News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion
TUESDAY, MAY 23, 2006


Incumbents and Murdock for state Supreme Court

Associate Justices Tom Woodall, Champ Lyons, Lyn Stuart and Court of Civil Appeals Judge Glenn Murdock are the best candidates in the Republican primary for the state Supreme Court.

All four have solid judicial records. In fairness, however, even if their records were only mediocre, we would not endorse the opponents of incumbent Justices Woodall, Lyons and Stuart.

The challengers to the three associate justice candidates — along with Associate Justice Tom Parker, who is seeking the chief justice seat — are traveling down a path that would damage the justice system.

Each of the candidates opposing an incumbent has close ties to Justice Parker.

Former Chief Justice Roy Moore, now seeking to wrest Republican nomination for governor from Bob Riley, planted the unfortunate seeds that his former employee, Justice Parker, was glad to harvest. Mr. Moore's implicit message, dittoed by Mr. Parker: Godly folk need not trouble themselves with the rule of law, and Alabamians who defer to their nation's institutions should be tossed from office.

We wish some of the "Parker slate" candidates had appeared on the political scene in a less polarized environment. None are dumb, some are intelligent, and at least one might be a solid candidate but for the strictures involved in being a minion of Justice Parker.

All three have chosen their issue, however, and they have chosen the wrong side.

The appeal of the argument tendered by candidates Ben Hand, Hank Fowler and Alan Zeigler is its simplicity. Alabamians know God's will. The U.S. Supreme Court neither knows nor cares what God wants. God is more important than the U.S. Supreme Court. End of argument.

Simple often is good, but not this time. A court system freed of judicial hierarchy is chaotic. Maybe the result is godly when a lower court bans an abortion that higher-court precedent said should be allowed. Freed of their oath, however, not all judges will do what Mr. Parker deems godly. Chaos is not more godly than order, it is just less predictable.

Justice Woodall has a fine record as a jurist, and had the courage to speak out against Mr. Parker and his slate, despite the likelihood of alienating some voters. Lyn Stuart has been aggressive in keeping her docket under control, an important fact given that Justice Parker — who remains on the bench whether or not he wins the chief justice race — fails to handle his load. Justice Stuart also played an important role in pushing for reform in managing the court's docket through computerization.

Our endorsement of Justice Lyons is more tempered for two reasons. First, his son e-mailed a surprisingly irresponsible threat to his father's opponent, Ben Hand, promising unethical and idiotic retaliation unless Mr. Hand withdrew from the race. If we thought Justice Lyons played any part in the e-mail, we would not endorse him. Also tempering our endorsement is that Mr. Hand is sincere and capable. Absent his allegiance to Mr. Parker, he might reject the concept that a state Supreme Court acts wisely in ignoring U.S. Supreme Court interpretations of the U.S. Constitution. But along with his plank comes a constituency, and it would be politically difficult for him to reverse direction once he is in power.

In his six years on the Civil Court of Appeals, Judge Glenn Murdock showed an independence and strength of character that serves Alabama well. Past partisan squabbles leave former Justice Jean Brown's role on the court diminished. With solid credentials and a calm temperament, Mr. Murdock could serve as a bridge between Justice Parker and the rest of the court where Ms. Brown could not.

Primary election winners in the races for Places 2, 3 and 4 face Democratic opposition in November.

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