(The Return of) Ignatz, by Sam Heldman

Friday, October 18, 2002

Interested in the continuing trial in Montgomery about Alabama Chief Justice Moore's installation of a Ten Commandments monument in the State's Judicial Building? Want to impress your friends at cocktail parties? Start by reading Stone v. Graham from the U.S. Supreme Court, holding unconstitutional a Kentucky statute that provided for the posting of the Commandments in school rooms. One of the principles of law in this area -- as shown by the Stone decision -- is that an action like this is unconstitutional if it's religiously motivated. Now sometimes, in some public-display cases, it's hard to tell just what the motive was, because the decision to install the display was made by a group (of city councilmembers, or the like), and it's sometimes hard to attribute a mutual motive to multiple members of a group. But there's no such problem here: the decision to install the monument was made by Chief Justice Moore, so a religious motive on his part would rather clearly make the installation unlawful under current law. And, to his credit (I say "to his credit" because I applaud candor even when I disagree with what is said), he really makes no bones about the fact that his motive is religious. (See, e.g. this Google cache of a news article, in which Chief Justice Moore is quite plain about this. See also this poem that he wrote, unless perhaps it's a fake but I have no reason to believe that it is). Under Stone, then, this installation was prettly plainly unconstitutional. Then notice who dissented from Stone (hint: he wore a Gilbert-and-Sullivan-inspired robe during the Clinton impeachment proceedings), and muse to your friends that there is a distinct chance that, a couple of years from now, the Supreme Court will use this case as a vehicle to fundamentally rewrite Establishment Clause law.

posted by sam 1:07 PM 0 comments


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