steadily decreased funding for the court system.” According to Moore the court are operating with “under 50 percent staffing in many of the clerk’s offices.”
In an effort to raise funding for the courts, in the 2012 legislative session, lawmakers raised court cost, bail filing fees and other fees. User-fees have become the de rigueur, euphemism for a tax increase by Republican-controlled states. The fee increase is expected to bring an estimated $44 million in new revenue.
Moore says he does not favor new taxes, or user-fees, “It is always easier to say, ‘Let’s raise taxes or fees,’ but we have to address spending problems we have.”
If elected, Moore says that part of his job will be to work with the legislative body to adequately fund the courts. “We have to awaken the legislature to the fact that we are a branch of the government and not an agency,” said Moore. “The courts have a major function in government, and we produce a lot of revenue.”
Not recognizing courts as a part of the government caused Alexander Hamilton to write in The Federalist No. 78, the courts are in “continual jeopardy of being overpowered, awed or influenced by its co-ordinate branches.”
The court’s rights are something that Moore seems ready to defend. Many conservatives jurist, believe that budget cuts threaten the kind of independence described by Hamilton, as well as the drafters of state constitutions.
“If the legislature is wise, as I expect they will be then they will awaken to what is needed,” said Moore. He says he looks forward to “educating them and to working with them to increase the court budget.”
But he stands firmly that raising taxes is not the right approach to the courts funding problems.
“There are cuts that can be made,” Moore said. “Just look at some wasteful of the agencies that were created in the last few years.” Moore says that some of the newly created agencies are costing taxpayers, “hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars. But no one is looking to cut what was just implemented in the last several years.”
When it comes to judicial philosophy Moore would certainly be counted among the strict constructionist a tenet that he doesn’t seem to think his opponent adheres too.
When asked about the article-by-article approach to rewriting Alabama’s 1901 Constitution Moore politely refrains from stating a position, “I had better not address that because it could very well come before the Supreme Court.”
He does, however, add that, “The last time it came up in the seventies it was struck down by Justice Oscar Adams.” Moore continues, “We may again have to address that problem in the future.”
Moore points out that Adams was the first African-American Alabama Supreme Court justice.
Moore also holds out his record in Alabama’s Public School Equity Funding Case as an example of his legal reasoning.
“As a justice on the supreme court and as chief Justice in 2001, I was on the court when we stopped the equity-funding lawsuit that had been languishing in the court system for 12 years,” said Moore. In Moore opinion the case was “an attempt to subvert the constitution of the State of Alabama.” He is proud of how he handled the case saying, “We stopped it.”
Alabama’s Public School Equity Funding Case began on May 3, 1990, when the Alabama Coalition for Equity (ACE) filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the method in which Alabama was funding public education. The lawsuit claimed that the funding method violated the equal protection of the laws allegedly guaranteed by sections 1, 6, and 22 of Alabama’s Constitution of 1901.
The Alabama Supreme Court stopped the lawsuit in 2001 with then Chief Justice Moore, writing in his opinion, “We are all legitimately concerned about the education of our children. The Constitution of Alabama wisely placed the issue of public education in the hands of those best able to discern the wishes of the people–the elected representatives of the people, the Alabama Legislature. The judges of this State were not elected to formulate policy for education or to spearhead education reform. Judges are elected to ensure that justice is administered in accordance with fundamental principles of law. The acknowledged role of a judge is to interpret the law, not to make the law; “he being sworn to determine, not according to his own private judgment, but according to the known laws and customs of the land; not delegated to pronounce a new law, but to maintain and expound the old one.” 1 William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, at 69. The job of making law belongs exclusively to the Legislature.”
Moore, said in conclusion that he is working hard to be elected and that he is ready to serve the people of Alabama.