MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Suspended Alabama Chief Justice and gay marriage opponent Roy Moore announced Wednesday he is running for the U.S. Senate seat previously held by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
The fiery Republican jurist, who was suspended from the bench on accusations that he urged defiance of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing gays and lesbians to marry, made the announcement in a news conference on the steps of the Alabama Capitol.
Repeating familiar themes from his judicial and political career, Moore said the country is being gripped by immorality and damaged by judges and politicians who stray from a strict interpretation of the Constitution.
"My position has always been God first, family then country. I share the vision of President Donald Trump to make America great again," Moore said. "You know before we can make America great again, we have got to make America good again. The foundations of the fabric of our country are being shaken tremendously. Our families are being crippled by divorce and abortion. Our sacred institution of marriage has being destroyed by the Supreme Court," Moore said.
He was surrounded by about two dozen supporters who waved American flags, a Christian flag and signs from his past campaigns.
Moore, who has been suspended from the bench since September, said he has submitted retirement paperwork to step down as chief justice to seek the post.
He's joining what's expected to be a crowded GOP primary field in the Aug. 15 primary.
The U.S. Senate seat is currently held by former Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange. He was appointed by then-Gov. Robert Bentley who resigned this month amid fallout from an alleged affair with a top staffer. Bentley had planned for a 2018 Senate election, but the state's new governor, Kay Ivey, moved it up to this year, setting off what's expected to be a four-month demolition derby among Alabama's dominant Republicans.
Moore has twice won statewide elections for chief justice, and twice been removed from those duties by a judicial discipline panel. His other election bids have fallen flat. In 2010 he finished fourth in the Republican primary candidate for governor, and he unsuccessfully tried to unseat the state's incumbent governor in 2006.
Moore's announcement kicks off a GOP primary battle to see if the crusading jurist can gain traction against business backed candidates who are likely to be better funded.
"Moore is better known than the incumbent senator ... and there is not a lot of time to campaign," said Bill Stewart, former chairman of political science at the University of Alabama. "But I think business would definitely prefer to keep Sen. Strange in office because he is more predictable in how he will vote."
Eva Kendrick, state director of the Human Rights Campaign Alabama, a gay rights organization, said Moore is seeking "to capitalize on the name recognition he gained for harming LGBTQ people in our state."
Moore's loyal supporters on Wednesday cheered his return to the political arena.
"Alabama will become 'Ground Zero' in the political and cultural war," Dean Young, a longtime Moore supporter, said.
A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Moore was nicknamed Captain America as Vietnam War military policeman because of his strict adherence to military code. He first drew national attention as a circuit judge in the 1990s's after the American Civil Liberties Union challenged his practice of opening court with prayer and hanging a Ten Commandments sign in his circuit.
Moore has twice been taken off the Supreme Court bench for violating judicial ethics after taking stances that endeared him to some Christian conservatives but were seen by critics as evidence of his inability to comprehend a separation between church and state.
The Court of Judiciary, which disciplines judges, removed Moore as Alabama's chief justice in 2003 after he disobeyed a federal judge's order to remove a boulder-sized Ten Commandments monument that he installed in the rotunda of the state judicial building. He was re-elected as chief justice in 2012.
The judiciary panel in September suspended Moore for the remainder of his term, saying he had violated judicial ethics by urging probate judges to refuse marriage licenses to gay couples.
The accusation stemmed from a Jan. 6, 2016, memo to probate judges saying an Alabama Supreme Court order to refuse marriage licenses to gay couples remained in "full force and effect" even though the highest court in the nation ruled that gays and lesbians have a fundamental right to marry.
Moore denied the charge of urging defiance, and said he was only giving a status update on litigation.
Moore says he had no regrets about his former stances.
"What I did, I did for the people of Alabama. I stood up for the Constitution. I stood up for God," he said Wednesday.
By Kim Chandler, The Associated Press