1. Murdock retiring, spurring speculation on next plans, replacement
- Alabama Supreme Court Justice Glenn Murdock is retiring effective January 16.
- In a letter to Gov. Kay Ivey, Murdock wrote he will “explore other professional opportunities and other ways in which I can be in service to our state.”
- Murdock’s plans to retire have been rumored for weeks, and his making it official now spurs speculation as to his aspirations to run for a different office.
- The most persistent rumor is that Murdock intends to pursue the U.S. Senate seat now held by Sen. Doug Jones in 2020. Murdock confirmed his interest in running to YellowHammer News’ Brendan Kirby.
- The timing is throwing many observers off. We are three days from the opening of candidate qualifying for the 2018 primary, so the timing would lend itself to setting up a run for an Alabama constitutional office like Attorney General or Governor.
- Justice Murdock made sense of all that telling Kirby that resigning now frees him from conflicts of interest. “I feel like you can more freely and ethically discuss those things if you’re not a sitting justice,” Murdock said.
- Murdock’s retirement means Gov. Kay Ivey will have the responsibility of appointing a new Supreme Court Justice. Who it will ultimately be is anyone’s guess.
- Most speculation is toward Birmingham attorney Jay Mitchell and Mobile Circuit Judge Sarah Stewart. Both are already running for open seats on the Supreme Court – Mitchell for the seat Justice Jim Main is retiring from and Stewart for the Murdock seat.
- Mitchell has shown an impressive ability to raise money, ending last year with more than $290,600 cash on hand. Stewart has just under $71,000 cash on hand, and has the distinction of already running for the seat.
- Whomever Gov. Ivey appoints, they will enter office presumably running for election to the seat in their own right in a 2018 election cycle that is heating up.
Kay Ivey, Justice Maker
- Not for nothing, but this will be the THIRD Supreme Court justice Gov. Ivey will have appointed in her eight-month tenure in office, as noted to me by John Neiman on Twitter.
- In April, Gov. Ivey appointed then-Associate Justice Lynn Stuart to the Chief Justice job after the resignation of Roy Moore (Moore resigned when he got suspended from the bench for the remainder of his term).
- Then, in May, Gov. Ivey appointed Montgomery attorney Will Sellers to fill the seat vacated by Stuart.
- Three Supreme Court appointments in less than a year. It’s a crazy statistic that otherwise might get lost in a crazy era of Alabama politics. What President Trump would give to have that opportunity.
2. Budget hearings
- Budget hearings for the 2018 Regular Session began Wednesday.
- These hearings consist of discussions between lawmakers and agency heads about executive budget requests, what resources are needed to ensure the state can meet its obligations, and what shortfalls might exist for the Legislature to deal with.
- The Montgomery Advertiser’s Brian Lyman has a full report on the funding challenges facing the Alabama prison system in the General Fund that is well worth your time to read if you really want to know what’s going on with the budget situation in Alabama this year.
- The good news seems to be the state’s Medicaid agency is not a funding nightmare this year, though all eyes are on Congress on finally passing a bill to fully fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
3. Freedom Caucus leaders call on AG Sessions to resign
- Leaders of the House Freedom Caucus are calling on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign.
- Reps. Mark Meadows (R-NC) and Jim Jordan (R-OH), the current and former chair of the House Freedom Caucus, respectively, published an op-ed in The Washington Examiner calling on Sessions to step down due to their frustration over the probe into Russia’s attempts to influence the 2016 election and FBI leaks.
- Last March, Sessions recused himself from any investigation into the 2016 campaign because he was actively campaigning for Trump in 2016. His recusal decision, made after careful consultation with Department of Justice counsel, was widely lauded as the right thing to do.
- Still, the recusal decision irked President Trump, who, according to a New York Times report Thursday, saw Sessions as his top lawyer that could shield him from such investigations.
- Now, Freedom Caucus lawmakers are getting in on the Sessions-bashing game. Some of its members had already given the Attorney General a hard time about his department following facts and evidence instead of political expediency during a House Judiciary meeting in November. (Note: remember that it was President Trump himself who said he didn’t want to go after the Clintons and dismissed the idea of a Clinton investigation.)
- Russia investigation politics aside, their is great irony (and hypocrisy) to some of the self-appointed true conservatives in Congress coming after Sessions. During his tenure in the U.S. Senate, Sessions helped write the book on many modern conservative principles, namely enforcing the rule of law, fiscal responsibility, and combatting illegal immigration.
- Choosing to please President Trump and his supporters at the expense of their ideological benefactor is probably an easy choice for Freedom Caucus congressmen from states like Ohio and North Carolina. I doubt those representing Alabama districts will make such a cynical choice.
4. Roy Moore accuser files defamation lawsuit
- Leigh Coffman, the woman who rocked the Alabama Senate election by telling The Washington Post that Roy Moore made inappropriate advances and sexually abused her as a teenager, has filed a defamation lawsuit against Moore and his campaign, demanding an apology for being called a liar.
- AL.com’s Paul Gattis has the complete story, including a link to the court filing.
- Those named in the lawsuit are Moore himself, campaign manager Rich Hobson, campaign chairman Bill Armistead, attorney Benjamin Dupre, spokeswoman Janet Porter, and longtime Moore associate Dean Young.
- According to WSFA reporter Jenn Horton, Moore’s campaign responded saying “we look forward to transparently discussing these matters in a court of law.”
- While many in the media salivate over any extension of the Roy Moore saga, some like Dale Jackson see this lawsuit going nowhere.