Becca Balint: Why we in Vermont should support Doug Jones

It's been challenging for me to start my column this week. I keep returning to the same idea when I read the news these days: moral rot. Alabama's special election for U.S. Senator spotlights my fears. Even many Republicans have qualms about Roy Moore — former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice. His candidacy shocks me. But if I shift my focus to Democrat Doug Jones, the tension in my heart eases, the clenching of my stomach releases.

A vote for Jones is a vote against sexual abuse, perfidy, and many other offenses. But a vote for Jones is also a stand for justice and the rule of law. As a U.S. Attorney, Doug Jones took on white supremacists in Alabama and won.

In 1963 in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement, four KKK Klansmen planted dynamite at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. The explosion killed four little girls as they changed into their choir robes for the church services: 11-year-old Denise McNair and 14-year-olds Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins and Cynthia Wesley. It took 14 years for the first perpetrator to face justice.

In 1977 William Joseph Baxley II, then Alabama's attorney general, prosecuted the case against Robert Chambliss, the suspected ringleader of the bombing. Desperate to see Baxley in action, Doug Jones — a second year law student — skipped classes so he could watch the trial. Twenty-four years later, Jones himself tried the case against the two remaining Klansmen, Bobby Frank Cherry and Thomas Blanton. (Herman Cash died in 1994 without ever having been charged.)

As Jones told a U.S. House subcommittee, this turn of events was startling to him: "I never in my wildest imagination dreamed that one day this case and my legal career would come full circle ..." Last week on social media, Jones called bringing the Klansmen to justice "the most important thing I have done."

If Jones never accomplished anything else in his life, that would be enough. But Jones also put Eric Rudolph, the so-called Olympic Park bomber, behind bars. Rudolph is a homegrown domestic terrorist who targeted abortion clinics and gay clubs. He's now serving four consecutive life terms.

Compare Jones' stand for justice to Roy Moore's constant attack on our legal underpinnings. Moore was twice disciplined by his state's judicial ethics panel for failing to comply with court orders. The first time was over his installation of a massive granite monument of the Ten Commandments in the Supreme Court building's lobby. Then in 2016, Chief Justice Moore directed Alabama probate judges to ignore the U.S. Supreme Court's decision legalizing same-sex marriages. He urged them to enforce Alabama's ban and deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Moore once again faced judicial-ethics charges and was suspended from office. He officially resigned to start his bid for U.S. Senate.

Simply put, Moore wants to run for U.S. Senate to pass federal laws even though he believes that laws need only be obeyed when they match one's religious sensibilities. This should terrify all of us. From the right or the left, attacks on the rule of law threaten the fundamental structures of the nation.

Please give to the Doug Jones campaign and/or join the local Indivisible chapter to do textbanking in support of Jones: this Sunday at 3 p.m. on the top floor of Holton Hall on the Winston Prouty campus in Brattleboro. This race is not just about one U.S. Senate seat in Alabama. It's about being part of a principled firewall against a gangrenous infection that threatens us all.

Becca Balint writes from Brattleboro on history, politics and culture. She currently serves as Senate Majority Leader in the Vermont Legislature. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.


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