Alabama—Past and Present
All over Alabama the lights are out.
— James Agee, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men
With all the excitement about events in Washington this week, it’s easy to overlook exciting events in Alabama. Among the most exciting was President Obama’s declaration of two new national monuments, designations that came only three days before the last celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day during President Obama’s presidency. The confluence of those events caused this writer to again reflect on other events of note that have taken place in Alabama during the past year and may occur in 2017.
"This is, of course, Alabama."
Two thousand sixteen, it will be recalled, was an exciting year in Alabama politics. Part of the excitement was generated by Roy Moore. Roy had the distinction of being the only man in Alabama history to serve not once, but twice, as the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court in non-consecutive terms. In 2016 he was suspended from office without pay by the Alabama Court of the Judiciary because of an order he gave lower court judges to ignore federal court orders pertaining to issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. That was his second encounter with that Court. In 2003 the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered him to remove a 5,280-pound granite monument to the Ten Commandments that he had had placed in the central rotunda of the state judicial building. He refused to comply and, as a result, the Court of the Judiciary removed him.
Two thousand sixteen was also memorable for Michael Hubbard, the speaker of the Alabama House. It was he who, following the takeover of the Alabama legislature by Republicans in 2010, wrote a book in which he explained that “Ethics was a subject that set Republicans apart from the Democrats.” In 2016 he was convicted of 12 counts of corruption, sentenced to four years in prison, and given $210,000 in fines. That did not, however, derail one of the Alabama House’s significant projects during 2016.
On April 23, 2016 the Alabama House signed a resolution to impeach Governor Robert Bentley for corruption and neglect of duty as a result of certain activities involving a female aide with whom he may have been having an affair. That investigation by the Alabama House continued until an unforeseen event occurred.
In early November, Luther Strange, the attorney general of the state of Alabama, wrote the head of the Alabama House Judiciary Committee, saying it “would be prudent and beneficial to delay the work of the House Judiciary Committee [on impeachment] . . . .I respectfully request that the Committee cease active interviews and investigation until I am able to report to you that the necessary related work of my office has been completed.” In response to that letter the head of the committee said: “We are temporarily suspending activity at the attorney general’s request . . . .”
That brings us to 2017, a year that may prove to be as exciting for Alabama citizens as 2016. Jeff Sessions is one of the two United States Senators from the State of Alabama. Donald Trump has nominated Mr. Sessions to be the new attorney general of the United States. If Mr. Sessions is confirmed by the Senate, he will no longer serve as a United States Senator, thus creating a vacancy in that seat. In Alabama, the vacancy in a Senate seat is filled by the governor calling a special election at the time of his choosing. Prior to the election, however, the governor may make an interim appointment. According to reports, in order to avoid the cost of a special election, Governor Bentley has scheduled the election of a successor to take place at the next general election in 2018. Between now and then, the person the governor appoints on an interim basis will serve as one of the United States Senators from Alabama.
One of the persons who has expressed an interest in being one of the United States Senators from Alabama is none other than Attorney General Luther Strange. That is the same Luther Strange who requested that the Alabama House suspend its inquiry into impeachment proceedings against Governor Bentley until Mr. Strange’s office has completed its investigation of Governor Bentley. Governor Bentley is the same Governor Bentley that Attorney General Strange is investigating. If Mr. Strange were appointed to the U.S. Senate by Governor Bentley, a new attorney general of Alabama would have to be appointed. That appointment would be made by the same Governor Bentley who appointed Mr. Strange to the United States Senate. If this were taking place in any state other than Alabama, one might wonder whether a discussion between Mr. Strange and Mr. Bentley about Mr. Strange’s possible appointment would involve any discussion about how the pending investigation of the governor would be dealt with before Mr. Strange’s appointment took effect. If this were any state other than Alabama one might wonder whether a discussion with a prospective replacement for Mr. Strange as attorney general would involve any discussion between Governor Bentley and a prospective new attorney general as to how the investigation of Governor Bentley would be handled. This is, of course, Alabama. There is no need to wonder.