Anthony J. Sebok, a Brooklyn Law School prof and FindLaw columnist, takes issue with Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore’s claim that he is practicing civil disobedience in the grand tradition of Martin Luther King, Jr. Sebok disputes this, citing three tests that he has apparently made up:
First: Order doesn’t single out minority for burdens <...> For King, an unjust law had to be one that imposed on a disenfranchised minority burdens from which the majority was exempted — such as the Jim Crow laws. Thus, for King, civil disobedience was not to be used every time a court or police officer made a mistake, but only when those mistakes of law oppressed a disenfranchised minority.
Well, King was a disenfranchised minority. Clearly, Christians are a majority in the U.S. and overwhelmingly so in Alabama. But one could argue that the court order to remove the monument certainly disenfranchises that majority, since they voted for Moore almost exclusively because of his stand on the Commandments. So, why can’t a majority which has been thwarted by a minority protest?
Second: A position of power, not vulnerability <...> For King, the situation for African-Americans who wished to challenge Jim Crow was intolerable. Not only were they effectively denied the vote (so that they could not vote to change the laws), they could not even organize and speak out to persuade others who could vote to change the laws.
For Moore to claim that his position today is anything like that of King’s in 1963 is incredible. Let’s state the obvious: Moore is one of the most privileged people in Alabama today. Not only is he privileged by his race and gender, but he is the highest judge in the state. Nothing stops him or his supporters from pressing their point of view.
This is actually just the first argument restated more stupidly. First, for Moore and his supporters, not being able to acknowledge their religion in the public square is intolerable. And a federal court order is stopping Moore and his supporters from pressing their point of view. I disagree with their view, but they’re clearly facing rather serious opposition from a powerful authority.
Third: Moore’s special status as a judge <...>I think that judges, unlike the rest of us, have a special obligation to obey the law and to obey duly adjudicated interpretations of the law with which they disagree.
I agree with this. I don’t know what it has to do with whether Moore’s action constitutes civil disobedience, though.
Oddly, Sebok says Moore’s actions are analogous to the judges in the antebellum period who opposed the fugitive slave laws but nonetheless carried them out because their fealty to the law overrode their political passions. I’m sure Moore would proudly wear the mantle of the opposing camp on that one.
I don’t think Moore should have put the monument in the courthouse, think he should have obeyed the court orders, and think he’s a yahoo who has no business being Chief Justice. But he’s an elected official whose actions are overwhelmingly supported by his constituents. And, clearly, he’s engaged in civil disobedience.