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Leaving Alabama

All over Alabama the lamps are out. . . .The fields lie there, with nothing at work in them, neither man nor beast. — James Agee, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

Alabama is back in the news. Not that it ever left. It’s just there are times when it seems it would be better if it did. The federal courts have once again stepped in to save it from itself, although how completely it is saved from its most recent folly is yet to be determined. By contrast, when the Courts met Roy Moore their success was complete.

In 1997 Roy was an Alabama circuit court judge. A great fan of the 10 Commandments, he hung them in his courtroom on a hand-carved wooden plaque in order to help him remember what they said. When a higher (though not celestial) court ordered him to remove the plaque, he refused. Siding with the judge, Fob James, the governor of Alabama at the time, said he would call out the national guard, if necessary, to prevent the removal of the plaque. The plaque remained.

In 2001 Roy was elected Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. Within 6 months of his election as Chief Justice, Roy supervised the construction and installation of a 5,280-pound granite monument to the Ten Commandments in the central rotunda of the State Judicial building. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling ordering removal of the monument. When Roy refused to remove the monument the Alabama Court of the judiciary removed him. (His removal was not a great loss to Alabama jurisprudence. Prior to his removal he wrote a concurring opinion in a custody battle involving a lesbian mother in which he said that homosexuality is “abhorrent, immoral, detestable, a crime against nature and a violation of the laws of nature and of nature’s God” and said that homosexuals in Alabama were “presumptively unfit to have custody of minor children.” After Maine approved gay marriage he said that the next logical process was for the law to allow unions between “two men and four women” or between a “sheep and a man.” Now the federal courts are once again called upon to save Alabama from itself although whether they will seize the opportunity will only be determined after further hearings in the Court of Appeals.


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On September 29, 2011 the Beason-Hammon Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act, , a 76-page piece of legislation that is intended to protect Alabama from the scourge of "illegal" immigration, became effective. The Act has lots of catchy provisions designed to discourage undocumented immigrants from settling in Alabama and encouraging those settled to leave the state. In the 76 pages it has a number of draconian provisions that leave no doubt in the mind of the reader that the undocumented immigrant is not wanted in Alabama. Some of its provisions have now been prevented from taking effect until further court hearings.

Among provisions that have now been temporarily blocked is a prohibition against giving an undocumented immigrant a ride to church (or any place else for that matter.) Section 13 of the Act makes it a crime to “transport or . . . conspire to transport in this state an alien. . . .”

Another provision that has been temporarily blocked is Section 8 that provides that an undocumented alien “shall not be permitted to enroll in or attend any public postsecondary education institution.” The legislature wants to insure that undocumented aliens will remain uneducated lest they prove themselves smarter than their masters in the legislature. Another blocked provision says K-12 schools must require each student to prove he or she is not an "illegal" immigrant. (In early October Bill Lawrence, the principal of Foley Elementary School where 20% of the student population that is Hispanic has not been attending regularly, assured his parent population that the information the school obtains will not be used to deport the family. It is only being used for statistical purposes. Hispanic families may be forgiven if they fail to find that assurance reassuring, notwithstanding the provisions of the Act.)

Of course there are many provisions of the Act that remain in force including Section 15 that says no “employer shall knowingly employ . . . an unauthorized alien to perform work within the State of Alabama.” Although that sounds harsh, the Act provides relief for the affluent. Subparagraph l says the section does not apply to “casual domestic labor performed within a household.” Thus, unlike Alabama farmers who are unable to find people willing to harvest their crops, the wealthy need not worry about the Act impacting their ability to get good household help.

Roy Moore (like other Alabamans before him) prepared us for House Bill 56. The Federal Court of Appeals by starting the process that resulted in his removal protected the state from the most egregious of his acts. Perhaps upon sober reflection and a full hearing, the Court of Appeals will throw out House Bill 56. Many immigrants, both documented and undocumented, are not waiting to find out. They are leaving the state. One can’t blame them.

Christopher Brauchli

Christopher Brauchli

Christopher Brauchli is a columnist and lawyer known nationally for his work. He is a graduate of Harvard University and the University of Colorado School of Law where he served on the Board of Editors of the Rocky Mountain Law Review. He can be emailed at For political commentary see his web page at

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