Bentley should name short-term justice

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Alabama Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb’s announcement that she will retire Aug. 1 has created a conundrum for Gov. Robert Bentley.

On the one hand, the governor gets to make the appointment that makes the high court completely Republican. On the other, it opens a huge can of worms for him.

Rewind to his election in 2010. You will recall that he was a long shot when he entered the race, and he wasn’t exactly the darling of the GOP at any point in it. Big Business and other traditionally GOP groups wanted Bentley’s opponent in the Republican run-off, Bradley Byrne.

This same group appears to favor the appointment of Justice Lyn Stuart – an Atmore native who calls Bay Minette home – to the top position. Stuart was preparing to mount a campaign against Cobb if Cobb had run again.

Charlie Graddick, a former state attorney general and current circuit judge in Mobile County, filed paperwork with the Secretary of State’s Office June 13 forming a principal campaign committee for chief justice. He’s the only candidate to do so thus far.

Byrne also had previously expressed an interest in being chief justice. He said last week he couldn’t imagine any scenario in which Bentley might appoint me to the office.

Another name mentioned for the job is Bentley chief of staff Chuck Malone, a former presiding circuit judge in Tuscaloosa County who left the bench to serve as Bentley’s chief of staff.

Conventional wisdom holds that Bentley’s appointment would become the frontrunner. Politically, it would be wise for him to find someone willing to take the job for only the 18 months left in Justice Cobb’s term.

Appointing anyone besides Stuart could further alienate the governor from the Republican powers from whom he’ll need support if he chooses to seek reelection in 2014. To date, he’s shown an independent streak that endears him to many independent-minded voters.

Secondly, one of Justice Cobb’s stated reasons for leaving is that she doesn’t want to spend the next 18 months raising the $1 million –plus in campaign contributions that would be needed to win. A newcomer in that office who wanted the job full time couldn’t actually DO the job for running FOR it.

To date, Gov. Bentley has chosen some of the state’s best and brightest to work with him at the helm of state government, often going against the party to do so.

He should do the same here.