It was an error in judgment for incumbent Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge Mark Crooks to pose for a photograph with Roy Moore of Alabama at a campaign event for Mr. Moore last September. It is an error that should cost Judge Crooks his bid to be elected to a full 15-year term on the bench in this year’s election.
Judge Crooks claimed that he was unaware of Mr. Moore’s controversial judicial history when he posed for the photograph. Mr. Moore was running for the United States Senate at the time of the photograph, which was taken at a fundraiser held for Mr. Moore in Severna Park.
Judge Crooks later professed ignorance of the fact that Mr. Moore, when he was Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, twice defied the rule of law that underpins our democracy. His ignorance is no excuse.
First elected chief justice in 2001, Mr. Moore was removed from office in 2003 for refusing to obey a federal court order instructing him to remove a monument to the Ten Commandants that he had installed in the state judiciary building. The people of Alabama again elected Mr. Moore chief justice in 2013.
Mr. Moore was suspended from his position in 2016 and later resigned after instructing state probate court judges that they could refuse to apply the 2015 decision of the United States Supreme Court on same-sex marriages. Both actions by Mr. Moore were notorious, especially in the legal community. State supreme court chief justices don’t routinely defy federal court orders or Supreme Court decisions and, when they do, it tends to attract attention.
From the day in April 2017 that Mr. Moore announced his candidacy for the Senate he ran as the darling of Christian conservatives because he followed his personal religious beliefs rather than follow the law. I take Judge Crooks at his word on his lack of knowledge about Mr. Moore, but it is easy to see why others may not.
The rule of law in this county is sacrosanct. It is what preserves our democracy and protects us from anarchy and despotism. It is as crucial to gun owners seeking protection of their right to bear arms under the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution as it is to same-sex couples seeking recognition of their marriages under the Fourteenth Amendment.
The rule of law depends for its survival on all public officials obeying court orders and on judges applying binding legal precedent, which is the glue that holds our system of laws together. What Mr. Moore did not only was wrong, it was dangerous.
Republican candidates for office in Anne Arundel County and elsewhere love to tap into the base of support for President Donald Trump. Judge Crooks certainly was aware of the far-right political leanings of Mr. Moore. Mr. Moore’s fundraiser in Severna Park gave Judge Crooks an opportunity to curry favor with the president’s base.
That Judge Crooks didn’t take his ambition a step further and figure out exactly who he was cozying up to in that photograph is troublesome. His failure to exercise an appropriate degree of diligence under the circumstances is far less than we expect from a sitting judge.
I doubt that there has been a time in this country since the Civil War when it has been so important to uphold the sanctity of the rule of law. The great French observer of America in the early 19th Century, Alexis de Tocqueville, saw judges committed to the rule of law as bulwarks against forces that otherwise could topple democratic institutions. His observations are as valid today as they were 200 years ago.
Even if standing shoulder-to-shoulder with someone like Roy Moore with a big grin on his face for a photograph was only an indiscretion, it was an unforgivable one with enormous symbolic value. It should end his career as a circuit court judge.
[Published as a guest column by the Annapolis Capital on April 30, 2018 but not posted to my blog until June 1, 2018. The date of posting that appears above was backdated to place all posts in the order in which they were written.]